Grief of the North Kingdom (a novel)

by May 12, 2010Stories

CHAPTER THREE

Vilthavia was given little time to come to terms with the predicament that now loomed before him, and he found little sympathy with those of his companions that had witnessed the disagreement between uncle and nephew. The boy should have known better than to attempt such a quest, said some of them. He cannot expect to inconvenience the entire company due to his lack of foresight, said others. Let this serve as a lesson to him! If he falls into peril than surely the blame will lay upon himself, was another popular claim. Yet there were a few that felt badly for the young Rhovanion; not just for the sake of his innate fears of mountains and high places, but equally as much for the callous uncle that was charged to look after the boy by the latter’s mother.

Urlavia became aware of some of the men’s disapproval of his treatment of his nephew and, though not by nature an empathetic man, he was no fool either and he had no desire to earn the scorn of his companions – men who just might be required to save his life in some unforeseen calamity that might present itself over the next few days of mountain travel. Therefore, he made the extra effort to stay near Vilthavia as the company progressed up into the upper elevations of the high passes and the weather became colder and the snow deeper. Further still, whenever his obligations as one of the party’s guides would afford it, Urlavia would fall back in the marching order and speak softly with his nephew for several moments of various topics, such as what to expect once the company came down into Eriador and what folk he deemed it wise to trust and those that would be better off avoided. When the company would be required to resume a single-file progression over some narrow walkway that sported a sheer drop to one side, or if Vilthavia would begin to lag behind due to a bout of nausea or dizziness, Urlavia would speak words of encouragement in his ear and assure him that they had already passed the half-way point and the remainder of the journey would begin to descend downwards towards Eriador.

On the afternoon of the third day of the company’s march the weather had finally taken a turn for the worse. By mid-morning the sky had become exceedingly dark and gray and threatened the travelers with heavy clouds that brooded trouble for any that dared to traverse the heights of the Misties. The threat did not go unnoticed, however, and Wildaria ordered the party to halt while the scouts went ahead to get a lay of the mountains and the way ahead. The decision proved to be a wise one, for the scouts had not even time to return to the group before the winds suddenly escalated to a high pitch and swirling columns of heavy wet snow began to fall all about them. They had been fortunate thus far, as only a few bare inches had bothered to accumulate around their ankles since their hike had begun four days ago, yet now it surely seemed to threaten the entire company with an impasse that might stall them for some time.

There had been nowhere to take cover from the foul weather after it had struck. Most of the group sought to shield themselves by huddling together against a high wall of rock that at least intercepted the brunt of the howling wind that churned around them. Wildaria had to shout in order for his orders to be heard – orders that consisted mainly of hobbling the legs of the horses and mules together as quickly as possible to prevent them from bolting off and also of securing the beasts of burden that shouldered most of the company’s food supply. It was not an easy task, for the storm had frightened many of the horses and they neighed and whinnied loudly.

Vidui took special care of his own steed, Nightmare, and he smiled at his mare’s bravery for exhibiting a mild and even passive disposition at the raging winds that seemed to scare the other beasts. He had trained her well and he knew it. He was proud of her and he began to harbor second thoughts about selling her to the prince Ermegil of Rhudaur once he arrived at Cameth Brin.

Vilthavia began to feel the hopelessness of his present situation now. Bitterness at his decision to accompany this wretched expedition in the first place threatened to gain mastery of all his senses. While others nearby scrambled to seek shelter or busy themselves with holding onto their possessions in the wind the young son of Hunthor and Yavinia dropped to his knees and sought to ward of the tears of frustration that welled up in the corners of his eyes. He felt the familiar pangs of despair inside himself, but he also felt the unexplained feeling of awe and utter fascination with the wild weather that presently raged violently through the mountainous peaks and highlands.

What on earth was that terrible howling sound that echoed around him? He had heard the howling of powerful winds before when the storms of Rhovanion would slide over the plains and drench the lands with heavy rains but this was something much different. It seemed to him that the very mountains themselves possessed fell voices and they screamed in agony at cold tempest that pounded them from on high. Or were the mountains crying out in anger to the foolish travelers that dared to cross their forbidden pathways?

