Doral left his side, and already prepared for long travel alone if need be, she departed eastward before Zhera’ was within sight of the tents. As he came down from the hills, flat and broken, often treacherous to descend, he saw a smoke rising – against their plans of stealth – and rushed to the source: a burning of branches in signal. Among the bewildering scene, he was greeted by a band of strong men, well spoken in a manner native to his tongue. They bid him welcome to their land, and by command of the lord of the land, they would escort his company thither to receive grace and judgment. Constrained, Zhera’ consented and ordered his household to prepare the camp for disassembly, and to do so by midday.
This was delay, for easily in moments, at need, the camp was able to dissolve its face, and to disguise as one of bounty hunters, or herdsmen, or to altogether disappear, seemingly, blending into forests or barren landscape seen afar off. So it was done, as in haste, indeed giving time for plans and preparations, upon arrival to whatever end these men carried them. Some fifteen soldiers in all were their escort, through barren hills, into a lush, green meadow that filled a long valley, set against high mountains in the north. They passed two carven pillars of rock, the Esk-ah-Tel, that shimmered iridescent in the fading western light, and sent shadows long into the realm of Naurgos (?), and came to an archway, an avenue and palisade that wove through many settlements set amid thriving farms growing green and purple, light[ed] by baubles bearing candles, about which circled fireflies aglow in the evening, mingling their twinkle amid the stars high up, clean shining upon this place. Ifariel was not among them, as they walked, captive or guests, to something inevitable; Zhera’ guessed she had escaped, and perhaps would gather some aid to them, if discovered.
As on the coast, these homes – now of lighter adobe mud brick – sat upon stilts, now of cedar wood, fragrant in the night, some higher than two men standing; others only a step above the earth, under which grew many unseen herbs and flowers, precious to this people, and wells too could Zhera’ by scent discern thereunder. Nowhere did he witness signs or evidence of slaughter, slaves, or such sickness that sat upon surrounding lands.
Zhera’, Umma, and the twins, were led into one building, long and narrow with bedding and washery and dried foods, oils, and such else as nobles in his land might receive. The daughters – being named Pyunmahl, and Okkol, Lukhan, and Mither, and the Adored Speechless, called by Doral “Five” (in your language) – though the joke was private among the sisters, for the word “kgash-ti” was known only by such as endured the dark halls of the men of the mountains, taught to number by servants of Darkness. It meant “six- less-one,” and was given to her in love, bestowing upon her the memory of all that did not escape with them. These daughters were by three armed women taken to abide near Zhera’, in homes, as one fenced, assuring their father later that night – for they were free to converse across the fence – that as honored guests they were housed and boarded.
The soldiers advised them to return to bed, and to sleep; for tomorrow they would return after mid-day to bring them to the lord. Zhera’ did not, but crept out, and climbed atop their house’s roof; to see the stars and he heard nightingales.
Thus in the distance, down a narrow way, he saw a soldier walking cautiously as though betrayed, passing through cypress trees, and willows bare stringed, until the man was felled by a brick dropped from a window of a high house; three shadows climbed down a rope ladder underneath, and tied his arms and legs, and carried away his body and the stone into the scrubby woodland patches that plodded here and there about the settlements, neither in thickets nor stands. Pondering this murder – as it seemed – and anxious, Zhera’ climbed in the house, but did not sleep.
As spoken, at mid-day they were taken to the lord’s quarters, more modest by size and refinement than many abodes they had passed. There in small court, upon a dais two steps raised, was their lord. On both sides were arrayed in costume of beast and bird, his associates in matters of law and tradition, and others also masked stood against the walls, crowding together for brief business, with only a sitting space on carpets of hide and wood for these guests, to receive inquiry.
The lord’s head was covered as by fur and he looked down as Zhera’ entered, while the others waited in an anteroom, seated on benches arrayed about fountains, and statuary of dolphins ornamented by mollusk shell. Vines tangled about the walls, hanging bunches of grapes, while cherries on branches stretching overhead from trees without glistened against the high sun.
Zhera’ gasped as the lord raised his face and called the court to order, for the man was also masked, wearing the leathered features preserved of his forebear, first of his house in the land, clan-father Judas (as you say). The eyes and mouth were holed out, and all the scalps of chieftains honored had been sewn about, to resemble a mane, ghastly, as a monstrous man-figure worn by lions in mockery of his claims to rule the hunt.
