He hunted them by stealth, as they had hunted him. When at times he had slain their guards on damp ground, he had worn boots of different sizes, to make several tracks, leading each away to the water, to hide from them his dreadful solitude. The skills of the Easterlings were many, but they had come from the great plains and had no mountain-craft; for years he had eluded them with ease.
He climbed an aged oak, slung his hammock and hauled up the bundle of his plunder. The Easterlings carried dried mushrooms, and Tuor was very fond of mushrooms, but with little chance of rest, and time in which to prepare such delicacies, he delighted to find his work done for him by his slain foes. But the chief treasure was the wine, he had found a small cask, and longed to broach it and to forget his grief in sweet oblivion. But as he listened to the soft wind sigh among the leaves, the birds rose around him, startled into flight. He listened intently, there were no enemies near, the slopes below him were open meadows, grazed by goat and deer, offering no cover to a hunter.
But from the sheer cliffs above him, and echoing through the high vales, untrodden by any since the shaping of the world, he heard the sound of Elf-horns. His heart seemed to falter, his eyes filled with tears, he leaped down through the branches and stood on the rough grass, tilting his head, in vain attempt to find the horns, and the Elves. It seemed that such a great echoing blast must come from some mighty army of Elves, for no single horn could echo so, and his heart filled with joy.
But the stirring sound faded into silence and the desolate mountains were still again, and he was alone. He struggled as far as his strength would take him up the face of the cliff, hoping yet for sign of the army, but no trace of friend or foe could be seen, and below him, the birds returned to their roost in the tree.
He considered releasing his hold on the cliff, and allowing himself to plunge into the last oblivion, as the despair settled on him, as crushing as the weight of mountains. But despair was also the enemy, and he fought with himself, remembering the kindly eyes of Annael, and the warmth of his smile. He gritted his teeth, thought with relief of the cask of wine, and began the slow and perilous descent of the cliff.
He had long felt himself to be an ant, trapped in a chest, seeking ever for the cleft in the mountains and the way South, to follow in the path of Annael and the others, or if they were lost, to find at least a friendly face, and a welcoming smile. His heart ached with loneliness; the years had weighed each more heavily than the last, the endless vigilance sapped his spirit and the endless silence had him question whether the horns that he had heard were not some conjuring of his despairing heart. But as he climbed back into his hammock, a thrush flew by him, and he knew that the horns had truly sounded, and that his mind was not deceived.
As the wine loosened his sinews, he felt the knowledge grow within him, rising to a certainty that had no footing in his understanding, that the path he must tread lay West, and that his goal was near. His breathing slowed, his heart was eased, he smiled, and prepared to sleep, feeling a peace settle upon him as he had not felt since last he saw Annael.
The birds woke him before the sun, and in his drowsiness he heard the fair sound of Elven voices. He smiled at his folly and shook himself awake, but it was no dream, for the voices sounded nearer, and he started up, trembling with delight, tears burning his eyes. He threw himself to the ground and cried 'Friend !' in a voice that echoed boldly in the mountains and quickened his heart.
There was a silence, then a voice called forth 'Show yourself, stranger !'
He ran across the dew-gleaming meadow, heedless now of foes, for the lightening of his heart seemed to him to have been brought about by the presence of the Elven army, and he had found their scouts, who moved without caution, and whose very footsteps his sharpened ears could discern from the falling of small stones.
There were two of them, strangely garbed, but well armed and provisioned. They stood in silent amaze as he ran towards them, smiling joyfully but with tears streaming down his face. They looked at each other, then turned to him in astonishment. He stopped in front of them struggling to draw breath, and one of them offered a silver flask to him. He took a drink, it was miruvor, the first he had tasted in all the years of his captivity, and he wept anew. But one of the Elves bowed politely and spoke.
'Surely you are a Man, for though your beard is short and fair, now that we see you close it is plain that you are not of the Eldar, yet you speak our tongue. Who are you ?'
Tuor blinked, wiping his tears away, and wondering how to answer, but the other Elf smiled and laid a kindly hand on his shoulder 'Do not fear us, Elf-friend, the tale of suffering is written on your face, and we would do you no harm. But our names are Arminel, ' he gestured to the other 'and Gelmir, we are Sindar of the people of Círdan, and we seek the lands of the king Turgon, bearing a message from Ulmo.'
At length his racing heart slowed, and the miruvor worked its healing spell.
