Perhaps we were stubborn – or stupid – to stay for as long as we had, but we weren't the last in our village when we left Brethil. I wonder sometimes whether any of those who stayed survived, but I fear I know the answer. I understand their choice too well; it was the only home any of us knew, and it had always been dangerous. Those who remember the time before the new star in the west said it was not as bad before it appeared. I was born that year, so I wouldn't know.
Anyway, it was only because our village lay so deep in the forest that the Orcs hadn't found us yet. Everybody knew it had to happen, but no one wanted to speak up in the village Council to suggest that we leave our homes for the uncertain rumour of safety on the southern coast.
Lately, it's even become questionable whether that safe haven still exists – for there are many earthquakes, and to the south a red glow can sometimes be seen low on the horizon. When the men who still risked hunting outside the forest reported that after the latest earthquake the bed of the river Narog had fallen dry, I knew I wouldn't wait for a decision from the Council.
Hareth agreed with me, and within the month my wife and I were ready to leave. We were not sure where we would go, but to start with the only way open to us was north. Perhaps we would be able to turn east later, towards what had been Elvish lands before, but who knows what they held now. Neither of us spoke of the south.
After about a month we reached the foothills of Dorthonion, and I had an uncanny feeling about going east. Hareth didn't want to risk the path into the highlands, but I prevailed, and we went up.
The second night, when the earth shook worse than it had ever before, and we cowered in fear in the middle of the pass we had found, I was prepared to admit that I had been wrong. But when I was about to say so, Hareth pointed south, where Brethil lay.
There was an angry red glow in the sky to the south-west, and a faint smell of burning on the wind that grew ever stronger over the next few days as we walked deeper into Dorthonion.
We stayed in Dorthonion for close to four years, for we soon found others of the Edain who had fled there before, and Elves also, survivors of Doriath and Nargothrond, some from further away, even a few escaped thralls of Morgoth who had lived wild in the highlands for tens of years or more. The other Elves did not trust them, but I reckoned that if the ex-thralls were set on betrayal, they could do better than our ragged band of refugees.
The others had a better idea of what was going on than we had had in our isolated forest. I was shocked to hear of how Doriath had fallen – we had of course known that it had, even in Brethil, for its borders had been near us, but that it had been destroyed by Elves was news to Hareth and me. And the new star was one of the Silmarils the Elves had chased for so long, set in the sky by the Valar far in the Deep West, as a challenge of war to the Enemy. All the upheavals to the land, the earthquakes, the fires, everything, are but a part of that war.
Unbelievable as such things may seem, I find them easy to believe, even if I hadn't heard from those who have witnessed these events themselves. I know the world is stranger and more horrible than any man can understand. I have looked down into Teiglin's foaming waters and touched the dragon's bones; how could I not know? Still, these are not things I like to think about for long. All I want from life is good earth to till and a chance to raise a family in peace, not to be uprooted and tossed about in the upheavals of a war I can play no part in.
Makeshift villages had sprung up, just enough to put roofs over people's heads and work the land to feed us – although barely, and only if the harvest wasn't ravaged by pests or destroyed by the random thunderstorms and other strange weather that swept Dorthonion. The ex-thralls, who had lived there longest, said that the Enemy sent the storms from the north, but they too had never experienced such weather as came from the south and west. It was as if those storms were attacking Angband.
Early in the fourth year some Elves who had travelled south to the edge of Dorthonion came back so shocked that they could not speak at first. When they did, all they could say to begin with was "the Sea."
Where had once been Nan Dungortheb now ran a wide tongue of sea water. No one spoke for some time when we heard.
After that, things quickly grew worse. The night sky glowed red both north and south now, punctuated by incessant lightning. Choking black smokes, laden with ash, blew in from any direction day and night, bringing disease with them; and the earthquakes became ever stronger. When we tallied the harvest, it was quickly decided that we would go east.
Of course we still might die, but it seemed better to attempt to do something, rather than sit down and wait. The journey east was harsh, and nearly a third of us did die; I doubt we would have made it at all without the Elves among us.
There are no words for what I felt when we stood upon the border of Dorthonion and looked down on the water covering so much of the land below… The water smelt of death, rot and decay, its expanse punctuated by what had once been hills in the flat plains and were now islands – in the distance, the Elves said they could see what had to be the hill of Himring and the surrounding higher land still above the water
Suddenly there is a screech from above, and I turn almost as quickly as the Elves, raising my bow to stop any attack.
High over us a gigantic eagle circles, and one of the Elves – Saeron; one of the ones from Nargothrond – nudges my elbow and whispers to lower my bow, for this is no enemy.
Not even according us a glance, the eagle slowly makes it way down. It lands with a great flapping of wings, and only now does it look at us. Saeron steps forward and speaks to it in Quenya, and to my surprise the animal answers in the same tongue. I recognise no more than a few words, so can only wait.
Finally, Saeron nods his head and bows briefly to the giant bird as it flaps its wings again, now to leave again.
After the eagle has disappeared from sight far in the east, Saeron turns to us with a sigh.
"We must leave, and leave soon," he says, and I give an annoyed snort. We are sent a messenger – for I know my stories, and this must have been one of the Great Eagles of rumour – just to tell us what we already know?
"We must leave," Saeron repeats. "The Eagle said that if we build rafts, it should be possible to make our way across towards the Blue Mountains in the east, where there is still dry land."
In the end that is what we did. I do not want to remember the crossing, for – again – many of our small band died, swept away by storms or gone mad from drinking salt water when we were drifting aimlessly over what had been green and fertile land not very long ago.
It was a relief when we finally stood on land, and I spoke a sincere vow never to leave it again. Even on dry land, life was still hard; we were only a few among many refugees there, and hunger and disease still plagued us. Finally – and that was after we had been clinging to the mountains for another few years – the turmoil of the land eased, and word reached us that the armies of the Valar had breached Angband's defences.
As if that news was what people had been waiting for, villages sprang up, both of Men and of Elves. I could finally have land to till in peace, and when Hareth told me she was with child, my joy was complete. Our firstborn lay buried underneath the water in Brethil's dark soil, but this child would grow up in peace, and hopefully with many brothers and sisters.
Now, after many years, an emissary has come from the Valar to tell us that a land has been raised far across the Sea for the Edain to dwell in, and our lord encourages people to join him there.
Though our children choose to go, Hareth and I will stay behind. I honour the Powers, but I do not want to live near them. I still bear no love for salt water, and we are old. This is a venture for the young.
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.