across the sea

 A frisson went through the silver sands, and the waves that washed upon the pearl strewn strands seemed restless. Then like some Leviathan of the depths, slowly, ever so slowly, the isle of Tol Eressea started to move.

 Gilfanon, Lord of the House of Ingwe and Captain of the Faring Forth stood atop a spike of rock. The setting sun was a blaze of glory behind the spires of the mountains of Aman, but his back was turned to it. His eyes looked ever into the darkening horizon before him, through the high airs of Ilmen that flesh unaided cannot endure. Straight his sight went, even as the waters of the Bent Seas curved below them, to the rocky shores and frothing seas of the mortal lands where so many of the Elder Kindred had fought and bled and laughed and loved.

Meril i Turinqui rode in haste across the withered waste of rocky outcrops and scree-covered slopes. Her Elven steed never lost his footing, the colorless scrubs flaming to green in the wake of the thudding hooves. 

 As she rode into the meagre settlements dotting the edge of the Black Forests, men and women shut their doors, put cold iron horse-shoes before their doors. Geese yammered and livestock ran amok. This was no meek wood-elf but one of the Firstborn coming down in a mad speed. She kept the silver fires of her eyes hidden however, and mortals but thought of a loud passing wind whistling through the copses and attrributed it to spirits of the wild and old forgotten things of yore. 

 She had heard in her mind the call of the Starlord. And felt within her the impending arrival of the Faring Forth and Gilfanon, her kinsman in an almost-forgotten childhood in the Uttermost West. So she woke from her icy slumber, and washing the sleep of Ages away in a pool of starlit tears she arrayed herself in arms that bore the craftsmanship of Celebrimbor himself that the Lady of the Golden Wood had set aside for such a young warrior back in the Third Age before the lords of the Eldar had left Middle-earth.

 The words of the Starlord Elentyaro still hummed and hissed across the vast distances. Young one, I have gone on a voyage to the East to meet the last of my Order and also to retrieve if I may the Flammifer – a horn of silver that  can be sounded so that what remains of the Elder Kindred in mortal lands can rouse themselves to seek out the standard of GIlfanon. Else it is impossible to round up every Elf in every wood. Ride hard Lady Meril, to the ruins of Mithlond where Goldberry awaits with the others. The Swordhand I met is also with them. 

 Meril came at length from where she could smell the salt of the Sea and the faint cry of circling gulls. 

 And then she saw the crude cross. With yet another gruesome load.

 There was a whisper of steel.

Of visitors in the night

Ottor cautiously lifted the leathern flap over his tent’s doorway, hand automatically tracing the runed hilt of his dagger. His small crew had camped near the shore, in sight of the longboats. Harald was always a bit partial when Northmen sailors visited his realm, and allowed them leeway. Such as camping by the sea without too many permissions or tolls.

The soft knock on the wooden shorings his tent had come from the taller of the two hooded figures. The other one seemed to be lolling, almost collapsing. A drunk tavern-wench perhaps? Ottor did not budge from the door.

“Aye?”

“May we come in? It is a dire time, and you do know that you have always waited for something like this.” The Rider from the tavern! The rest of it was not spoken words, but things Ottor himself seemed to think: in those sudden gusts of chill clarity out of the West. When you dreamed of sailing beyond the westering Sun. Into the Uttermost West. This may be the time to sail the waves of your dreams

He did not know how, but next they were seated as well as they could on his lumpy mattress. The Rider’s companion was a woman – all green eyes and golden tresses bundled up in a dark cloak, breathing raspy and uneven. Near to death. Ottor stared, bereft at this strange spectacle.

“My name is Elentyaro, known as the Hargrim Rider in these parts. And you are Ottor, who shall sail beyond the Sundering Seas to those white shores that have often pulled at your soul.”

Ottor felt a vast understanding through his bewilderment, that needed no words. “And she is…”

“Very sick. Her time here in this diminished world, little remaining as it was, is now almost used up.”

Goldberry was like a guttering flame throughout that night. Elentyaro laved her feet in the brackish water that stood in a pail. Ottor sat silent and watching, as beings that peopled his half-forgotten childhood yarns passed before his very eyes.

At last she spoke. “Elen..tyaro. I must see the Swordbearer, since you too cannot bear the burden.”

Ottor then saw that part of the Starlord’s swordhand was charred, with jagged rune-like patterns somehow etched into it – an eerie menace emanating from them.

Elentyaro grimaced. “This is the Shipwright, my lady. Since the Starsword is broken (he looked disgustedly at his own injured arm) we shall need a new one.”