'My name is Tuor, of the House of Hador, our people long served king Finrod Felagund, and his brother Orodreth. But my parents perished at... at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and I was raised among Elves, fostered by Annael, a Sindar of Mithrim. Have you tidings of Annael and his people ? Has he reached the safety of the South ?'
But the faces of the Elves were grim. 'Alas', said Gelmir, 'we know of none of that name, and have heard no tale of your loss. How is it that you became separated from your people ?'
Tuor frowned; still loud and clear in his mind the great horn-call echoed, and the stirring of his spirit was impatient of delay. He spoke again
'But where are your people, you carry no horns, yet I heard the heralds of your army sound forth at dusk, and can see no sign of any but you.'
The Elves looked at each other again, and Arminel answered him.
'We are alone, my friend, though perhaps not as alone as we had thought. No army follows at our heels, and we did not hear a horn-call, though we lay close by here this night. A great horn-call, you say ? It may be that you have heard the call of Ulmo, for he bears a great horn, or so it is said, and Círdan, our lord, has also heard the horn. It is his message that we bring, a warning to the Noldor, though they heed such warnings seldom, it seems.'
There was much news to be exchanged, the two Elves marvelled at his tale, and told him of the growing boldness of the orcs, striking ever deeper into the heartlands of Beleriand. Joy, and their sweet southern wine loosened the tongue of Tuor, but he yet wept at whiles, for his long solitude was broken. He cared little for the morrow, and the Elves watched him sink into smiling dreams, and covered him with a cloak, and watched while he slept, his first night of peace in seven years.
At dawn, he awoke with a horrified start, but the smiling face of Gelmir made him sigh, and bow his head with relief. Almost he wished to follow the Elves, to find the Hidden Kingdom and meet Elves of legend such as Glorfindel and the mighty Turgon. But the grief at his parting from Annael was a wound still raw within him, unhealed by time, and more than all else he wished to learn the fate of the only family he had ever known.
The Elves gladly showed him the path to the Annon-in-Gelydh, and bade him farewell with warm words, but his stout heart came near to breaking as they climbed across a ridge, and with a final salute were gone. On an instant he was alone, his spirit quailed, his grief was beyond tears, the darkness seemed a solid thing, that filled his whole being, the return to despair crushed him, until he covered his face with his hands and felt the soothing tears bathe his distraught face.
The Gates were less than a league from where he had slept, he was astonished to have at last found them, after long endurance of the seemingly fruitless quest. He fell to his knees and wept for joy at the open door of his prison, the second escape in his short life, though none stood guard on him among the high passes. Then, his busy eyes still circling the slopes below, he prepared his pack for the journey South, through the dark tunnel, through the Annon-in-Gelydh. He had kept a silver lantern, looted by orcs from Elves, and reclaimed by his valour. There were candles in plenty, for he had never risked a flame by night, having himself found the fires of the enemy to betray them to his stealthy blade. He sharpened the sword he had taken from the hand of a dead Easterling, though it was no match for the Elven blades of the people of Annael. But it was short, and did not hamper him as he had climbed and scrambled through endless rocks and trees. He opened his bundle and looked at his pitiful belongings, the small sack of gems and jewels, the larger sack of dried food, the wine... He stared at the cask, wondering if he could bear it through the darkness, for the ground was unknown to him, and he feared to fall. But the thought of the long journey ahead, South into the unknown, decided him. He bound the cask with bow-strings, and slung it from his shoulder, his great strength made light of it, but his taut nerves warned him of the peril of a fall for one so alone.
But the floor of the tunnel was smooth, scoured by the tremendous weight of the river, now settled into a foaming bed on his right hand. The sound of the rushing water hid his soft tread, and he held the lantern high, looking about him at the damp black walls. Wind moved cold airs towards him, carrying scents of mould, and something strange, a salt smell that grew as he moved deeper, until it became a taste on his lips, and a texture in the air. The mouth of the Gate dwindled into blackness behind him as he walked through the darkness, startled by droplets of cold water falling from time to time on his hand, or worse, his face. But of the far door there was no sign. He began to question the weal of his senses, for since the horns had sounded, the world was so changed for him that finding himself in a black pit seemed no more than he had expected. But as his thoughts grew darker with the tunnel, and the candle began to sputter in the lantern, melting down to nothing, he came upon a cavern, in part natural, in part carven smooth by skillful hands.