Now the lord-chieftain of this people in Kiliath – a region realm of light amid a swirling darkness – greeted Zhera’ kindly and spoke of his coming as foretold in dreams; such dreams also gave him cause to withhold the liberties otherwise given to strangers come-in, for next would come in dream a smoldering stone, as to polish by burnishing, making his hidden valley to shine against a rushing cloud, and the third dream, after the clouds parted, away to show his lands in ruin, covered in ash what was once golden now the veins of which metal ran under seas to be drawn up by the roots of a tree that was as a world.
So the king spoke, as did others in his surround, though being masked; and the walls close by, and without adornment save the natural vines and hard-tiles arrayed in display of figures foreign to Zhera’; it seemed all and none of them spoke.
Zhera’ thanked the lord-chieftain for his invitation to remain therein, housed and boarded knowing little else choice was offered; but to be cast in a hole in the desert to await the end of his realm upon Kiliath, the Light in a Valley Between.
The lands of your day have been greatly altered by events later described in this tale, and so we give only brief portrayal of its design and layout. Kiliath was between the seas on a neck (as you say) of land, the eastern running away south, thence into the Great Sea encircling, Ekkaia; the western waters were those upon which these tales have been set, or near upon its coasts; and though here a great inlet, these too ran west even to Numenor, upon the Great Sea. These lands were broken and misshapen, twisted upward north, tilted eastward down and south (as your maps stand, for ours would bend otherwise).
Here Zhera’ and his daughters, with Umma and Gilgah and Mahah, would indeed remain for several weeks, having little to do, save rest, and talk to one another. One day a week Zhera’ would be brought before the Council of Lions (as he called it), to be inquired of, regarding his treatment in the land, notions for cultivation (he knew little), the news of lands thereabout (also, little given to him), to be thanked, and allowed himself to inquire of them. His questions followed the lines set down by the council, concerning their crop- lore, the ways of these lands, and so on. For he was unsure to ask of matters important to him, fearing to reveal himself overmuch, that perhaps word of one’s doings be matched to the doer, in his case, having escaped years before from the Western Isle where these folk held the residence of gods, thief of his own captivity; and of their gem, a planting afar yonder. These tales as news, and riddles everywhere propounded and solved myriad ways, Zhera’ and the girls had heard often in their travels.
In the evening, after these meetings, Zhera’ would look out from his roof, to see if maybe Ifariel might be spied out, or Doral coming as agreed, from the North bearing means to unchain the slaves they had come to save, but instead themselves, in a manner of speaking, had become.
To himself in sleep, dreams also came, of tormented men, burned upon altars; and one night he came to Izilba weeping in a cavern, and she turned away from the wretched wall, to look upon him, her eyes had been put out, and her tongue removed; so she could not speak; and signing to him by gesture, he pulled from his boot a stone, like unto the star of stone long ago given by her to Dyacôm, on that dreadful day. Then he awoke, and feared for her, knowing that she lived, though where and under what manner, he would not guess or suppose it superior to his own comfort.
The day following he was again taken before the chieftain- Janus, as the council was named; and little passed that requires mention, save when [he] turned to depart, his eyes looked upon a mask-falcon, and the eyes therein he knew to see Ifariel, though she gave back no sign to show she knew him.
In that night she came to him, and would seduce him, but for his dream and fear of Zhera’, and being awakened by her creeping through his window, he snared her, having set traps about his room, wherein also slept Umma with the boys. Now she was held, but would not speak, and silently sought to show him herself, as though love’s long departed, yet he mistrusted her.
Knowing not which choice best, Zhera’ restrained her no longer, but bid her depart and to return only when she had children and women to liberate. At his harsh treatment, he was himself astonished and grieved much, for he held then she was a spy only, and perhaps might still be true; and a solution to their entrapment in Kiliath.
It was afterward, while yet dark before the sun’s rising, that his old stone, from which came guidance upon Westernesse, lit in the rooms, the walls and roof, and so he grasped in hand the crystal that not shined in many a year, and to his mind came words of blessing, that in peace never ending, Izilbadariel may come and live on shores among the Kwndi, as neighbors and not servants to the Powers overwatching the world-Arda, and friends blessed: for as it had been unto Asenath and her own so it should be for Izilba’s daughters.
Though he recognized the voice as the same that led him through mist and terror to Izilba, and out again, and trusted his words; his name he knew not, nor why now the crystal brought them, when little cause for hope remained, in his delivering of these beloved ones to their home.