Now we proceed to great things come to Zhera’. Gazing upon the glittering sky studded with gems, while the wains rocked upon low waves some safe distance from the shore, Zhera’ composed many short songs, recalling the glory of Numenor, to him as a youngster a place of dreams, where lived monsters and gods and spirits living and dead; a dreadful wonder always yonder horizon, and songs many he made to Izilba, and to Dyacôm, and to his twin boys as audience too Zhera’ sang, and shaped them in his fashion. By day he would skirt along the mountains, then hills broken and falling into the southlands, thither seeking for signs of the boy, careful not to inquire too honestly, nor to receive news unwarily.
Indeed, it is likely that he passed near to the boy, penned in a shed hidden among broken houses scattered along the coast, for feigning to seek work repairing fences and other woodcraft he ill- enjoyed nor excelled at, roofing, tilling, preparing pasturage, anything other than his vocation, Zhera’ wheedled his path into many hidden hamlets and secret homesteads, otherwise suspicious of travelling sea-farers making inquiry of lost children.
Food sufficient – his admittedly lacking skills in these crafts produced – to supplement his own trapping and fishing, though he seldom ate flesh, preferring to keep allegiance with living creatures, watching for signs of their trust or mistrust; and ways leading into the hills, and deep into ravines and canyons, otherwise from men concealed. For daily he sought for Dyacôm, hoping to bring the boy to tryst with his mother, now only weeks away, wheresoever his stone should direct.
This stone was a gift of his companion in the White Mountains, and it called to elvish stones and received of their gems, news and counsel given to any so possessed. Milky pink, smooth, suited for small hands, dexterous as were his own, yet limited it was in reach, or to clarify in mind the sayings transmitted; for it was already ancient, and mistrusted most hands. Cautious it revealed and in riddles, it seemed often to Zhera’. Nothing would it give in reply to inquiry, for it was, he later said, proud; and regarded him as naught but a foster-son, and no rightful inheritor.
To stars and sky and cloud he turned more often, speaking thence, seeking understanding, and direction; not seldom was he in dangerous straits, as a boatman; and upon land among these furtive and, for the most part, sickly people populating the coasts of the southern feet of the White Range. In bonds of rope he had been set, under nets for fishermen to cast was he caught while repairing a floor; cast into holes and locked among beasts he had suffered, yet ever he came to liberation and by stealth returned to his wains, to paddle in the darkness, before or after the moon’s lighting, back to the silent home upon the waters, keep [kept] well by Umma though not for his sake.
Indeed, more pleased was she at his going than at his arriving, yet no better nursemaid might be found among the women of these lands, though a man be great, mighty in wealth or name, and have long leisure to inquire and test.
To a spur of the mountains stretching southward, amid the eastern line later named in confusion Tarlang’s Neck, he drove the throng, having (^over)heard news of a way from the north thence hoping to greet there his espoused, and perhaps to see her carrying the boy; and a return to joy in her, so even under moonlight he came, and anchored off the coast his throng, to sail secretly into a buried cove under m(ul)berry trees still bare but soon to leaf, and drop cotton, then purple fruit for dying, and good for traps. Climbing by circuitous routes, for he knew no way, nor indeed whither he aimed his feet, yet a tracker and fowler of great skill, he knew the way back. Thus he came in the dawn, under a pale yellowing sky, to a walled ravine, ending in shadow. There huddled in dread of man and of day itself, and further of the night, three maids, filthy; but not unwell nor unkept recently. He showed his hands, and bared his flesh to prove he meant no harm nor carried weapon, and gave them food, and balm and oil to dress each other’s wounds. In that day he discovered in similar manner two other groups, to make a count of eight; and from them he learned enough to understand they had fled a terror pale, and a battle between men, and a woman who came to them, offering liberation, but she was lost.
Little could he understand, for words they had but little to craft with, and of these sounds Zhera’ knew less than the speech of some birds. Neither would they understand his request to be taken to the hole in the rock whence they emerged, if even any could so retrace their way, in dark or day; or if knowing, were willing to thus return, hardly trusting this man, though unlike any that had known in recent years, captive, herded, seeded thereby, and made to grieve for lost ones.