He sighed with relief, and as he hurried forwards to the dry shelter of the bench, hewn from the inner wall, he raised his lantern and saw the great star, graved on the polished stone. It was the eight-pointed star of the House of Fëanor, beneath were unknown words carved in flowing Quenya. He rued his neglected studies, for the words meant little to him, save for the familiar sign of Fëanor himself. The thought that the legendary Noldor had passed through this very tunnel, that Fëanor himself had stood in the cavern, and ordered the sign to be placed there, sent a shiver of awe through him. The terrible age of the Elves had haunted him all his life, and their opinion of him, which had always mattered greatly to him, seemed at times to be that of a Man with a wounded bird in hand, looking curiously at the small bright eyes and imagining that speech could be possible with something so very different to himself.
But after resting he pressed on, and when the light began to appear far ahead of him, signifying the opening to the South, he shouted for joy, caring nothing for the echoes, and capered in the cool darkness. For though the tunnel was barely two leagues in length, yet to tread the dark path, alone, and into the unknown, had taken more of his strength than he had supposed, and his relief was almost bliss to him. In time the outline of the Gate became clear to him, and as the light grew his dazzled eyes caught a sparkle of water.
He paused in the arch of the Gate of the Noldor, and gazed out at the rainbow cleft, the Cirith Ninniach. The river tumbled down across the broken rocks, on either hand the sheer cliffs towered above him, and many small streams poured their white waters down the steep sides, or dropped sparkling in narrow falls, foaming into the water. The bright spring sun, high above, cast gleaming rainbows on the faces of the waterfalls, and the narrow vale was rich with moss and grass, fern and shrub, thriving between the sheltering arms of Ered Lómin. He rested again, and drank a little of the wine from his cask, delighted to have finally passed through the pathless cliffs of the mountains that had for so long been the walls of his prison.
Sheltered by the steep backs of the mountains falling sheer into the smooth water, the Firth of Drengist seemed bleak and desolate at first, until his eyes caught the small birds on the shore, bobbing and pecking at the flies and creeping creatures amidst the green of waterweeds and shellfish. The smell was rich with life, though the faces of the rock cliffs bore little but moss, lichen and scant tufts of hardy clinging flowers. Above, the grey and white birds of the sea, known to him only from the few images he had seen in youth, circled effortlessly, or perched on the scarcely seen cracks and ledges of the cliffs.
So Tuor stepped forth, from one life into another, from the world of upland and moor, of forest and deer, to the world of water and bird, of salt and fish, and his eager heart was light.
He followed the shoreline, stepping carefully on the wet stones, slimed with the weeds of the sea. But as his eyes peered closely into the small pools among the rocks, he halted and stooped over the still water, his eyes wide, his mind astonished.
The tiny pool was busier than a crowded hall; delicate weeds floated free, a miniature forest, while small fish in their trains darted to and fro. Little whiskered creatures crept among the pebbles and sand, and tiny water snails searched the pool with soft, moving horns. There were crabs, small and strange, their eyes on stalks, and he wondered if the snail could see as the crab did, or whether either could see the world as he did. He watched for some time, fascinated as he had not been since before the terrible parting from Annael; for the glimpse of the busy world of the sea creatures had shown him his own insignificance, lifting the burden of expectation, lightening his weary heart and soothing his vengeful spirit. With a deeper sigh of relief than he had uttered for many years, he stood, shifting his pack for comfort, and moved along the shore with a smile.
But nothing had prepared him for his first sight of the terrible sharpness of the horizon. He had followed the shore with growing pleasure, watching the small birds scurry or flap away, then return, cheeping, behind him. A ridge of broken rocks stretched a long finger out into the firth, and he had scrambled over it, slipping once and wetting a foot in one of the myriad pools. But his next step had taken him out of the world altogether, it seemed, and he clung with white knuckles to the grey rocks, gazing in awe his first sight of the vastness of the ocean.
He cried aloud, in joy or fear, in astonished protest, in disbelief. The emphatic finality of the horizon crushed him, yet his spirit roared forth to greet the sea, he longed to throw himself into the cold dark water and swim as a fish, in resolute defiance, in endless pursuit of the vanishing remoteness of the world.
