Songbeak the nightingale watched as elves streamed out of the doors of Cirdan’s house, faces illuminated in the flickering torchlight. There seemed to be a great bustle. Suddenly they all fell silent. The grey-haired elf, the ship-maker, who seemed to be the leader, spoke to the mass of people.
“You will search the lands far and wide. You will bring back my daughter, dead or alive. You will hunt down that witch from beyond the sea and send her to the Halls of Mandos for her devilry. Now go! “
The elves streamed out of the gates, leaving the grey-haired elf alone on the doorstep. Songbeak thought it best to leave. All was not well at the Havens.
Feawen and Aramel hurried as fast as they could for the first few days, hoping to leave behind any searchers. Walking in the night, wearing grey, they were indistinguishable from shadows flitting from tree to tree. And indeed they were taken for shadows by some of the folk who lived east of the Grey Havens, so that in years to come, mothers would tell children sitting by the fireside of the shadows that lived in the wood.
Five days had passed when Feawen decided that they were at a safe distance from the Havens, and could journey by day. The sun was rising in all its glory, painting the forest floor in patterns of green and gold when they woke. Far and near, birds were singing their piercing dawn choruses, waking the groggy elves.
Aramel groaned and yawned. “Is it time for breakfast? I haven’t had a meal sitting down for almost a week.”
Feawen wasn’t listening. Her ears picked up faint voices amid the clamour the birds were making. Warily she ducked behind a bush, and Aramel, perceiving that something was wrong, hurriedly scrambled up a tree.
Two Elves came into sight, strolling down the forest path. They were earnestly in talk, and so did not notice the two in hiding. They sat on a rock not very far from where Feawen was.
“What a job!” one was saying, in a low tone, “sent to catch the Lady Aramel, and to get her back will or nil, and to kill a lady sent by the Valar!”
“Lord Cirdan does not believe she is sent by the Valar, he believes she is an imposter and a witch,” said the other. “I doubt, though, that he cares. I have never seen him like that before. He is fey!”
“Indeed he is, and I shudder to think what he would do in such a state of mind. I doubt that he will be very pleased with the lady Aramel if we bring her back.”
“Indeed he would not. I will not have anything to do with this. I will not stain the honour of a lady, and even less will I risk the wrath of the Valar, in harming one sent by them.”
“Aye. We have served long under Lord Cirdan, but this deed I will not do.”
And talking softly, they went away.
Feawen stayed for a moment, to make sure they were gone. Then cautiously she got up and walked out. Aramel was not so cautious.
“Witch, indeed!” she cried, half climbing, half sliding down the tree. “That is the sort of thing I would have expected from an Orc-brigand, not the lord of the Grey havens! He refuses to believe that it was his own fault, keeping me in his house all the time and not letting me see the world because I am a woman! Instead he blindly accuses you of witchcraft and puts all the blame on you, thus trying to console himself in the idea that it was not his fault! And he would kill you, even though you are sent by the Valar!” she said angrily, close to tears.
“Hush,” said Feawen gently, “It is not his fault entirely, Aramel. He loves you too much to let you go. In his mind he believes that such a thing as your leaving him with me, one that you barely knew, could only be induced by witchcraft. Little does he know that-“
“I dreamed of you,” cut in Aramel. “The night before you came, I had a dream. A queen it seemed, with stars in her hair, that bent over me, and spoke these verses:
Dartho i ‘ûr lín thenid vi môr
a tiro a chalad úchastan’ na vôr.
Daro avorn nan enidh gûr lín
ar av’ osto ngurth egor orlum.
Ir i lû lín tôl sílathach sui narthan
a celiathach i vôr. Dregathar in núath,
glírdain linnathar o maethad lín, oh orthored lín
a ian tellich trî vôr na galad.
Then she said, ‘follow your hearts desire, child, and do not fear. One shall guide you’. And then I saw you, sitting on the prow of a swan-ship. And I woke up. I did not remember it till now. “
The enormity of it struck Feawen. It must have been Varda Elbereth herself who had entered Aramel’s dreams. And the verses, in the Common Tongue meant:
In darkness may your heart hold true
and unmarred by darkness seek the light.
Hold fast to your heart’s desire
and fear not death nor danger.
When your time comes you will shine as a beacon
And light the darkness. Shadows will flee,
Bards will sing of your struggle, your triumph
And how you came through darkness to light.
They sat for a while, silent, Feawen reflecting on Aramel’s dreams, and Aramel with her mind full of her father’s doings.
Suddenly they heard a slithering sound behind. This time Feawen hurriedly dragged Aramel behind the bush as well, motioning her to be silent. A black-robed rider came on the forest path, riding a giant serpent, and breath came out the serpent’s mouth as beaded vapour. Everything that it passed was overlaid in ice. Feawen felt groggy and cold, as cold as if she had plunged into a sea of ice. Sleep, the cold seemed to say, feel me and sleep. What is life? It will always end. Sleep on forever.
