8. Chapter 8
The first ten riders and their charge did not take the road, but came directly up the thorny slope, still at that measured walk, to where Finarfin and his people waited with their own mounts. None of them had gear different from those of the common soldiers, save for their quilted coats of violet silk; the woman in their midst showed a great dragon embroidered in gold upon the breast of hers. Their ponies seemed reluctant to approach the Valinorean horses, shying and backstepping, but obeyed their riders at last.
They halted within earshot. The dragon-woman inclined her head, and said, in fluent Northern Sindarin,
"King of the Noldor, greetings."
The Grandmother of the Arakan Deg could have been the woman Khitun's mother, or perhaps, her elder sister. There were lines on her face that might have been years, or simple weariness, but her black eyes were bright and cold and steady. There was no especial taint about her; she was not one of those like Sauron, whose very presence was horror. But Finarfin had no doubt at all, looking down into her face, that she was of the Enemy. The difference in height between them, and between the little, scrawny ponies and the tall steeds of Valinor, could have been cause for laughter. It was not, any more than would have been the difference in height between a man and a poisonous serpent in the grass at his heel.
"Greetings," he said. "Grandmother of the Arakan Deg." He could not help a questioning lift of the eyebrow.
The woman...creature...gave a little, familiar wave of her fingers northwards.
"In the beginning, the Great King did not care for others to claim any title close to his. It is only recently that He has been persuaded that it is a greater thing to be King over Kings...or Queens... than over mere lords. But my people and I are accustomed to my name and do not wish to change."
"You and yours still have the choice to change this far: your allegiance at least. Your herald has said that you have regretted it."
The Grandmother said without emphasis,
"My line-daughter is brave and clever, but not so young as that. If she said so much, she surely said also why we cannot do as you ask."Vanamirë said, "An oath sworn to Darkness..."
"Is an oath, not to be broken. Or are matters different among the Eldar?"
The elves were silent.
"We are the Arakan Deg. We have promised and we will perform. When I judge it needful, which is not today."
She smiled briefly, with a certain sweetness. Another delicate gesture of the hand encompassed the desolation around them, and by implication, beyond.
"I see little difference, Sir, between the works of my Lord and those of yours."
This struck so close to what Finarfin had tried for years to avoid thinking that he almost flinched. She saw something in his face nonetheless, because her smile widened, less sweetly than before.
Finrod said softly,
"You have not seen Aman." Finarfin felt a brief, unworthy satisfaction as the Grandmother's smirk died.
She made no other acknowledgement of the former King of Nargothrond, but glanced instead at Maedhros. His gear and arms were startlingly shabby next to the glittering panoply of the High King's court, but he sat his borrowed horse at Finarfin's left hand with no less composure than in the days of his lordship.
"Lord of Himring, the Arakan Deg thank you for the shelter of your house these many years. You may enter, if you wish, and take what you will from what remains within."
Malice found no purchase upon Maedhros' indifference. He said only,
"Himring fell long ago. Let its walls follow."
The Grandmother inclined her head, smiling again.
"As you wish."
Finarfin could feel his son's curiosity nearly vibrating next to him. But he did not think that showing any further desire would be wise. The mystery of this creature's connection with the Easterlings would have to remain unsolved. He looked away, down the hill. The mortals were reaching the turn where the road curved into shadow under Himring's eastern rampart, their black and violet banners barely distinguishable in the fading light. Slaves of the Servant of the Enemy, her willing instruments, wilfully ignorant of the truth, of the Light...
He was suddenly, violently, tempted to break his given word and give the order to slay them all. His people trusted him, and would obey, as his brother had been trusted, and obeyed. It would be easy and swift; the Easterlings were at disadvantage of both ground and numbers. It might even be merciful. Finarfin's heart hammered suddenly in his breast. He sucked in a deep breath of the choking air, and coughed as it caught at the bottom of his lungs. With effort, he looked away from the mortals. As his head turned, he caught for a moment the Grandmother's black gaze, and it struck down his spiralling thoughts as an arrow through a buck's eye. She looked...interested. Cold and aware and knowing, and, he realised, waiting, as he wavered on the edge of the abyss. For a moment, horror possessed him utterly, as he realised the place to which his revulsion and anger were leading him.
Peace, Father, his son's thought came to him, clear and cool. Light in the darkness, a beacon for his spirit. Some oaths must be kept, and some must be broken, and wisdom is to know which is which.
Finrod's clean sanity steadied him, drew him away from the brink. He knew. He was the High King of the Noldor, the Wise Elves, and worthy of his place. Finarfin let his breath out quietly, easily, without strain. The disgust and loathing were still there, but they would no longer overmaster his judgment. He would keep his word and his people's honour, and let the future befall however it might.
And he did not wish to face this creature any longer.
"You have chosen, then, Servant of Morgoth. Your people go. Should you not go with them?"
The Grandmother gathered her reins, without any show of anger or disappointment. There was a little ripple of movement among her escort in response; they had watched the elves with tense alertness throughout, dark, narrow eyes fearful and hostile. Their mistress remained at seeming ease, her good humour apparently recovered.
"I would have enjoyed ... furthering our acquaintance in other circumstances. Perhaps we will meet again, on the last field. Perhaps not. Farewell, then, King that was, King that is."
She looked to Maedhros once more; ironic laughter glittered in the darkness of her eyes.
"King that will never be, may you and yours find your desire, in the battle to come. My thank-offering to you, in place of the one that you refused yesterday."
He did not respond, and she bowed to them with a mocking flourish, left hand over her heart, and turned her pony away. Her escort closed around her, and they picked their way down the hill and rode past and away into the twilight, towards the head of the long column of riders.
The elves waited on the hillside until the last of the Men had vanished around the bulk of Himring hill. Scouts would follow, to guard against treachery, and the Host would remain alert until the Easterlings were gone with the rest of their people into Lothlann. They would follow, all the Hosts of Aman would follow, in their own good time.They waited. The afternoon grew darker and the flaying wind colder. At last, Vanamirë gave a soft exclamation and pointed. Above them, Himring began to fall, as if all the weight of its years had come upon it at once: piece by piece, slowly at first and then faster and faster, unnaturally swift. The tower fell first, the great blocks crumbling from the foundations upwards, riven as if by many winters. Then the walls and all the buildings within them, inner to outer, in a great roaring avalanche of stone. Last of all the mighty iron gates twisted on their hinges as their supporting pillars collapsed; at the end the dust rose so thick that even elven sight could not pierce it. The echoes of ruin rolled around the hills and rolled again, and died; there was silence on the hill. Maedhros's voice was soft, pitched under the endless whine of the wind, but Finarfin heard him with perfect clarity.
"Never say that I was not willing to see my own work broken."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.