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The Struggle Nought Availeth  by perelleth

Chapter 1: Westward the Land Is Bright.

In the Old Forest.                                                               

“Keep your grudges till the end of Arda if you must, Inglorion, but punish not my company for them! They need rest, they cannot push any further in this miserable weather!”

The angry voice reached him in broken fragments, carried by the gushes of wind that had been pelting them with cold hail for a while. Without turning or slowing his pace Gildor pointed ahead. “Some six hundred steps to the right!” he shouted over the howling wind, “in the clearing!”

The storm picked up while the tired company trudged away from the road and into the undergrowth. Under the unsteady light of lightning Gildor finally found their shelter: an outcrop of limestone boulders in which a set of caverns opened here and there —a favoured stop for wandering companies. Turning, he pointed Belglim to the looming dark shapes and shoved him ahead. “Go in! I will make sure no one gets lost!” he cried out, retracing his steps while counting the bent, cloak-covered silhouettes that struggled behind them.

When he finally entered the stone refuge, with the last of the stragglers in tow, the largest cave had already been turned into a welcoming camp.  Fires had been built, and adults busied themselves preparing the area for the night; drying wet clothes and pooling together what provisions they carried while children prepared the sleeping areas and played around, the fear of the storm already forgotten. Soon the cave resembled any elven gathering, with shared food and heart-warming wine, music and laughter.

As the merriment wound down and the company prepared for bed, Gildor walked up to the entrance and cast a look outside. The storm was now a distant rumble and the wreck of clouds that had darkened the light of Ithil now fled eastwards, chased by a gentle breeze from the sea. Only the water dripping off surviving leaves could be heard in the quiet forest.

Until some dead sticks broke under the weight of light steps at his back.

“Peace. Just needed a whiff of fresh air.”

“Pick up a torch and follow me, Belglim,” he instructed without turning. “I mistrust this silence.”

Together they entered the forest in their cautious, light gait. The deeper they went in, the heavier the air felt, as if stuffed with another brewing storm. Following the path signalled by the pointing branches of the trees they soon reached a smaller clearing, almost an alcove formed by the laced lower branches of very old oak trees, whose thick trunks would have required at least two or three grown elves to encircle. There, on a carpet of reddish, crunched leaves lay several bloodied limbs and bodies that resembled those of very large, twisted wolves.

“Wargs!” Gildor spat. His loathing of the creatures was mingled with worry. “Never heard of them coming this close to the road!”

“What happened here?” Belglim asked. He had planted his torch in the ground and was looking around for prints in the small clearing. “Who did this?”

“The trees did,” answered Gildor. “Many strange things have been happening in these woods since you went East. That is why I was pushing the pace. I would not risk spending the night in the open, here.” While he spoke, he put his free hand on the trunk of the largest oak. “Look,” he said, “they are still seething. Not long must have passed since these were caught. They must have been chasing your company.”

“And there might be more around,” Belglim wondered, placing both hands on the trunk of another tree. “My thanks, old-one,” he whispered. “You saved us.”

“The forest seems calm now, or at least vigilant. Let us go back to the cave and set up a watch for the night,” Gildor said, patting the closest trunk before retracing the path that had taken them there. “So, Belglim, tell me, why would you think I would hold a grudge?” he asked as they walked.

“Well, it is twice now that I have betrayed the king, isn’t it? You very clearly let me know what you thought of my decision when I moved East, I can only imagine what you think now that we are seeking passage West…”

“Betray?” Gildor scoffed. “No one but you named it betrayal. May it be some hidden guilt that you yourself refuse to acknowledge? Gil-galad graciously granted permission to everyone who asked leave to move East or West, also made it very clear that no permission was needed, if I remember rightly. As for sailing…not now,” he grunted as they reached their shelter.

“All quiet?” Two of the adults in Belglim’s company chatted quietly by the hearth, their hands to the blades resting at their sides until Gildor nodded to them.

“We guessed something was amiss,” said one of them, the eldest of the company, a Sinda who had seen many forests grow to old age. “This silence is unnerving.”

