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The day revealed a valley sloping before them, meadows of yellow and lavender in blossom, shielded by tall evergreens and spreading birch and beech not yet leaved upon. Izilba took some dried fruit and bread from the pack Miriam had clung to, as she arose (^days before) from the bloodied floor of the dread cave-tunnel, and she broke it, and gave to Miriam, and their joy was full, at rest before the signs of springing forth, a land that cared not for the reeks of the north marshes, nor the black plague of Westernesse. Here life was busy, fruitful to multiply. Izilba arose and pulled her mate to stand, and held her hand as they climbed down the narrow path, rock bestrewn, not recently used. It circled around the slopes, weaving downward and east, branching at times whither anciently some business of Dwarves, hurrying, yet for a thousand years seldom trod.
Izilba taught and learned of Miriam the names to call the flowers and sprouts of green, shoots from dark brown moldering soil, and for birds of many hues busy with nests and song. Later they laughed to tell of this first day in the valley of lilies, for many things were pointed at, inquired of, and seldom did either know beforehand any name for these things; so invention substituted where native lore wanted. Out of southern Thitherlands Miriam had been taken captive by men on long ships, silent preying upon coasts, canoeing up rivers, and along streams. In her speech, though little understood in those early days of their love, Izilba heard the accents of Zhera’; but little else she might place. To Miriam, Izilba was nearly deity, tall with long tresses of a light gold, sharp and delicate features that showed no age; her eyes a grey only a rumor ^told in the folktales of her people. She could be looked upon in beguiled dread, and at times Miriam did stumble along the path, for the beauty of her savior.
During the following days, as they climbed at times to a southern facing ridge that broke southward, they could see wide trails, and on these men heading east, mostly; with carts pulled by beasts or brute-men, naked as was the custom far south. They descended northward in a bend deliberate away from traffic east, being without protection, and lore of these lands, their customs and negotiations. Hiding from all mortals, they more slowly climbed and descended, resting often to breathe, and speak, even if the other knew not of the word’s meaning, save the love that begat them; daughter to mother, and mother to sister.
In time their food stores depleted, and they sought for honest rustic huts to beg a meal from, and seldom did any folk deny them their last or best stuffs. Weeks they walked, sleeping in safety; and Izilba renewed her talks with Silmariel, in silence as the moon waned overhead, between newly leaved branches, amid the spring- time stars fixed and mobile.
Perhaps three more moons, and the child would come of Miriam, though Izilba at this only guessed, hoping to delay the day until some comforts unlooked for might intervene, and tell her, “Stay for a while.” But she sought for Dyacôm, and hoped to come as foreseen, to some strange coast in the twilight, upon Zhera’ as he descended out of a high mountain, set as a watch upon the rushing dark waters.
Instead they came upon a market, strange set at the slope’s terminal, many leagues from the hole in the rocks they emerged from more than a month earlier. This great market they could not avoid, without risk of worse danger north or south, into marshlands or whither rumor of the Six Undead was told.
The Noble of Westernesse was recalled amid the trinkets and junk of this frontier folk and those who dwelt further south and east, for little here drew from her eye other than pity, if not scorn at the deceptions and swindles of men. Yet before the slave corrals a dwarf- band had set a stall, displaying from silk threads gems and crystals in the daylight, arraying the beasted men in royal light, gleaming green and pink and golden yellow.
Neither woman spoke the tongues heard in the market, and feared to speak, revealing a distance from protecting husband and kin; so they nodded and sneered, laughing to one another, pointing with their lips and eyes, both weary and warning, Miriam growing sickly as they walked.
By such men her household had been bound and carted and sold in markets, like sea-glass or beasts; or the living specimens, traded for sport, and the building of defenses about the petty empires of Numenorean chiefs, postured before a darkening world as messengers of Divine Powers Westward. By such men, her nausea of Stillwaters returned, so named her clans the months of prostration suffered before and after childbearing. Izilba dared not call for a carrying-beast, nor a wagon but lifted the girl slight upon her shoulders, and this way bore her far away, as twilight descended. They slept down the slope in a nest of high green grasses and yellow cusp buds, upon golden cups known to Izilba as Framsillien, a sign of clean water drawn up from artesian wells in the earth, moving waters to stir the stilled.
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