Eastward Izilba prepared to march, until the land ended, knowing however that soon Miriam would deliver, and in the most blessed consequence, they would be halted for several weeks, travelling even more slowly thereafter. Urgency pulled her to impatience with Miriam, exhaustion to curtness and thoughts of leaving her to the care of some hill dwelling crone came and went, as they walked. “East, Mother-love, a great river of waters runs down, not to swim, not for us to ferry,” Miriam said in Westernesse, stunning Izilba, and shaming her, for the sickness that briefly crept into her heart, perhaps through eyes burning for sleep, or a belly thin and seldom filled.
She laughed, teasing Miriam for poor grammar, and want of the classical style, and praised her for strength of body and craft of mind, apologizing for recent days of unkindness, and resentment. “Sister-beloved,” she said with a hand in Miriam’s belly, “we must find comfort prior to your labors and travail, or I fear for the child’s life.”
“Not east,” Miriam answered, “that is not our way.”
“South or North? South I say, and you are agreed? Then we the throng of hill-wains blown about by a dwarf gem, are at one.”
Staying close to the protection of the forest and hills, however, they ascended slowly, weaving this way and that, taking paths little used or known to folk of that land. Izilba told Miriam as they walked, of their stay at the houses of the stone-elves, and their cunning mazes. “They told us, ‘The minds of mortals are strange to us, desiring dead things and dominion, but your kind’s walking we well comprehend. No path home we devised for our own use that might be discovered by men, for they seek ends and become lost; but we do not, nor may we hike about for pleasure of the moving, as a boulder or loose wheel. Our ways,’” she explained to Miriam, “they explained, ‘are devised with understanding of yours; our deceits and snares least comprehended by those we least desire to see.’”
So Izilba led the girl slowly by the hand, or ^carried upon her back, upon paths unsuitable for travelers and unpleasant to walkers, until several days since the attack they came to a promontory, jutting out east and south, high and overwatching the ^high plains that ran into the shadow mountains far in the distant east. Here they two rested, and Izilba wondered if such a place might be best for Miriam’s labors, for clean water ran not far down a slope, and they had gathered nuts and berries, roots and chewing bark for food to last a few weeks, sparingly.
Horns they heard blowing in the morning, some days later, as Izilba grew restless but knew not the right way, nor where to find it, horns awoke her from recounting Zhera’s occasional blindness to beauty and cultivated nobility that on Westernesse one acquired as if by ease of breathing its air, horns far below on the plain, in the west.
An army small but well-armed, and eager to fight was heading east, and peering with her mind-eye, Izilba beheld their masked faces, grotesque and distorted, stitched of animal and enemy skins, dead faces on the march to overthrow the towers of the bond servants, wraiths of Dark Thû, long absented. Recent victories in the north, and rumors of driving out from southern heroes, heartened the men of these parts, to gather, and with the fires of substantial burning, hauled in cauldrons before them, they would make inhospitable these regions to any servant of darkness.
Though night indeed came, and no moon, the plains and broken drumlins roundabout the encampment were as if under the day-star, and no man slept, but remained watchful. In three days march they would meet ferries across the Anduin, and then destroy the towers of the tempted ones that spread sickness and deceit therefrom.
Not a black mist, but one white-pale, blew in from the river, and encompassed the company; so at dawn the sunlight fell upon and lit the wide valleys, and when the pale air had fallen, no man could be seen, moving or dead.
From the north out of forests from hidden paths, rode a golden arrayed band of Noldo, upon great horses, embroidered, as it were, in steel and red-burnished gold. As they neared the fog, it parted, rising and falling again, as by the breath of a bellows deep in the earth; wheresoever it parted, Izilba could see, while Miriam slept, the bodies of the men fallen around one another, though not in defense against foes. The Noldo drove forth the fog from the land, and gathered to them the spirits of the company of dead men, confused, silent, bewildered by their own scene of self-same flesh, un- remembering by whose clubs and axes so much ruin had been wrought.
As the spirits followed a few horsed Noldo, before the main part of the elves that trailed, dreadful shadows bent across the landscape out of the east and south, from which Izilba saw in horror, monsters grow, whips for arms, and chains unbreakable, driving away the Elda, dragging away the dead spirits into their own mortal fires yet bubbling upon cauldrons. Busy with torment, these monsters saw not the rising of gleaming souls from the earth, more spirits of men held in hand, and clasped about the waist by Noldo, who led them speedily in a bend west away from the fires now poured out to consume the bodies and attire of the destroyed army, westward then north.
Miriam now arose next to Izilba, pulling on her hand as it dangled in awe at the horror and the glory, Miriam tugged at Izilba, and her face glowed, weeping, amid laughter, and Izilba feared the scene had broken her mind, made her mad. But Miriam nodded left, and whither her lips and eyes pointed, and Izilba now looked upon, as a soft waterfall rainbowed in the sunrise, the descent of spirits of girls that had trailed her, some alone along the coast on the other side of the world.
The spirits pure rained down upon the Noldo, as the elves moved along the forest edge, gathering to good, finding at last the light unlike other light, and where they flowed, flowers unfurled in a riot of colors, raging against the burnings that spread as of oil amid the wreck and fume of war. Beautiful birds darted down and nested therein, upon the new blossomed heather; and a scent of spring herbs arose, fragrant to intoxicate the airs herself.
“To Lothien the clean spirit wends, the mazes bypassing, the cauldrons arounding,” Miriam sang an ancient hymn, “A harvest in springtime golden, before the mire, let us friends and lovers, look upon one another, in Lothien.”
“In Lothien,” Izilba echoed, as the earth seemed to open and swallow the crooked shadows, their monsters-begotten, and the prey of men quarried over long years from hearts turned to stone, as evil begat evil among them.
A clean mist fell upon the range and moved across the plains southward, halting briefly to scatter rainbow before Izilba and Miriam, seeming over the entire shadow-range on the east horizon, lingering until the sun too passed down west, and a clean night, fragrant and by the nightingale’s witchery, narrated to their rest.