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The Struggle Nought Availeth  by perelleth

Chapter 3:  This Thing of Darkness.

At the feet of the Weather Hills.

“What do you make of it? A wine jar? Here?”

Elrond looked up from where he knelt beside the youngest of the victims and frowned. “I believe we have more pressing questions to answer currently, Erestor. And the crowd outside is becoming agitated…”

“You are wrong, young peredhel,” Círdan’s Nandorin counsellor corrected in his sharp tone. “If this is a wine jar, indeed, then we must per force wonder whence it comes from, and how the people in these forsaken northern plains came to be in the possession of such artifact… and its contents,” he added, after sniffing the inside of the half-broken earthen jar he had picked up from the floor, “which are of unequivocal Númenórean manufacture…and by a very talented potter and vintner, I might add. I will leave the implications to your powerful deductive abilities but…”

“My lords, the villagers are getting nervous, I am not sure that we can contain them any longer…” As if echoing Elrond’s worries, one of the warriors in their patrol called out from the doorway. Behind him, the murmur of angry voices was becoming louder.

“Fretting is unbecoming, Gruindorn,” Erestor chided. “Let the chief and two or three elders of his choice come in, so Master Elrond can disabuse them of their wrong beliefs.”


Elrond rolled his eyes and just gestured with his head. “Do as he says; it will be best not to delay the reckoning for any longer.” He wiped his hands on his tunic as he straightened up and cast a disheartened look around. A family of three lay dead in the rammed earth of the one-room cabin, in different states of mauling. They must have been eating when they were attacked, for the furniture and crockery were scattered in pieces all over the ground. The man had been cut down as he made for his wooden spear —broken in two beside him. The mother had numerous cuts that showed that she had tried to protect their young son with her body. “It is madness… what would they do this for?”

“My lords…”

Gruindorn stepped again into the hut, careful not to stomp onto the hacked bodies. Behind him walked the chief, a sturdy redhead, followed by two of the villagers. Maethor, the captain of their patrol, stood behind, blocking the doorstep.

“Master Edbort, the village chieftain, and two of the elders, Ordohur and Tirwhog. Masters, Lord Elrond is the High King’s Herald, and Master Erestor is a member of the King’s council”, Maethor pronounced, at the same time signalling to Erestor and Elrond that the rest of their patrol barely managed to contain the villagers outside.

“Masters…” Erestor nodded in curt greeting.

“Accept our condolences for the ghastly deaths of your neighbours,” Elrond began.

“No neighbours,” one of the elder’s cut in. “Strangers.”

He nodded. He had not failed to appreciate how different the dead bodies were from the rest of the villagers’ —taller and limber, and darker of skin. Southerners. But the harshness surprised him.

“Since they built their hut here, it is to be understood that they were members of your community, thus yours to protect, chief?” he asked mildly.

“Strangers,” the chief insisted. “Arrived three times five moons ago, from the east. We allowed them to use the hut, then this!” he grunted, waving around as if the grisly scene were an inconvenience rather than a tragic loss. “Someone came and killed, we think one of yours,” the chief finished, casting quick glances at his two companions.

Elrond shook his head. “As for your claim, Chief, it is unfounded. No elf has done this.”

“You would say so!” the elder who had spoken first spat.

“Why do you say that?” the third man spoke for the first time in a low, careful voice.

Elrond pointed at the bodies and sighed. “Fangs tear, tusks bore, axes chop, lances puncture, blades slice. Stone knives, on the other hand, leave this groove you see in the major wounds, with the unevenly raised edges along the cut. This was made with a stone blade, such as those commonly used by your kin, Chief,” he finished mildly.

“Also,” Erestor chimed in before the chief could protest, “the stone flakes all over the floor are also proof that a man did this,” he said with a smirk, showing pieces of broken stone in his palm.

“Or an elf with a stone blade to make it look like one of us did it!” the chief protested, raising his voice. Outside, the murmur of discontent continued to grow from a low muttering into a swelling tide. Elrond raised his hand.

“Peace. No elven-made knife would break like this, Chief, as you well know. Also look at the major cuts, upwards. They were made by someone who was more than a hand shorter than the man… By observing these fragments,” he added, picking up another flake at his feet, “you can easily tell whether they are yours or not. This white flint with black inclusions I have never seen in these hills…have you?”

The three villagers approached to study the fragments on his palm and concluded at last that no, that kind of flint stone was not found anywhere known to them.

“And this?” Erestor showed then the half-broken wine jar. “This is an unusual type of clay…and an unusual jar…Who were these people, Masters, and what happened here?”

 I would rather fight a Balrog than face Erestor at one of his moods. Elrond struggled to keep a straight face as Gil-galad’s words came to mind. The Masters were no rival for Erestor’s soft, ominous, subtly menacing tone. After exchanging quick glances, the soft-spoken elder sighed.

“We accept your word…for now. Allow Chief Edbort to calm down our people while I tell you what we know.”

Elrond signalled to Maethor, Erestor righted a chair and took seat, and the soft-spoken elder began his tale.

