Shadow and Silver: The Story of Aurelin - Chapter 27
Here is the previous chapter: Chapter 26
Disclaimer: I am only borrowing from JRR Tolkien's wonderful work and making no money. I do however claim ownership of Aurelin, Laswing, Calenloth and Belegorn.
A/N: This next set of chapters until the prologue have a different story than the others. They were in a sense at first parts of a not-serious-serious RP adventure here, on TORC, in the MEA thread, set in the 4th Age. I changed the adversary and the circumstances but the long trip itself was born from those writings. And so I was before a difficult choice - how to retain the element of a big threat to the Elves and a gathering of an army in the Fourth Age and not stray too far from the limits of Tolkien's universe? So there came the harpy thing (the idea was sparked by the confrontation on Amon Sûl that comes in a later chapter where a flying creature featured which I admit is a bit far-fetched and I tried to downplay them (because I am not too fond of not-belonging-to-Arda-creatures in Tolkien fanfics), mentioning them as little as I could. I am hoping the credibility of the story will not suffer.
She had been racing all day and now the heights of the Mountains of Eryn Lasgalen towered before her eyes. Aurelin had cut south-west through the forest to the westernmost edge of the heights, from here she intended to head straight west and arrive at the Old Ford in the evening of the next day.
Alagos was as springy as ever and restlessly threw his head when Aurelin decided to slow him to a walk for a bit, after she had given him some oats and found a clear stream for both of them to drink from, just to conserve his energy for later need. She had hurriedly eaten a little while Alagos drank his fill and when back on the horse's broad back, weaving their way between the trees as he willed but still in the overall direction of Anduin, Aurelin let herself dream the way Elves do, eyes open and still aware of her horse's movements and of her surroundings. Amongst the dreams she weaved memories from the past few weeks into a coherent story.
It had all started quite innocently with a young elleth reporting that she had seen a flying shadow while she was returning home from a tryst with her betrothed. No one had believed her much then for the night had been unusually cold and the earth still warm from the day, producing veils of thick mist to float all around the Elven settlement. However sightings of strange things had increased after a few days and there had been a feel to the air that the Elves had not felt for years - the waft of turmoil, angst and evil. Scouts had been sent out and little by little more definite pieces had started to converge, the puzzle finally put together by a blood-stained missive a hawk had brought from the Grey Mountains that bore the word from the best of the scouts Eryn Lasgalen had - Bergil, or had had, for he was sure to have died after putting what he had discovered onto parchment.
The story seemed so unreal that Aurelin had still a hard time believing it but she and every other inhabitant of the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen had to for the mangled corpses of Elves had been there to prove it.
One of Thuringwethil's brood, styling herself Ennorís now, had been sent by Morgoth to the East at about the time of Dagor Bragollach, not alone and with a task. It was to ensure the hatching of another of Morgoth's "creations" who had been so far unknown to the Edain and Eldar, although come to think of it, some strange rumours of flying beings in the East had reached the Greenwood at the end of the Third Age. But since the tales from the lands beyond the Sea of Rhûn were always fanciful, they had not been taken as the truth. Sadly it was, for those creations had come back to plague the Elves. Morgoth had ever been obsessed with winged creatures and one of his ideas had been to make flying beings out of the Elves and Men he had captured. The result had been what the easterners called harpies - horrible winged and talon-ed half-birds, half-people. The first generation of the harpies had not been strong enough to survive long after they had laid eggs and they had all died. So Morgoth was left with the problem of harpy-eggs on his hands, eggs that could not hatch in the cold of the North for they required more heat. The Eastern Men were under his control even then, and their regions fit Morgoth's requirements, so Ennorís had been sent with the eggs to the east with orders to return when the harpies were born. And that was how she and the harpies were lost to the histories and knowledge of the Eldar and Edain, for none had ever been seen and the departure and nature of Ennorís' errand had been a secret.