Vilthavia sat upon his knees in the snow that now nearly came up to his waist and shielded his eyes against the winds with his exposed fleshy hands. He ventured to crane his neck this way and that so that he could descry the lofty mountains around him. He could see little save blinding white mist and snow. He could not tell if the way they had been following thus far had indeed already begun its downward progression yet or not; nor could he even be sure of which direction that very pass now lay in, so blindingly harsh had the blowing snow so suddenly become. Yet he could see that the way off to his left presented itself with a steep grade downwards that was almost impossible for a man to scale unaided – least of all in inclement weather. There were a few large rocks with spongy shrubbery and, oddly enough, little pale yellow wildflowers that sported white-hearted centers. They seemed strangely out of place to him at that moment. It was if they existed to represent the last bastion of a short summer in the harsh climate of the high passes. The rocks and snow-covered greenery presented little else that would afford the clumsy hiker to grab hold of in case of a slippage incident in that direction.

“You must go out and retrieve the boy, Urlavia!” cried one of the men of the company who happened to be near him. “He has lost his senses it seems!”

Urlavia cursed under his breath at the sight of his nephew, who sat on his knees in the midst of the storm shielding his eyes. The boy needed fetching very soon or else he would risk losing his way in any attempt to return to the group. After a brief pause in order to rub the blowing snow from his brows Urlavia plunged back out into the raging blizzard and staggered out to where Vilthavia had halted and had become dazed.

“Confound it, Vilthavia!” shouted the boy’s uncle in a rage. “Your wits have flown away with the wind! Remove yourself from this spot and return to the group at once! What are you thinking, you fool?”

Vilthavia had barely even noticed his uncle’s approach. He heard the words that were barked at him from behind but he didn’t comprehend them in his trance-like state. The boy was sure that the howling winds contained some kind of mystical haunted voice that sought to speak to him. He had not been sure of it at first, which would account for his awe-struck countenance at present, yet the more he listened and refrained from moving the more certain was he that a high fell voice was mingled amidst the chaos of the storm. He grimaced and clenched his teeth as he forced himself to endure the cold blowing snow in the air that hammered his face. He felt strangely rooted in place now. He tried to move his feet but something seemed to be interfering with his muscular will, as if the screaming wind beckoned him to remain still. Was that a voice that he heard among the rushing winds? Or were there several voices? A moment or two passed and the imaginary voices ceased. Did he imagine it?

No. There could be little doubt about it. There it was again! Not the voice of his irksome uncle, who now labored through the snow towards him, but a hissing cry that contained barely audible spoken words – or no! Not spoken, but rather a menacing incantation in a tongue that Vilthavia had never heard before. Sometimes it was here and sometimes there, as when the winds would rise up for a brief thrashing about, and then again it would disappear almost entirely, as if in between airily punches. The young Rhovanion felt a renewed sense of fear encroaching upon his already weakening spirits. Though he could not make out the words in the unfamiliar language he somehow felt utterly frightened at the sound of them.

The words were a product of complete unfamiliarity and horror to him as he sat as still as stone alone in the storm. He felt himself shudder uncontrollably. They were not easy to hear over the powerful winds that delivered the incantation to him on a rising and falling windy ebb. But he was sure that they were quite real and not merely some living or fell dream that he was now experiencing while wide awake. More than ever now did he bitterly regret his decision to leave his homeland.

“Vilthavia, curse you!” cried his uncle once again, who now grabbed hold of his nephew’s shoulders in exasperated anger. “What are you doing? You shall be the bane of both of us ere this is all over!”

“Did you hear the voice, uncle?” asked Vilthavia in a panic-stricken voice as Urlavia layed hands upon him. “Tell me you heard that!”

Urlavia ignored the questions and sought to raise the boy up by seizing him under both arms.

“Stay a moment, uncle!”

Vilthavia struggled to free himself from his uncle’s grasp in order to listen for the fell voice again. Yet whether the voice had disappeared now or else the dark chanting could not be heard over the wrathful curses of Urlavia, who renewed his efforts to dislodge the foolish lad from his present spot, Vilthavia heard the fell chanting no more.

“Get up!” yelled the uncle to his nephew. “On your feet at once! That’s right! Now get back to the shelter of the wall!”

Vilthavia was unable to contend with the strength of his uncle despite himself, so he at last consented to the demand to retreat back to the ‘safety’ of the rest of the company. They both staggered wearily through the snowdrifts and churning winds until they had returned to the overhanging wall, which was barely any shelter in itself, but certainly better than remaining out in the open in such conditions.