“My thanks, Sinatheg. Gildor and I will set up the watch. There was some danger ahead, but the trees took care of it.” Belglim replied.

“They will warn us if something else approaches, friend, no need to stay up all night singing to the stars,” the other joked in a good-natured manner as they retreated into the cave. “Who knows what they look like in the West!”

“You do,” Belglim stated once the others disappeared. “Know what the stars look beyond the Waters,” he clarified.

To Gildor it felt like an old wound pried open anew —the pain fresh as if only just inflicted. It was all again before his eyes: the impenetrable darkness after the Trees died, the reddish glimmer from the fires in Alqualondë and the cries of the wounded, the cold breeze that dispelled the fumes and brought the powerful voice of Námo, the silence that had followed after he spoke his Doom. Once the smoke and fog had at long last disappeared, a mournful dirge had welcomed the stars of Elbereth as they shone again upon the treacherous, murderous Noldor.

“Brighter,” he managed in a hoarse whisper. “As if they are more real for being closer to their maker and farther from the poisons of the Morgoth.”

“I would love to see that,” Belglim said in a wistful voice. “For too long they have looked dim to me.”

“Because of Anor and Ithil?” he asked, his voice rough with barely remembered anger. The grudge was, for the Moriquendi, as old as the lights born out of the last fruits of Laurelin and Telperion that had dispelled forever the enchanted twilight in which they had thrived for ages. The grief in Belglim’s voice, though, was new.

“…darkening trees will allow us no peace under the spring eaves. Some say the trees’ voices sound like a foreign language to them, one that is familiar but long forgotten... others simply disappear, and families are left with the anguish…” This was not unheard of, as of late. The part about darkness spreading across the forests, though, caught Gildor’s attention with the intensity of a lightning-sparked canopy fire.

“What do you mean, “darkening”?

“Stretches of forest have become dangerous, menacing, tangled… beasts inhabit them no more and the trees have grown gnarled and ominous, as if poisoned by a dark mood. Wide expanses of beloved woods have now become unfriendly; it is happening everywhere. The mountains, too, some of them are actively hostile and, dwarves claim, home to dangerous creatures of dusk. The crossing of the Hithaeglir has become hazardous, and many streams coming down the mountains are poisoned. Many amongst the wandering companies lament that the peace of old has been disturbed, but others suspect that a new shadow is arising, like it happened many, many ennin ago, long before the Wreck…

Gildor bristled, mostly out of habit. The Sindar still blamed the Noldor for the loss of Beleriand and the peace in Middle-Earth. It still rankled. “So why are you so eager to travel west yourself, now?”

“The pain is, sometimes, unbearable, my friend,” Belglim said, his words alighting with the softness of raindrops dripping from new leaves after a cleansing rain. “We fled eastwards hiding from the sound of the waves, from the voices of the drowned forests of Beleriand…but the pain is still there, it beats inside and, once awoken, will grant no peace. Friends will turn silent, then restless, then fragile like grass leaves…Then one day they disappear, not to ever be seen again …”

Gildor nodded in understanding. Solitary elves, families, larger groups had been wandering into the westlands in growing numbers in the last long years. Some stayed in the Ered Luin, some had settled restlessly in the Havens, looking for missing relatives and for a peace that seemed to elude them.

Some had learnt the art of shipbuilding from Círdan’s people and, after some winters, sailed away unannounced. As of late, though, most sought leave from the king. Gracious as ever, Gil-galad would never withhold his goodwill from those departing —had instead requested formal support from Círdan to ensure shipyards and shipwrights were always ready to help those seeking passage. He had also arranged for Pengolod to keep a record of those departing, in case friends or relatives came to Lindon looking for them.

“You will be welcome in Lindon, Belglim,” he offered. “Others have come before; some are still there. Gil-galad has given over entire quarters of Harlindon that remained empty after Celeborn and Galadriel moved north. You will find peace there, at least for a while.”