Morgoth fell and the eggs had still not hatched, Sauron arose and still Ennorís waited, he was downfallen and the eggs were still just eggs. But Ennorís' long waiting was rewarded when the eggs reached the temperature, humidity and nutrients levels to hatch around the year 50 of the Fourth Age. There were two kinds - the Elf-harpies and Man-harpies, the latter more numerous but the first more intelligent and powerful. They grew and were trained by Ennorís and stories of flying horrors rose amongst the Easterners. By the time Elessar had died, they were full grown and Ennorís began to plan her rise to power for when Gorthaur and Morgoth were gone, who better to become their heiress than her, she who had been so faithful to the dark cause and armed now with a strong weapon. Or two - for if not having the harpies had been enough, she had also gotten her hands on the secret of what the scouting spies had heard called as the "death-powder", what the Elves had become to believe over the last week to be close kin to the stuff Saruman had used against Helm's Deep. Armed like that Ennorís was powerful and the Eastrons, having been heartened by the example of Elessar, decided they would try to rise against her evil, refusing to succumb to it. It was still not clear why the Elf-harpies had suddenly changed but it could be that the Elves their fore-parents had been were not as twisted as the ones who had been made into Orcs, for this kind of the harpies had suddenly turned against their mistress and betrayed her stronghold to the Eastrons to join the latter army in their efforts to rid themselves of the Lady and her minions. The Elf-harpies had all died valiantly but the Eastrons had managed to drive Ennorís out of their lands in the end. Furious with everything and everyone, reserving a special place in her hate-consumed heart for all the Elves, she had secretly managed to make her way west and settle in the Grey Mountains where her harpies (now with no exception all descended from Men and those had showed no sign of reverting to the light as their half-kin had) had quickly enough started to venture to the Forest.
The Elves had known they needed to destroy Ennorís as soon as possible for her power would only grow if she was allowed the time and when the Orcs remaining from the downfall of Sauron became bold enough to leave their hiding places and join Ennorís.
And Eryn Lasgalen lacked the Eldar that were essential for this task, for Thranduil had left a year after his son had sailed from Ithilien and with him had went most of the Sindar of the Forest of Greenleaves. Aurelin had lingered and a few others but they were not enough and the Nandor could not stand against a foe such as that alone. When Bergil's message had come that Ennorís, Queen of Middle-earth as she had named herself, would launch an attack on the Forest in forty, perhaps forty-five days, an immediate war-council had been called in Eryn Lasgalen that had decided that they would need to send someone to bring help from Imladris and Lindon. The numbers they could gather would be a mere shadow of the old armies of the Eldar, but the experience and strength both physical and spiritual of the Sindar and Noldor was sorely needed. Since Aurelin was one of the few Sindar remaining in the forest and of those the one least needed for the preparations of defence, she had volunteered for the task. Everyone had been reluctant to let her go alone but she had reassured them that Ennorís would probably be more occupied with the Forest and not notice a lone traveller who did not even head for the nearest pass over the Mountains, but the farther one - Caradhras - passing by the old Lothlórien (though deserted it would still hold a measure of the air of the Elves and therefore be a haven of certain safety on a perilous road). From Imladris she would head to Mithlond to speak with Círdan and ask for his help. Aurelin hoped that Gilgaer was in Rivendell for she would welcome his company on her way to the Shipwright as well as his position as Círdan's envoy and friend. The journey would be a race, one Aurelin would have to win, or her friends' lives would be in grave danger.
She blinked her eyes and came to the present for a second to draw her hood over her head against the rain that had begun to fall and was trickling annoyingly down her spine. Autumn was not her favourite time of year here, in the Forest, for the rains were always cold and travelling a muddy business. The fall in Imladris seemed like a cool summer to her now and she longed for it with all her heart. If not for the threat of Ennorís, she would have been packing her belongings and looking forward to returning to dwell in Imladris or perhaps settling in Mithlond finally and ending the self-wrought separation of Gilgaer and her. As matters were now, however, she would be lucky to survive all this to settle anywhere!
"Letting gloomy thoughts worm their way into your heart, silly elleth!" Aurelin admonished herself for letting the rain get to her.
The rosily coloured morning found her near the edge of the Forest, the light brighter for the trees were less and not blocking out the sun so much. Thanks to Manwë and Ulmo, the rain had abated just before dawn and though the autumn air was somewhat crispy, its pine-smell refreshed Aurelin and banished the pessimism of the damp night. Her hood was down and the coppery hair streamed behind her, wind kissing her cheeks and bringing out the sparkle of exertion in her eyes. She had urged Alagos to a gallop hours ago and they were quickly nearing the last line of the trees of Eryn Lasgalen and the banks of Anduin. Once over the ford she would head south and when over Sîr Ninglor, there would be only open land between her and Lothlórien.
