The garish outeryard with strewn baubles and trinkets of men, was mere jest to these grey ones, and they guided the little family through, as it were a collection of treasures of ancient lineage, all in some elaborate joke of a ceremony, perhaps to conceal the true purpose of so elaborate a collection of castoff unkeepables. The stacked boulders, arranged to appear from afar, high upon the small path, as it were a rude makeshift camp of landcast sailors unfamiliar with the advantages found off ships, was itself a maze that led to no elf-hole. The homes in the mountains had been carven into granite and limestone chalk in the first days of their raising out of the Waters of Awakening, concealed to all but their own kin, anciently an Eldarinwa near to Thingol King, but weary of honor and forests that change, it seemed, suspiciously quickly in arrangement and kind of growth. Here they survived the Wars of Gods, though many of their homes were destroyed, and they would not reveal how many other such village-holes remained among the White Mountains.
Zhera’ and Izilba they bestowed in the fresh air of a quarters with windows that to an outsider were unseen, and views of the southern bay with its long strand of new beach, and distant shelf that supported only small boats and sea-wains. Though they did not know it, the pair’s wains had passed these shores some thirty leagues off, and it was known to watchers in these parts, as was a great deal more of the deeds of men inside the mountain. Of these tidings and the lore of the passing few years, these Zindel said nothing, and with offer to keep their family as long as they desired, in comfort and to healing, their guide rolled softly, silently, the stone hewn door, immoveable but by the guests’ concession, save in great need by outsiders. Like all the doors, monoliths of many tons, found in this small mountain home, it responded to slight touch, and as it were, courteously, too.
Dyacôm slept as the couple found a backstair up a lighted passage to a black marble hewn basin, through which passed warm, clean water. Stopping up the basin with a cork, the basin filled and welcomed the couple to their first warm bath in many years. They sleep under the stars, visible now on the southern horizon, awakening only by the cries of Dyacôm, to whom they descended and comforted, before eating fruit – fruit freshly picked! – and drinking some light elf-mead unknown to either, and again in gladness the couple rested on a bed, but found no words, and they held one another, warm from the bathing; all cares and weariness of the last two years waited outside, while they sleep, three [of] mortal kind, the first in this stone village cut out of a mountainside.
The coolness of the room, Zhera’ said, hid from him the high sun under which they had slept. A bell outside the door roused the three at last, and bread and milk (!) and cheese and more fruit had been left on a polished marble charger outside the door, with a note to come and visit at their leisure in the quarters of Elmo.
Though himself not present, nor had he been for many years, Elmo was a chief among these “high elves,” as they called themselves, as much a chief as they allowed, and probably the honor and office was bestowed only when it was certain he was departing eastward, for days uncounted. His quarters was a game room, at present, though the mirth of these Eldar in a manner disguised deep misgivings about the coming days, and the fate of Arda, if every report be true.
Here Izilba and Zhera’ and little Dyacôm grew back into hearty youth-hood, or forward into a childhood of promise. They remained guests of the stone-elves, the Onodrinlim, for several weeks; during their stay the Elves sent forth a small “pack” to repair the throng, and to add two wains to their number, filled with store of dried and otherwise preserved food, rope and net, tack, trap, and clothes for a growing child; and, one named Simmil said, other expansions as may be, though, said another, Imeldir, “we hope for your blessing upon our house, so stay as long as the days and earth will allow.”
Zhera’ sought news of his kin southward, of whom he’d heard nothing for nearly three years; and Izilba looked to Westernesse, and saw there great evil, overwatching a cowering race of noble men and queens like unto gods, to the clans in regions unvisited by Elves. She saw also northward on a night of no moon, three ships departing for Numenor, though not with the purpose to remain thither. Amandil captained the vessels, the least of his strong and swift fleet, while Elendil and his son Isildur piloted the others, lightly crewed and mostly empty of provisions. Whether fleeing from the Northlands, or running cargo, she couldn’t tell Zhera’, nor could he guess aright.
Mounds of flesh there were rising in the North, son of Elmo Inilion warned the pair as they supped on a summer evening, great heaps of rotting dead men, women, children, beasts, untouched by fire and a curse to surrounding towns. A plague, perhaps, but maybe worse, he said, glancing at others of might in arms and stealthy on any road. Here you are safe, said another, “But we fear for our loss, that you think of sailing south, in those absurd animal traps you call a boat,” laughter returned to the table and outside the room, “Surely no other explanation can be believed, friend, for how a scarcely capable shoreman-trapper holds this jewel of Numenor, and so fair a son.”