Feawen swayed. The voice was soothing and hypnotic. She could almost see a grey mist creeping up before her eyes. Her hands seemed cold and weak. It slipped, until it touched something at her waist…
Suddenly, Feawen was wide awake, filled by a fierce warmth that shook off the cold mist. She looked to see what it was that she had touched. It was the bottle of star-silver, blazing so brightly that she could not bear to look at it. It lighted the bush and part of the road. The Cold Rider riding on the serpent of ice shrank and slithered away.
Feawen turned to look at Aramel. She was slumped against the bush, oblivious to all that had passed. She had fallen under the cold serpent’s spell.
Hurriedly Feawen bent over Aramel, pressing the bottle of star-silver against her arm. The light grew brighter, and the heat became almost unbearable. Aramel yelped and jerked away. The spell of the cold serpent was broken. She moaned and stirred. “What was that thing? It was horrible! “
“Now you see why your father doesn’t want you to go out into the world,” muttered Feawen.
“I’m still not going home. You fell under the spell too.”
“I never asked you to.”
They sat for a while in silence, and then Aramel said, “The cold serpent wasn’t sent by my father. Is there somebody else looking for us?”
“Maybe. Remember, the Serpent Rider may not have been looking for us.”
“I hope so.” Aramel shuddered.
What both of them did not know was that the cold serpent rider was indeed looking for them. His master, Duath, had sent him. Duath hated and feared the Valar, even though he himself was a Maia, an evil one. Evil Maiar are terrible to behold, and Duath indeed looked like some dark towering king. Now he sat, reflecting on his own thoughts. Duath wanted Middle-earth as his realm, and nothing would stop him. He would first take over the Elves. With the power of the Three Rings gone, they were helpless. Their old refuges would collapse and crumble beneath his might. They would have nowhere to flee, nowhere that his dark power could not reach. One thing only he doubted. The Valar had sent one to middle-earth, and Duath’s mind could not rest, knowing that. Until he saw the one the Valar had sent. Duath laughed. A pitiful elf-woman towing an even younger elf-girl around.
The elf-woman is more powerful than you know, dark one. And the elf-girl will yet be your downfall. A voice sounded in Duath’s mind, high and clear. Duath jumped up. It was the voice of she who he feared and hated, Varda, the star-kindler. He shouted his defiance, but there was no answer.
Cirdan the shipwright sat alone in his house, thinking. He thought about the day he had given Aramel a lecture on the duties of a woman, when she had made her own bow and arrows secretly, and had been found out. He had said, “Your part is in maidenly works. You were not made to fight and hunt, to shoot and fence. Turn to more delicate woks, daughter.” Aramel had said, “Nobody was born knowing these things. If I cannot fight and hunt, it is because you have not taught me how. I do not wish to stay in one place until I grow weary of the world. I want to be free, to run and ride, to see the world.” Cirdan’s heart sank at these words, remembering how Aramel’s mother had been killed in battle with Orcs. Just so her mother had been, strong-willed, wishing for adventure. He did not wish his child to die as well, and so had been all the more insistent. Aramel had probably wanted adventure, and snuck out of the house.
Now he looked out of the window, wondering where his searchers were, and whether they had found Aramel and Feawen Linial. He wished he had not set the order to kill Feawen. He didn’t think she was at fault for this. And how I should be at fault, with the death of an Elf on my hands! he thought, and winced. He would not have a good reputation after this.
Thinking of Aramel, he sighed. She would probably never speak to him again, after this matter. She must hate him right now, and even more if the searchers harmed Feawen. In her eyes, he would be a murderer..
The searching party had, in fact, passed Feawen and Aramel. They smiled at the idea that elves could pass them and not see them, especially as one of them winked in their direction. It seemed that Cirdan’s folk, at least, did not hang upon his every word. But it seemed that they were divided in opinion. Some thought that they should obey Cirdan, and some thought that obedience, this time, was not the right choice.
Duath sat in his dark castle, thinking. He did not doubt that Varda spoke truth, and he thought about it. He had to do something, it was clear, to avert fate. What was it? The answer was clear. Kill them.
He called his Orc-band, which he had summoned in the darkness, and spoke to them, telling them of the two elves. “If you catch them,” he said, “you can do what you like with them. Only kill them.”
The Orcs needed no encouragement. Yelling, they marched out of Duath’s shadowy abode in the Blue Mountains, headed the Havens. These orcs march faster than any others, and in a very short time were out of sight of Mar-en-Duath.
Duath smiled evilly. Everything was going as he wanted.
Feawen chose a clearing in the woods for their camp that night, in no hurry, and lit a fire, as it seemed that the search party had passed them. But they did not know about the other search party.
Feawen felt restless, and her heart misgave her. “Stay here,” she told Aramel, “do not wander! I will go and see what I can see.” And she silently left the clearing.
Feawen had hardly left when the orcs struck!