But leave them to wander he would not, even if to seek this way northward, or to discover the woman’s fate therein. So he brought them, a caravan made up to appear a slave band, some enforcing his rule, others their subject, over the course of a few days, to the hidden cove. He labored to explain to them no more than two or three could with him sail to his wains, and believing the remainder would await his return, he delivered the first cohort; and returned soon as he contrived, after Umma had been smoothed and the twins attended to, and cared for as their father. So in the night under star he returned, and found only two awaiting him, and these he delivered also, thence to seek out the others, by day tracked. Come upon them he did, though finding only one alive among two murdered and eviscerated; the survivor not likely to live out the day, he soothed her pains, and grieved for her companions, burying them under stones as a cairn of honor-maidens. Yet survive the day she did, and the next; and though much maimed, and scarred thereafter, the beauty of a fierce and loving soul shone the brighter unveiled, and she joined the throng, now they numbered six.
Now Zhera’ could not spend his days climbing or trading labor for meager food, for two more wains were needed, at least. So he sought out again the Onodrinlim, but found their settlement abandoned, ruined, and seeming in disrepair under the weight of a great many years, and no elfhome. Yet sufficient wood and tack remained, that additional wains were contrived, and some foodstores found in the rubble.
It was in this season that he heard within the stone the words of Isildur, and news of Elendil, and of their forays and adventures northwards, that among them, in seeking to recover a way south, and to rescue slaves set to wicked purpose, was a noble hunter- wife of Westernesse, surpassing all in beauty, and to Elendil known, but not named. It was then Zhera’, guessing at the riddle, contrived to call these survivors, gleanings of the mountain, the Izilbadariel, daughters of Izilba, and to this honor they consented, for love had grown among them for one another, and for Zhera’; to whom they looked upon as a father, and a brother. He taught them to trap and to fish and they taught one another skills of the hand, to weave, make rope, heal inner disease, to sing, and color the earth, and most loved by all was Doral, the survivor last come to their throng. Griefs arose, and sadness among them, and noise of laughter by day and night, but wary too were they in this new life, having not forgotten utterly their past lives.
Soon he taught also to bear weapons, and to keep them at need or battle, and to use them in defense of the throng. In time passing also their speech took on a fullness, unfolded in the tongue contrived by Zhera’, and he revealed to them the history of his beloved, mother absent but awaited, and sought.
Up and down the southern coast of the mountains they moved, separating and joining as seemed wise, all the while watching for the lost child, and their mother-kin, at times guessing to Zhera’ in anticipation of reunion, to be disappointed upon his return from investigation. Ever he felt the pull to the hole in the mountain near Tarlang’s Neck, but always events – fortunate or ill – contrived to block his seeking a way in, or passage northward. From the stone he learned little more to aid his search, and in despair he began to plot their course southward along the western coast, along a strand strange to him, until they should arrive near to his land of birth and upbringing, long ago departed.
It was the chance – if it be – meeting of his clan brother, while plotting one final hunt into Tarlang’s Neck, approached opposite the western front previously searched, that he was forced by ancient custom to receive this man, and to share board and bed. In the morning Doral brought news of dangers, evil lurking about in surrounding wastes, that he was compelled to tarry with the daughters, rather than leave them to battle, capture, prostitution, misery, again. Two weeks passed, hemmed in by rumor, by signs in the sky, sounds on the wind, by evil portends, and by the stone’s misgivings, vague yet penetrating his heart, while they inhabited abandoned sheds in a forsaken homestead, ever listening in case flight to the sea wains be wise. Here they ate and sang, and arrayed one another as witches, or gypsy-tricksters, or road-folk, or indeed as a man’s harem, temporary to pleasure, or longer to bear him heirs.
These things they did without Zhera’s approval, nor against his disapproval, for he thought it not unwise to appear in many guises, as birds or beasts might, against a day of fighting, camouflaged to beguile, confound, and otherwise confuse a predator’s plans. They invented gesture-codes and secret words, sometimes taken from material familiar to people they passed among or near to, but seldom not deviously altered in meaning. In time passing, Zhera’ added to their healing his own lore learned of the Onodrinlim, teaching them of the Powers, and Elvenhome Westernmost, of the Path of Dead-Spirits, and of what was known of Eru. Some daughters on a time also revealed their lore to one another, and in many points did their knowledge of the world match his own, and one another’s, though much was different, and strange to Zhera’ and a wonder, and a cause of distress.
It was plain from what could be gathered by him of their recollections they willingly revealed and of the tracks, and trails he contrived therein, that these six women had all been taken from within a region called in Westernesse, Thitherlands, southern lands under occupation, and tributary to lords descended of its noble houses. Of different clans the daughters were, some of Zilpah, and others of Bilhah, though descended of houses estranged, for none knew any other, until gathered in the mountain depths, and brought by Zhera’ into lighter realms, relieved of charms evil and deadly to look upon.