For all these days the dark sword was swaddled, Izilba joked, in the keeping of the chief’s armory; little more in truth than a many drawered wall, locked by no key, but none feared theft in this blessed little mountain hole. When she returned for the sword, in preparation for departing the next day, she saw again the glowing pale blade [of earlier vision], sickly greened over, set against the tanned skin of some youth maid of the shore-folk, and she [the maid] filled the close halls of a cave with screams that were themselves a torment to all who heard, but to Izilba the sound cast a cloak of the guilty over the happy weeks in the mountain. Tomorrow they would leave, returning to their sea-wains. Dyacôm grown golden haired now mingled his father’s mouth with the tongue of these secret grey ones, ancient in the mountains watching over all the shores and coasts.
They weren’t eager to depart, were Izilba and Zhera’, but the vision of a maiden set under a burning dagger seemed to bleed away the joy that might have remained among these grey-stone elves. Led by three Onodrinlim, they came upon their throng from a northward road in three days of plain walking at a gentle descent. This was their home, and to her sentiment Zhera’ conceded, “so the days have be-fated our family.”
“Whither our home wend, wife?”
“Let us stray along the southward strand, for hidden thither I deem is an answer to a doubt perpetrated upon me in vision.”
“Caves, the men?” She replied with pursed lips and look in his eye. “Dyacôm, are you agreed? If so, we are upon the wains of Zhera’, at one.” The child pointed out to sea, whither the blue green ran deep blue to grey in the distance, as Zhera’ prepared his oars and rigged the small sails. “Out there,” he told the child, “far away is your castle, and crown, son of a queen.”
As the wains passed the writhen rocks sea-carved to shield the hidden cove, a shadow reached across the sea, and the sun was as if barred by a strong arm from lighting the land. A storm perhaps, so they turned back, and made a little camp in the cove, under the stars revealed by that arm’s lifting. In the dawn, though still dark in the camp, they dressed and hiked upon a small horn of rock, to look south and eastward, and seeing no sign of weather to sail or stay, Izilba turned to her stone, and sought Silmariel’s counsel. None she could give for certain, and the talking was cut short by an echoing cry,
Out of the caves, out of the caves,
Utumno’s mortals, out of the ships,
out on the shores, glorious she-wolves,
upon the shores bestrewn, bodies of Asenath’s maids,
in exile scattered, unseamed, what mothers had sown.
A golden guest, across the table reaching,
spills the wine ewer, and red runs the white.
She recited to Zhera’ and long it was pondered, when the wisdom of their elf-friends they thought to seek. So they packed again for a brief hike, knowing the way to walk.
Yet the shorter path was altered, or their memories darkened, for soon it was seen that they were, far as their plan went, probably lost. They camped again, with Dyacôm between their bodies, to see what day revealed, both hiding a hope of overwatching and rescue by the elves. None came, and they were startled awake, and knew to remove to the deeps of the shallow cavern off the path, for voices of men in a strange tongue were heard down the way. Some words Zhera’ picked out, “Six” and “un-dead,” and
“Ingol” “Norwards”; though stopping briefly beyond the cavern’s entrance, the voices carried on up the way the couple had come the night previous.
Signing for silence to Dyacôm, with a grin as if their secret game, Zhera’ gathered their gear, while Izilba took his hand; the black sword’s hilt held her other, and they crept out, moving fast down the path, pausing often to listen both forward and back. Hemmed in by high, steep walls of grey and white stone, they had no choice but to continue downward and winding, it seemed by day, northward. The stars confirmed his guess, and they slept warily, waking and walking less cautiously, sharing the sleeping child on their shoulders.
As the sun climbed, the way opened to a more broad road, broken in places and visible from afar, in what were green plains under a day-fog here and there.
As they rounded a high column of outstretching stone, the scent of rotting flesh first hit them, then came the sight. A mound of corpses, flown about by carrion birds, from which bones and innards had been drawn by wolves and wild dogs, in the distance gnawing or fighting.
Zhera’ stumbled back and held back Izilba from full sight, so she covered the eyes of Dyacôm, and turned his face to her breast to silence him. “The seed of Earendel, hunted,” she said, “This was the whisper of our friends,” and Zhera’ replied, “So we find their words revealed.” He turned away, staggering, knelt in the weeds, “and the black sword grown hot.”
Izilba felt the blade with her free hand, and ^then sat next to her man, the trapper of living beasts and fowl. “Can you find the way back?”
“Let’s go now. Let me carry him.”