She crossed the river and was drawing near the Gladden before her optimism wore away. Her ride had been still uneventful but the feeling of a threat in the air was everpresent, though it was as elusive as it had been. It was just a sense of unease that would not go away and made Aurelin's neck prickle. She fixed Imladris firmly in her mind, imagining how it would be to ride down to the bridge over Bruinen and then to the House. She could leave herself no room for doubts to arise, especially since those were lurking just at the edge of forming. One maid alone in the wilds - what could she have been thinking? No, she was the best one to achieve it! Alagos was fast and she was trained extensively in weapons. "Put aside the unsure young elleth - you have come further than that!" she muttered the line as a charm and pressed the fingers of her right hand on the index of her left and Laswing's betrothal ring.
Aurelin noticed that she had come to Loeg Ningloron when she saw the iris flowers blooming ahead, golden amidst the pools, the last brave ones to last until so late in the year. It was a shame to ruin their beauty, so she made an effort to find un-flowered patches for her horse's hooves. Not long after the river was before her and Alagos crossed it with little difficulty. Again amongst the little meres of greyish brown and occasionally clearer blue, Aurelin once more attended to the task of salvaging as many of the iris as she could. As if her luck had held already far enough, her care was her undoing when she got too cautious about the flora and forgot the pools.
A little pond like all the others was in front of Alagos and she urged him in but this one proved deeper than the others. The horse stepped into it and Aurelin lurched on his back, almost falling over his hindquarters, only some straining acrobatics helped her retain her seat. Alagos' hooves didn't find ground underneath and it made him nervous. Aurelin urged him on for they could not back out and he swam across but the bank on the further side was high and muddy. The horse was relieved to see firm ground in front but when he put his front hooves on the bank, he slid down. Thrice more they tried and fell back into the water.
Aurelin didn't know what to do. They could try some other part of the bank or she could try to climb up herself and help Alagos in his efforts.
"Alagos, my friend, what say you?"
The black ears flicked and the horse snorted. Aurelin took the meaning - "I would do better alone!". Alagos had always been arrogant. She patted his neck and slid from his back, only to slip on the mud herself and manage to get herself wet and muddy up to the knees. Alagos neighed.
"Very funny!" Aurelin snapped because having wet feet was not her idea of a good, or even a decent day. The Gladden Fields certainly were not hospitable to travellers, yet again, that is. She climbed onto the bank and began to (unsuccessfully) remove some of the mud off of her trousers and boots. Mostly she just managed to smear her hands. Alagos had turned to the left edge of the pool and was pulling himself onto firm ground inch by inch while Aurelin rinsed her hands in the Morgoth-cursed pool. Wriggling her toes she found that not much water had gotten in the boots and glad to find at least something to be glad about, Aurelin remounted Alagos and the two set out again, both eager to break out of the marshland.
The fourth day of the one when she had set out with a flourish of a cloak, a grin and a rearing of the horse from Eryn Lasgalen, Aurelin, not so fancy any more with her stained trousers and hair drooping from the rains and sweat, came to Dimrill Dale and Nen Cenedril, the Mirrormere, with the sun climbing ever higher behind her back. She was climbing up the Dimrill Stair at midday. Aurelin hoped Caradhras would let her pass. She spent the dark hours half way up to the Pass. She hadn't felt like trying to climb a mountain at night, especially that particular mountain. The going had not been difficult so far and she asked Elbereth that it would remain so. Finally she could afford a camp to rest herself and Alagos. She took a blanket from her supplies and spread it on the hard and chilly rock-floor and with Alagos as a screen from gusts of wind, she sat, her back against the mountain-wall and succumbed to dreams, the only feature of which was her bed with her in it and her mother, father and Laswing sitting on the left, right and at the foot of the bed, guarding her sleep.