Vilthavia labored past some of the bewildered men who sought to shield themselves from the winds and blowing snow until he reached the stone mountainous wall, where he collapsed in a heap. Despite the storm, he looked down at his exposed hands and saw that the tips of his fingers were white with numbing cold. If he could not find a way to warm them, he thought miserably to himself, they would slowly turn a shade of blue where frostbite would quickly set in thereafter. He plunged his hands inside his old fur-lined coat of soft leather and dug his fingers into the folds of his underclothes in order to seek a bit of warmth. His long dark locks upon his head were blowing wildly in the wind, covering his eyes and nose and obstructing his sight. Yet he did not care, for he could think of nothing around him worth observing at the moment.

His mind was racing now in total incomprehension. If the winds had been severe a few moments ago while he sat outside the the group they seemed to suddenly pick up in intensity now. Surely none of them had ever experienced such an angry tempest before in all their lives. Many of the younger men among them cried out in renewed fear at the strength of these new sporadic gusts of furious white snow that now hounded them all. Then lo! The gusts themselves, which by their very nature come one after another in between short random intervals, suddenly joined together and became one long and uninterupted windy squall that did not abate. It was as if some monstrous heavenly dragon of ice had turned his evil wrath upon the travelers by letting out one long and intense exhalation of hellish wind upon the mountain passes with the intenet of sweeping them all clean of invaders.

In a word, Vilthavia was terrified. He heard himself let out a long and mournful wail that was incapable of being heard by anyone more than a few feet away. Without really knowing it he called out in vain for his mother but the words fell dead. He could think of nothing else to do now save curl himself up into a sort of ball and hug himself against the wall. His eyes were closed now as he huddled in abject misery amidst this almost supernatural fury that seemed to wish them all driven off of the mountains to their deaths. Vilthavia could feel his teeth chattering uncontrollably in his mouth – more through utter fear than of the cold, which was bad enough in itself. He forced himself to open his eyes just enough to catch a glimpse of the outside world around the base of the wall and his feet, which were now submerged in the snowdrift. He was sure that the wind gusts now blew completely horizontally over the mountain passes. How long would it last? How long could he or his companions endure such a horrific blizzard? Surely this could not be a normal occurrence among the high passes or no one would ever venture to tread them. The haunted and obscure – even hellish chanting that he had momentarily heard a few moments ago lent weight to his assumption to be sure.

Suddenly the terrified neighing of some of the closer horses and mules rose up above the chaos around them, indicating that something was happening. Vilthavia then heard the cries of two men that directly preceded several muffled thuds followed by panicky whinnying that quickly fell silent. Vilthavia boldly raised his head up a few inches in an irresistible urge to ascertain what had happened, though he thought he could guess at it.

The only thing he could see in the few seconds available to him ere the winds hammered his eyes closed again was that his nearest neighbor happened to be Vidui, who was also cowering in a fetal-like position. Possessing hair considerably shorter than Vilthavia, Vidui was able to see much better than his young friend and he had looked up just in enough time to two of the horses and one of the pack mules being swept off the side of the pass in the opposite direction from where he and Vilthavia now cowered against the wall. It was impossible to know just which horses had fallen prey to the winds, for anything more than a few yards away was incomprehensible in such white-out conditions. But Vidui, who had been unable to regain the ground where his beloved Nightmare had been just before the renewed fury of the storm, obviously feared the worst. He looked over to Vilthavia and met the latter’s eyes only briefly as he cried out his mare’s name as if to notify Vilthavia that his longtime four-legged companion was in extreme danger of being swept away off the cliff.

“Vidui!” shouted Vilthavia feebly. He then saw that Vidui now purposed to leave his present spot despite the powerful gusts of snow and wind in order to go and retrieve his mare. “No! Come back!”

Vidui either did not hear his friend or more likely ignored him. He then rose to his feet before stepping away from the rock wall where most of them huddled close together. Vilthavia knew that he was powerless to stop Vidui in the sudden panic-stricken madness that overcame his friend, and instead gave one last brief look at Vidui, who leaped out of the rising snowdrifts and disappeared into the white mountainous gale. Vilthavia shuddered and closed his eyes again.

He had just resumed his former position of shelter before flinching at what sounded like a tremendous snap from on high – a broken clap of thunder high up the mountain it sounded like to him. Again, Vilthavia cried out in misery at this new sense of dreadful foreboding, not knowing what might have caused such a loud and violent cracking sound. But then he felt a slight tremble beneath his feet. The mountain itself seemed to be quivering in its stony roots! Then he heard one of the closest men nigh to him utter a word that described what had most likely just happened somewhere in the snowy heights above them.

It was an avalanche.