“Of finding peace by the shores, I am no more certain than of finding it under the eaves of our eastern woods, my friend, but I would rather keep my family together, and together go where our faer lead us”, Belglim sighed. “You were there, Inglorion, when the Herald spoke. At the time no one understood, I deem. I can only hope that our reticence will be left unpunished, and those who so much need it may find healing over the waters. As for those unwilling to leave…we can only hope for healing, too, when the memories of Middle-earth become too much to bear even in the peace of the blessed shores.”

“That is our estel, indeed,” Gildor agreed, “so that what we hope we must believe.”

“Your words speak of reassurance, yet many of you stayed behind... Do you mistrust the Herald? Or your own hearts?”

The Herald.

Gildor sighed. Eönwë’s words had reached far and wide, carried in his powerful voice, inflaming the hearts of those who listened. Even many of the Sindar had joined Arafinwë’s fleet in their journey West, tired of fighting and grieving for the lost forests of Beleriand. Most of the Exiles had followed, too —but not all.

Had it been pride? Loyalty to those who had led them away from Valinor? Gildor was uncertain. While enticing at first, Eönwë’s proclamation had been the source of much speculation, scholar reflection and fireside discussions mostly amongst the Unreturned, as the Exiles were now called, but also amongst those who had loved them and fought by their side in Beleriand. 

“Hear me now, Eru’s Firstborn! By the will of Manwë, King of Arda, the way West shall remain open to you. When the years grow long and the sorrow of living becomes unbearable, when your faer falter and your joy in the Lands of Hither is dimmed you will find peace and healing in the eternal beauty of the Immortal Shores!”  

Once the meaning of “Immortal Shores” was made clear for all, the prospect of returning to Eressëa -forever exiles in sight of their homeland- looked less auspicious for the few surviving of the Noldor who had been prominent in the rebellion. Now as then, Galadriel had stood tall and undaunted amongst those who had found Manwë’s grace inadequate and instead had chosen to remain. For his part, bereft of wife and daughter and mired in the sorrow of the unmeasurable losses of his kin, Gildor had made his own oath to Arafinwë, had promised to remain while Nerwen did, to protect her as her closest surviving relative. 

But she had no use for him and he felt ill at ease under their peaceful rule in Nenuial, where she and Celeborn had moved to raise Celebrían. He had then returned to Gil-galad’s service and now spent most of his time roaming the borders and scouting the east-west Road, learning news from travellers from afar and tracking the mannish settlements and their doings.

Thus, he had become aware of the restlessness pervading the lands. Often he would meet elves stricken by the sea-longing wandering in the forests, slowly making their way towards the Dividing Waters. He would speak at length with them, learning the depth of the relentless ailment that afflicted them, gathering news of the disquiet that spread across the lands to the east and beyond the towering Hithaeglir.

He had also made friends with men of twilight, children of the East who had never made it into Beleriand, who had kept their simple, peaceful lives away from the greatness and sorrow that had befallen their Edain kin. Although they were fearful of Elves, he had slowly earned their trust, and was welcome in scattered settlements along the road.

This way he had learnt of weird and dark things stalking their communities, of scattered and more frequent sightings of orcs and wargs, of sickness in the lands following the passage of a wise man who promised riches and knowledge and everlasting life to those who followed him, of simple men suddenly corrupted, arising to subjugate others, of pillage and killing and enslaving afflicting settlements that had been good neighbours for many long years...

All these tidings he shared with Gil-galad, who had been aware of darkness arising for a few ennin now, and with Galadriel and Celeborn, who, concerned as well by the sustained growth of evil things, had left Nenuial and moved to Eregion with Celebrían, to be closer to its perceived source beyond the Mountains. The lessons from the Siege had not been forgotten, and the Elves held a close watch well beyond their own borders. 

“There is still much to love and protect here, in Middle-earth, Belglim”, he answered at last. Then added, “shall we trust the trees and go to sleep? Another long day’s walk awaits tomorrow,” to prevent Belglim to pursue the issue. The soft snort that acknowledged his words was proof enough that the distraction was noted —and allowed. He felt grateful for that. He was not ready to delve deeper in such a thorny issue with a survivor from Sirion.

Settling with his back against a boulder, he wrapped himself in his cloak and looked up to the twinkling stars, basking in the comfort they offered.



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