She woke to the Sun rising out of the East and spilling its rays into her eyes. Yawning and stretching her aching and stiff limbs, Aurelin stood up and squinted against the bright sunrise, seeing a sky clear of clouds she allowed herself a small contented smile. Just what she had hoped for and besides - her dream the night before had refreshed her to look brightly at the world around her. When she was on the western side of the mountains she would have the hardest part of the journey behind her and she was close to that goal with no reason as yet to doubt her ability to reach the other side of the pass.
After folding the blanket and stowing it away, Aurelin took a piece of lembas and while nibbling at it and drinking spring water from a flask, she climbed on her horse and continued up the climbing path and took time to braid her hair after her meal to get it out of her eyes whenever the wind caught the strands.
Three hours later she was close to the highest point of the pass. The weather had changed and she was fighting to go on. It had started about an hour after she had set out with tiny flakes of snow swirling gracefully in the air. But the higher she got, the more clouds appeared and the more snow they poured down at her. Now she was struggling against wind and through snow higher than her waist.
Well, she was walking on the snow but her horse was trying to push through the drifts and it was getting more and more difficult for him. Aurelin loved the black horse and it hurt to see him striving to keep up with her. She could not go back and she would not tell the horse to return east, so the only way to go was forward.
The wind started to gust more fiercely and additional snow came with it. The gusts were so strong that Aurelin feared she might be blown off the mountainside - one disadvantage of not having to flounder in snow. She held on to her horse for her dear life and willed herself raise one foot before the other.
The snow became even higher some way further and then Alagos was stuck. The horse neighed loudly and was looking around with wide eyes. Aurelin was close to despair when she started to push the horse to help it force its way through the snow that had been and was currently packed by the winds. Not able to hold her cloak closed, the snow and wind got everywhere, blowing the cloak behind her like a sail, laughing merrily at her awkwardness. When the two succeeded in getting past that part of the path finally and the snow became powdery unexpectedly, Aurelin was caught unawares and the momentum of her mighty push landed her on her knees. Deliberately slowly she got up, straightened and with a fierce calm born of stubbornness, did not even spare a cursing thought to the moods of the Red Horn. She would not yield to him. As a further mockery the wall of snow lowered after a few more steps but Aurelin refused it to disturb her calm. This was good and let her breathe more easily. Too soon.
A new gust of snow was blown into her face, stinging eyes and lashing her face so that she thought there must be burning marks on her cheeks. Aurelin's calm broke and she started to mutter curses of the mountain, wishing to cry them out in a loud voice but the wind and snow shut her mouth. With the mutters had come doubts - would she dare to go on? She stopped moving and leant against Alagos' strong shoulder and gathered her cloak around her to think. Her determination was wavering and Alagos, brave soul who'd do anything for her, was looking at her with the question of why she had brought him here in his eyes. Tears trickled down her cheeks at that dark brown gaze but also gave her the answer. She had to go on, that is why she had come up here. Not to turn back and try to find another way that could cost precious time in opposing Ennorís. No, she had come here to get over the Pass and to the western side of the Hithaeglir.
Aurelin drew herself up and from somewhere new strength of will poured into her. She set out again. Caradhras answered. They were at the highest point of the pass when Aurelin heard amongst the whistling of the wind and the noises her horse made, a new sound. She hadn't heard anything like this before and whipped her head up to the source of it. Snow was pouring down the heights like a thick horribly white and exquisite glittering wall. An avalanche - Caradhras was not going to let her pass. The snow came crashing down on her and her steed.
For a moment she thought that was the end, the weight of the mass seemed to push her down beyond all hope of emerging again and the numbing cold was ready to welcome her into its arms. She started to fight against it and tried to push herself up and out. At first there was only snow and her movements got more frantic until her fingers were suddenly free. Her head emerged next and then she struggled out to lay on her back on the snow for a moment, gasping for air. A few paces from her she saw the head of Alagos from the corner of her eye and wearily she stumbled to dig him out. This took nearly half an hour and her hands were blocks of ice and her clothes were soaked by the snow by the time he was free. Tears were solidifying on her cheeks, both of anger and despair at the strength and means of the will that had set itself against her.
When the horse was out, they walked ten paces and another rumble preceded a small aimed mass of snow to fall just in front of their noses. Now Aurelin had had enough.
"Caradhras, Red Horn, stay this!" she yelled and stepped forward. Snow fell again.