“Can the Shipwright not weild both tiller and flail?”

“No.” The answer was definite. “Nay lady, this is not the age of Heroes. Better two mortals for two tasks.”

“Very well” A sigh like the wind in weeping willows. “Then go forth my lord and bring the Swordhand hither. I shall tarry as long as I may. Ottor shall guard me til then, will you not?”

Ottor looked into the limpid pools, and bowed his head.

Without a word the Rider left, his cloak billowing out as he rode away like a grey ghost into the stony hills.

 

 

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.

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 forges

Caveat: This is going to diverge drastically from the canonical.

Not many people came to Wayland Smith.

So it was with something approaching surprise that the Smith heard a soft knock on the door to his smithy. It stood atop a small bluff surrounded by dark woods, under a spreading chestnut tree.

Wayland Smith’s cottage was further away, at the edge of the Rookswood.

He was a boon to the villagers who remembered him from as far as memory went. However, when they wanted something forged, they came to the cottage. No one ventured to the Smithy.

Wayland opened the door to a client after centuries. For a moment he let the cold breeze stir his tangled grey beard, squinting his brilliant blue eyes. From atop his hillock he could see the far

white peaks from where came the chilling wind. Ah, once upon a time . . . he thought, then forced himself to come back to the presentand the dark figure of his visitor.

“Please step inside, good sir. The smithy is not much of a guest hall, but at least ’tis warm.”

The Smith went in, the man following. “And what may I do for you?”

His visitor lowered his hooded cloak and Wayland looked up keenly into the gaunt face, framed by windblown dark hair. It was the eyes, as always, he thought. They always bear the wisdom that comes from seeing more lives (and their ends) than mere flesh and blood could. That same characteristic in the smoldering dark eyes he knew was mirrored in his own azure gaze.

“Starlord. It has been a while.”

The other one agreed with a wry smile. “Quite a while, Master Weyland. And far too from the forges of Aulë.”

He who was once Weyland the Skilled smiled and gestured the other to sit. “Commendable, that you could find me here in this neck of the woods. Even in these lesser years and diminished paths, some of us Remnants must make sure that all folk may have clean fields to till. Word comes sometimes of what you are up to… but not so much of late.” He glanced at the other one quizzically.

“Of late – there have been… problems. The constant fading – both of memories and of grace. And injuries to recover from. How are you finding retirement Weyland? Has it rusted away your old skill at all?”

“Ah, now we understand why Elentyaro, Lord Greywrath leaves his allies and stratagems to travel countless leagues across Middangeard to Rookswood. What is it you want?”

“A sword.”

“A what?”

“It is a long metal blade with a hil-­”

“I meant to say ‘why’ I suppose.”

“Because the one I possess is no match.”

“Against?”

“The beings I seek to make a end to. Angrussë was a good blade, but it shattered in my hands when we banished the last Soulstealer beyond the Void. Here!”

Elentyaro flung upon the Smith’s oaken workbench a black bundle. Weyland gently opened it, revealing gleaming shards of metal. He grimaced. “There are many pieces missing. Even the finest steel of today will be inferior.”

“Then use this.” Another clatter of metal on wood. A larger bundle.

Weyland Smith looked wideyed at the lord. Sacrilege. Unspoken, that word hammered at both their minds.

“The pieces of Aeglos, the lance that broke under Ereinion when he fell before Orodruin. I have paid dearly for it.” He shuddered involuntarily. “Not for nothing have I scarred my mind searching for the remnants of ages past. There is a storm coming, darkening the minds and hearts of Men whose forebears had been doughty friends of the Light. This war goes on, old friend, be it the Third Age or the Thirty-third. The fact that Men now run from us and burn unfortunates at stake is just another evil we must endure.

“Reforge my old longsword Angrussë Weyland, with shards from Aeglos. Then, with the bulk that remains, make a broadsword blade for me. But keep it till the final tempering – to wield the full power, the blademaster must be the blademaker.”

Weyland hefted the pieces, then nodded. “Aye, lord, they will be forged.”

“Good.”

“They will be better.”

“I need the best.”

Ahoy and everything

Ahoy wanderer. Since high fantasy was a major influence (obsession maybe?) on our younger days, let not the trammels of realworld rob us of those moments when Gandalfian staff and massive armies thrown against a Dark Lord made for a happy half-hour of blissful daydreaming.

The story can take any twist and turn as the author sees fit, as long as it remains aesthetically true to the setting and timeline (no bazookas please). The run-on will be carried forward on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. If an author is unable to post in his turn, please notify the next in line.
I think that’s about it. Forth Eorlingaaass!! 😛