**~~**    **~~**

They rode back in thoughtful silence. A few days ago they had detached from Gil-galad’s larger patrol to investigate, at the king’s behest, several complaints that had reached their scouts about savage murders happening in scattered mannish villages and communities between Nenuial and the Weather Hills. Although these populations were descended from those who had rejoiced in greeting Vëantur as distant kin when the Men of Númenor first returned to Middle-earth, some forty generations later the awareness of kinship had all but vanished in the mists of time and superstition. The Middle Men who populated the northern areas around Nenuial were now but ignorant Men of Twilight who had forgotten most of what they had been taught by their self-proclaimed Higher kin, and also looked to elves with suspicion and fear.

Still, the half of Elrond that had once been human could not help but feeling for them, abandoned now by their western kin who only took interest in the ravaging of the forests in the East, and subjected to regular attacks by emboldened bands of roaming orcs. Also, as of late, by leagues of petty lords who had been peaceful before and had now started rising in arms against their neighbours —also attacking caravans along the east-west road, as the dwarves complained to Gil-galad almost every moon. But what they had learnt these days was something different, and that worried and intrigued him.

“This is different,” Erestor said as they sat by the fire in the crisp autumn night, halfway back to the North Downs, where Gil-galad and the rest of their group had been engaged in a hunt with the Hîrdawar and his Laegrim. “Southerners killing southerners and orcs emboldened…Would you say it has to do with…. Eregion, Maethor?”

The warrior shrugged. “I am but a soldier in Gil-galad’s guard, Erestor, and he has kept to Lindon these last sun-rounds, as you well know. But I agree that southerners getting murdered this north is something worth paying attention to.”

“I would think this has more to do with refugees fleeing the Númenórean ravaging beyond the Gwathló, as it has often been reported,” Elrond chimed in.

“Also, we know precious little of what is going on in Ost-in-Edhil these days,” Maethor retorted with a trace of undisguised bitterness. For those closest to Gil-galad, the Unreturned who had followed Celebrimbor east were the closest thing to traitors, even if Gil-galad himself had been relieved by their departure. Elrond shrugged, meeting Erestor questioning glance.

“These southerners, though,” he insisted, “seem to have been chased down by enemies they made far from here. The pressing question now is, are those enemies moving up here, threatening the mannish settlements around Nenuial, and if so, then, why?”

“The morrow may bring clearer counsel, it is to be expected,” Erestor said, cutting the argument. The attacks -as the victims- were similar enough to call for a common cause. Whether the families had been related and how no one could tell, anyway, and nothing would be solved by guessing.

Sitting by the fireside, watching Eärendil and Ithil chasing each other across the night sky, Elrond pondered again the words of the elder in the last village. “Darkness came with them, and after them, and all around them.” To him they had seemed a normal enough family, though: a father, a mother, a child, all three brutally killed for no apparent reason other than the darkness that was slowly spreading again, suffocating the land and muddling the faer of Men.

Elrond knew all about darkness, remembered well the despair after the kinslaying in Sirion and the cloud of sorrow and despondency that had hung over Amon Ereb in his youth; was well-acquainted with the wild desperation that hopelessness and doom bred in the hearts of elves and men…and even trees. He felt it creeping up towards them now, like an unstoppable tide that gnawed relentlessly at what they held dearest, rotting it and rendering their struggles useless, hopeless, empty, vain…

A soft rustle in the undergrowth shook him from his thoughts. Both Maethor and Erestor sat up as he quietly unsheathed his hunting knife, but it was already late. A tall shadow stepped into their clearing.

“By Tauron, will you ever learn to set up a watch, Maethor?” a familiar voice scoffed.

“Will you ever learn manners, you wild elf?” Maethor groaned. “One of these days I’m going to run you through before you know it, and what will I tell your father, then?”

Elrond had not been aware of Maethor standing up, drawing and taking a defensive stance before him in one single motion, only noticed now that he sheathed his long sword with slow and deliberate moves.

“That you were faster than I, for once?” Taenben, the Hîrdawar’s tall son chuckled as he exchanged a warrior arm grip with Maethor and sat before their fire. “Worry not, your sentries are unhurt and unruffled. They let me in, but I suspect that they rustled some bramble just out of spite that I, once again, caught them unawares...”

“I will deal with them later,” Maethor groaned.

“What brings you here, Lalf?” Erestor chimed in, apparently unimpressed by the practical joke their patrol had played on them.

“I have been searching for you since sunset,” the tall elf explained. “The môruin that have been wreaking havoc in the mannish hamlets have a den not far from here… I left Erlhewig watching them…The bulk of your company went north, to the Dolen Sant,” he added, raising his hand to stem Maethor’s protest. “Gil-galad sent for them to help a wandering company they found there. I was sent to look for you and…”

“And you managed to find something entertaining for us to help you with, on your way back,” Maethor groaned. “We better get going then,” he said. A soft whistle brought a remorseless Gruindorn and Gladhor, the ones who had been on watch. “Break camp and follow us,” he instructed.