"Let us pass!"
Two rumbles and snow falling in front and behind her.
"Caradhras, listen to me! You will not defeat me, I will go on. Let me pass! Hear me, if you stop me, you might be stopped too! The Dark Lady in the north has means to raise and topple mountains at her will. With that power, she might doom the Earth to destruction, or merely decide that she would rather not have a string of mountains in the middle of her kingdom. The end would come for you, Red Horn, then. Stay this and let me do what I must to stop her!"
Aurelin's voice was raw from yelling and she went quiet now. Yes, she had magnified the threat somewhat but the urgency she felt had to have shone through. If only Caradhras would decide not to risk the chance that she was telling the truth about Ennorís' intentions. Who knew what a crazed and angry Maia or a lesser spirit could do?
The mountain was silent, the air was thick with the pressure of rocks grinding against each other, Aurelin interpreted it for herself as how Caradhras "thought". Suddenly the press vanished and a last loud rumble came and a wall of snow fell at her back.
You made your point! Aurelin murmured, understanding that this was the mountain's way of telling her to go on. She patted Alagos' neck and urged him to start walking again, wearing a very small smile (for to get too smug could very well bring half of the snow on the mountain top on her). The path was sloping already downwards and the snow ever lessening. In half an hour the clouds were gone and the sun was shining down on her, the road was dusted only with a slight coat of snow and Aurelin figured she would be in Eregion by nightfall. With her skin intact - something she had started to doubt strongly while battling wills with the mountain.
She got down from the mountain at about the time she had expected and indulged herself by sporting a large grin and murmuring a cheerful tune, feeling extremely proud of Alagos and herself. She figured that it would be a day's ride to get to Imladris but she was not going to leave for Rivendell just now. Her horse was tired from the passage of the mountain and it would have been cruel to make him go on. Her own clothes were soaked through from the snow and the autumn sun could never be enough to dry them off. At least it seemed this side of the mountains had not seen the rain that fell almost every other day this autumn in Rhovanion.
As the first stars sprang out in the dusk sky, Aurelin set to make camp going in search of firewood. It didn't take long before she had built a nice small fire. Alagos was somewhere around, grazing. Aurelin had taken off the wet clothes and put those spread on sticks to dry near the fire. She was wrapped in a blanket, singing softly while combing her hair (that Aurelin had washed of the sweat and dust of travelling with speed and battling with mud-pools and snow and mountains).
In Menegroth the fountains sparkle,
fair Lúthien the realm's marvel
She sang a song that her father had taught her of the golden days of the Thousand Caves, when all of a sudden the light of the stars overhead was blocked. She looked up because she had felt the starlight on top of her head and suddenly it was gone. A shadow passed over the sky, too dark, blending with the night sky, for even an Elf to make out what it was. Aurelin became alert, reaching for her bow to be ready for any unpleasantness but the dark shape disappeared to the north. She was ready for an attack but when after half an hour nothing had happened and the shadow had not reappeared, she shrugged and guessed that she had made a Balrog out of a sparrow. The knowledge of a dark power at loose made every unknown shape a threat in your mind, things that you'd otherwise not even notice. Aurelin guessed it may have been one of the Eagles flying to their eyries near the High Pass, nonetheless she kept her bow next to her through all night and kept glancing up at the sky, not daring to yield to the pull of dreams. The vigil was kept by her faithfully for half the night but when still nothing else appeared up in the sky, she put the matter out of her mind completely, instead worrying about how her friends were faring in the Greenwood and whether Alagos had managed to rest enough to be up for the next part of the race. The orange and rose dawn found her already dressed in her now dried clothes and putting out the campfire, scattering the ashes, folding the blanket, drinking some water and eating a loaf of lembas. Then, when she was ready to go, she whistled for Alagos who dispersed her fears about him for he was vibrant from having spent a night grazing and resting freely after the ordeal on the Caradhras.
Aurelin restowed the supplies and got up on Alagos' back. With a caressing pat she told the horse to hasten and away they flew to the north and towards Imladris.
Just before dusk she saw from afar the Last Homely House, light shining in the windows, her home as much as Eryn Lasgalen. The pines smelt wonderfully as she crossed the bridge and let Alagos trot down the path that led to the stables.