Vilthavia swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes closed at this new revelation. They were doomed. His only thought now was about his impending death, which seemed near at hand now. Beyond doubt, he thought sadly to himself, they would all now perish up here in the lonely passes of the Misty Mountains. No trace of any of them would ever be seen again among mortal men. They would all soon go into that everlasting darkness where there is no return to light. Their lifeless bodies would remained entombed in the frozen snow and ice until next year’s spring thaw, where only the scavenging beasts and carrion birds would welcome their presence as food for their own preservation. His mother would never come to know her son’s final fate, for no tidings of it would be able to reach her ears over so long a distance. There would be no burial for the son of Yavinia, alas, and no comfort of closure would she ever receive from it.

Vilthavia lamented his present impending doom even as he felt the vibrations beneath his feet gradually grow stronger. The sound of a furious thunder could easily be heard rolling and sliding down from the heights of the mountain. He could now hear the cries of alarm and panic from many of the men now. Horses whinnied and bolted in terror. Many among the company, knowing what was about to happen and desperate to try anything rather than remain in the path of the avalanche, thought it better to try and run and scatter to any place where higher ground might be gained. There were only a few sturdy trees anywhere near the area and men clambered to them in a rush. If Vilthavia had bothered to raise his head and look round he would have beheld a most wretched spectacle. Those few that had reached the trees first were fending off their companions by way of reigning hard kicks and blows to their heads as the latter men threatened the integrity of the tree’s strength by swamping their branches with their bodily weight. Those that could not find room to climb the trees cursed their companions before seeking higher ground anywhere they might find it.

Vilthavia refrained from turning round, though, and instead enleashed his tears. He was still thinking of his mother when he suddenly felt someone place their hands upon his head. Instinctively, he looked up to see who had come up to him and was surprised to see that it was Elendis. Her white shawl had blown clear away from her and Vilthavia saw her golden hair flapping and fluttering haggardly in the wind gusts as she hastily dropped to her knees beside him.

They were now huddling so close that they were practically on top of one another. The eyes of the two young travelers met and both then realized that the other had also been weeping uncontrollably, and this seemed to give the other some little bit of comfort amid the impending tragedy. She reached out her hands to Vilthavia and he quickly took them into his own in an air-tight grasp as they huddled agaist the overhanging rock wall.

“Men are fighting one another to gain the heights of the trees!” cried Elendis to Vilthavia. “They are mad with fright – like their horses!”

Vilthavia heard her words but did not offer a reply at once. He continued to hold his squinted gaze into her grey eyes and did not turn away. Elendis seemed suddenly very beautiful to him – more lovely than any creature he had ever seen. He no longer gave any heed to the calamity that threatened to devour them all, but instead just basked in this divine and unlooked for comfort and pleasure that this wonderful maiden, who now held his hands in a steely grip, now injected into him despite their impending doom. He felt he ought to say something to her, and decided to ask her if she wanted to go out and seek higher ground.

“Nay, Vilthavia,” she replied stoutly, raising her voice to be heard over the wind. “Of what use will that be? We are better off where we are. At least we shall be together.”

Elendis offered him a small heart-felt smile. Vilthavia forced himself to return the gesture by smiling in turn. Then, no longer able to contain the urge, Vilthavia embraced her and kissed her hard on her lips – the first time he had ever kissed a girl and likely the last. Elendis responded eagerly. Neither one of them were sure how long the kiss between them had lasted, but both were gladdened by it. But their instantaneous love was fated to be brief, for a sudden wave of snow, rock and ice tumbled down from the overhanging rock wall and crashed behind them before rolling away. It was the first shock of what was to immediately come afterwards.

“Here it comes! Brace yourself!” shouted Vilthavia in a renewed sense of panic. The two of them held each other fast and strong now.

“The Valar shall watch over us!” cried Elendis in genuine conviction despite her terror. The ground now trembled more than ever as the rolling white thunder now approached the location of the company. “Stay close to me, Vilthavia!”

“I love you, Elendis!” Vilthavia had marveled to her himself say such a thing to Elendis amid the horrendous waves of deadly wintry mix that now had reached their present location and fell down like the mountains of Aule himself above them. Yet the words arose from deep within his heart in true meaning at that fatal moment and he was glad he had proclaimed his feelings to her. Elendis again looked into his eyes, which were only a few short inches away from her own and held them there for a moment longer. She did not have time to offer him any reply, however, for the monstrous waves of rolling snow, rock and ice cascaded down from the overhanging wall high above them in a clamor that would have stiffled the cries of the vanquished Melkor in the older ages of the world.

The avalanche had reached them and they were helpless beneath it’s fury.

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