“No horses,” warned Lalf, as the rest of their company readied their mounts. “Had you not made camp here tonight, you would have ridden right into them. Let’s tread lightly.”

They started on foot. It still took them a quarter of Ithil’s nightly journey -at Lalf’s fast lope- to reach the southern foothills of the North Downs. The forest thinned out there, and the rocky outcrops were hollowed out with systems of caverns that had become lairs for brigands and worse, orc hosts that seemed to be breeding out somewhere in the east and pouring down steadily, disturbing the peace that had seemed solid for ennin.  

The soft call of a northern owl revealed the presence of Lalf’s commander. The one-eared warrior stepped out into the path ahead of them in the silent manner of their kin and waved them to a stop.

“You took your time, Lalf”

“Heavy sleepers. What ahead?”

“Gadron and Redoron are up there, keeping watch. The rest of the patrol I sent to the other side of the outcrop, to cut their escape,” Erlhewig explained in hurried whispers, “but there is something you must know, Lalf, there are men with the orcs.”

“Prisoners?” Elrond couldn’t hide his concern.

“Not with axes and knives, no…”

“We take the left side,” Lalf cut in a warning, sharp tone. Elrond nodded, allowing the old animosity between him and Erlhewig to slip away with a deep breath. It was not the time for old grudges. Satisfied, Lalf continued issuing commands. “Maethor, you and yours take the right and await my signal. How many are there?”

“We counted up to a dozen yrch in and out the largest cave. They have spears and short swords. The men are a bit ahead, down that ravine. As I said, some have axes, all have bows and stone knives.”

“Orcs with swords and men with stone knives? What an odd alliance,” Maethor wondered. “We take the orcs quickly and move in to the men, then?”

“My patrol will take care of the men,” Erlhewig said.

Lalf nodded. “Ready your bows. We take most of them in a swift volley, we can move into the ravine. Await my signal!”

It was swift and efficient. Blinded by the light of their camp fires, the orcs had fallen in disarray to the first volley, then to their sharp blades. Leaving his companions to securing the field, Elrond moved quickly to the other end of the outcrop, where the men seemed to be defending themselves more efficiently. Still, the fight was over when he arrived and Lalf’s patrol were busy checking the bodies that lay all over the ravine.

“Well met, Nestoron!” one of Lalf’s hunters -whom he had once helped with a poisoned wound that would not heal- welcome him with a wave.  “Over there, Ferion found one still alive, though he may be well beyond even your abilities.”

Elrond hurried to the starlit side of the ravine and knelt behind the other elf, who nodded to him and walked away. The man was pierced by two arrows and a deep cut to his midriff, there was little that Elrond could do for him but trying to ease his pain somehow. The man turned angry and surprisingly clear eyes to him and hissed at his tentative touch.

Darkness with you, around you, after you…” he gasped. Surprised by the venom and hatred in the weakening voice, Elrond removed his hand quickly. The man chuckled and spat blood, looking him in the eye. “My master who brings gifts… we will be the timeless,” he rasped, then went still.


Sighing, he stood up and waved to Erestor, who hurried towards him. “Any survivors?”

He shook his head.

Erestor shrugged. “Men and orcs traveling together is a worrisome finding, my friend. And by their looks these, or any friends of them hiding across the northern forests, are responsible for the incidents we have been investigating…But what does this mean? Are they moving north from Dunland? What is prompting them?” He looked around and pointed with his bloodied blade. “They seem shorter and clearer of skin than the victims in the last hamlet. What make you of all this, Elrond?”

Elrond pointed at the dead Man. “ ’My master who brings gifts’, were his last words…”

“Annatar? Is he now devoted to subjugating Men?”

Elrond frowned. “He may reach farther than we suspect while still hiding in Eregion. But this…” He pointed at the battlefield behind them “This evil that afflicts them, this darkness I recognize, Erestor, this hatred bred by fear and fuelled by the lies of the Enemy... “

“Valar forbid,” his mentor sighed. “If you are right, then these may be but a vanguard, probing the strength of our borders, sensing our weaknesses and those of our allies… Let’s go, Peredhel, Gil-galad and Círdan need to be warned about this.”

Elrond cast a last sad look around. Under the twinkling starlight the bodies scattered in the ravine took an eldritch air, like statues frozen amidst their torment. He looked up, hoping to shake the malaise, but a passing wreck of clouds temporarily hid Eärendil from sight, turning despondency into a crushing feeling of impending sorrow and defeat.

He shook his head against the wave of overwhelming loss and started after Erestor.  Still, his steps beat in time with the ominous words. “Darkness came with them, and after them, and all around them.” He wondered now whether the sly elder had been hinting not at their unfortunate neighbours but the evil that had so mercilessly slaughtered them.



Vëantur was the first Númenórean to set foot in Middle-earth around 600 S.A. He was Aldarion’s grandfather on his maternal side. The Men of Eriador sent a message to Gil-galad then, asking to greet those long-lost relatives.

Nestoron: Healer. Elrond’s other career.

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