6. Chapter 6
She was clad in the normal fashion of her people, in leather breeches and tunic, under riveted armour of rectangular plates. A curved sword hung at her waist, and an unstrung bow was slung at her back, the quiver hanging off her high-horned saddle. Her metal cap and high, felt boots were both trimmed with what looked like wolf fur. The enamelled device on the front of her cap was that of the banners, a black moon on a field of violet.
Stools were set out on the faded grass before the King's tent. The Easterling sat stiffly facing the loose half-circle of Eldar, having refused tea. Closer attention revealed hollowed cheeks and the bones showing underneath the pale skin of her face. Her hands were chapped and reddened, and her wristbones were too prominent. The weeks of siege had taken their toll on the defenders also.
There was a long silence. The woman stared at the High King out of black, unblinking eyes, though there was both fear and stubbornness in her posture.
The High King sighed, and spoke first, in Sindarin.
"Lady, I am called Finarfin. I am the High King of the Noldor. Have you a name by which we might call you?"
The woman flinched at his first words, but after a moment she took a deep and obvious breath and replied. Her Sindarin was fluent and vilely ungrammatical.
"I am call Khitun. I am, ah, second. I am speaker also." She paused, apparently in search of the correct word. "Herald. I am herald for Innin the Undying, Grandmother of the Arakan Deg, Lady of Cold Hill."
Maedhros laughed softly, from where he sat at Finarfin's left. The woman Khitun shot him a glance of naked fear, then lifted her chin and glared at the High King.
"You want ... parley. Grandmother asks why. Better you go away and not bother her anymore."
Her accent was the same as the last night's Singer, but Finarfin did not need Maglor's mindspoken confirmation to know that they were not the same.
"We offer the ...Grandmother and her people the chance to go from here in peace and safety, without more deaths, of hers or ours."
The woman frowned, in what appeared to be concentration, rather than anger.
"What is "peace and safety"?
Finarfin hesitated over her question a moment, before he realised what she meant.
"It is that your people may depart unmolested, with your wounded, your horses and your goods, saving only your arms and armour, to go where it pleases you, north or east. West or south also, if you wish, but I do not counsel it; the land there is dangerous and no longer solid beneath the feet."
The Easterling took some time to puzzle out his meaning. Then she shook her head with exaggerated emphasis.
"Cannot. If no arms, no armour, we go slow, orcs and wolfs come, we die." For the first time she smiled, a spiky, defiant, crooked-toothed grin.
"If die, then better die here. Home. Take you with us into dark."
Meneldis said coolly,
"But orcs and wolves are also servants of the Dark Lord, even as you. Why should you fear them?"
The woman spat in the grass at her feet.
She lifted a hand and tapped a finger against the grey fur banding her cap.
"Wolf." This time her grin was purely a baring of teeth.
"This hills ours. Orcs come, wolfs come, we hunt, they die. I am born here. This land my one."
In all his years in Beleriand, Finarfin did not recall that he had ever actually truly spoken with any of the Enemy's Men. He had seen their foul handiwork in Hithlum, had fought battles against them the length and breadth of the land for which his children had fought and died. Had slain them in numbers beyond count, Children of the One and kin of his though they were. This vicious, dauntless child was the first with whom he had ever held extended converse, and an unexpected pity stirred within him.
"Lady Khitun, if we release your people, with your arms and armour, where will you go?"
She looked back at him, eye to eye.
"Grandmother say, not good to play-play in games of gods. She say, she make mistake to come here long ago. She say, when she swear oath to Great King, is bad idea. But oath is oath. We are Arakan Deg, we swear, we do. When last battle time coming, we keep oath, fight." She made a flicking gesture of the fingers towards the north-east.
"Us and our kin, there on the plain."
"Then why should we let you go now, if we must only fight you later?"
"'Later' is not under hand of the living. Grandmother not know "later". I not know. You not know. Maybe gods also not know. If not fight now, maybe later not fight also."
She bared her teeth in that snarling grin again.
"Even if fight, dead later still better than dead today. Grandmother say, if we live, later, we go home. Arakan Deg are Children of Sunrise, we go back, make new home in old land. Leave Sunset for death, for gods and demons to fight over. Sunset is demons' land, not ours."
"We are not demons!" Edrahil said, nettled.Vanamirë said almost at the same moment,
"If you will forsake your allegiance to the Darkness, and ask the pardon of the Valar..."
"Pardon?" The woman bristled.
"For what? From who? Who is Valar? God also one? Like Great King the same? Where got difference?"
In the appalled silence that followed, Maedhros laughed again.