The air was fresher, the breeze stronger, and a white bird uttered a great mournful cry above him, the sound of his own new-kindled longing, the sound of his yearning heart. Tears unnoticed ran down his face as he climbed over the steep rocks to the shoreline, and hurried along, eager to leave the sheltering arms of the firth and witness the full scale of the tremendous ocean. He felt that he had missed something in his youth, an unheeded warning, an unheard song; for the Elves knew the sea, they had crossed it, long ago, so long ago that he could not imagine the great mountain-wall of time that stood between him and those he had called his family. He felt as an unarmed soldier facing battle with a foe of shocking power and might, but also, a great love and longing for the beauty of the waters and the sunlight on the sparkling waves. All weariness fell from him as he almost ran along the shore, seeing the cliffs move apart and the waters widen as the firth opened out into the limitless sea.
Belegaer stole his heart; all summer he wandered by the shore, and learned the many moods of sea and sky, the brisk, bright sparkle of the winds of spring, the sleepy, lapping waves of high summer, the oily stillness of sea under fog, and the rising winds of autumn. But on a time of falling leaves swirling in a rain-wet wind, he heard the distant call of a swan, and a spearhead of seven mighty birds hove into view, flying into the South, to pass the season of cold in a warmer world. They moved with smooth and steady beats, their white wings dazzled against the dark grey clouds of an approaching storm, he stood enraptured, watching as they soared past him and vanished into the distance, leaving him aware of his solitude for the first time since he had found the ocean. He gazed after them, pining for the company of those who speak; whether Eldar or Edain, he no longer cared. His purpose rose within him like the oncoming storm, he must move on, he must follow the swans into the South.
Within days he had found the abandoned city of Vinyamar, left to the ivy, the bramble and the nettle, and to the trees breaking through the paving of the roads and the roofs of the houses. He followed the wide avenue up to the palace of Turgon, though boar now rooted where Elves had walked, and goats watched from rooftops with sinister eyes. Tuor thought of Gelmir and Arminel, seeking the vanished people of Turgon, lost for hundreds of years, and wondered if any clue could be found amidst the ruins of their once great city. The very steps of the palace were buried in thick, green growth, and smoothed by the slow gathering of soil in every crevice.
The great doors stood wide and he crossed the threshold as the setting sun of autumn lit the Hall. The level rays fell upon a figure clad in shining mail; hauberk and helm, bearing a blue shield blazoned with a white swan, and a long Elven sword. Tuor hurried forwards in delight, but the armour was borne upon a figure carved of wood, and the Halls of Vinyamar were truly deserted.
Tuor looked at the armour in astonishment, for the figure, though without a face, yet resembled his own, and it seemed to him that the hauberk would fit him as though made for him. He looked around at the ruin, the armour, alone in the encroachment of Yavanna, shone undimmed in the sunlight. He smiled, and laid aside his pack, and set the shining helm on his head. It fit him snugly; his astonishment growing, he pulled the hauberk over his arms and tugged it straight. Though his body was large even among the Edain, the shining mail, light as driftwood, fit him like a second skin. He shook his head, the ways of the Eldar, after all, were beyond the ken of a mere Man, but he buckled the belt of the sword arond his waist and drew forth the blade. It gleamed and shone, flowing runes on blade and hilt pronounced the name of the blade, but he could not read the writing. He twisted the sword through the still air, unused to the length, the balance unsettled him for a moment, but soon the Elven craft that had shaped the sword flowed through him, and he found himself standing straighter, holding the sword before his eyes as he turned to the setting sun. The high shreds of clouds shone rose and gold as the sun sank, and Tuor thought with longing of the Song of the Sunset, which he had heard each evening as a child. He strode to the door and shouted defiantly at the deserted city
'I shall find them, and I shall not be thwarted !'
But the silence was broken only by the gentle echoes of his own small cry.
The fading clouds moved swiftly across the darkening sky, vanguards of the great, grey masses behind, which swallowed the first stars and blackened the sky. The air of Vinyamar began to move, scattering the fallen leaves and the first drops of rain. In the strange light and the rising wind, Tuor strode down to the shore.
As the wind rose, the salt-spray began to sting his face, he narrowed his eyes, blinking away the tears of the very ocean, it seemed. The rain fell drumming on the broken roofs and the bending branches of the trees, and when he left the shelter of the streets, the blast of the wind caught him and set him staggering, but he did not falter in his purpose, though no word formed in his stunned mind.
The approaching storm had driven the ocean into wild turmoil, lashed by the onset of the howling gale, and angry white-foamed waves hammered onto the shingle and swirled foaming about his feet. But he did not withdraw, he stood, bright sword in hand, and watched in awe and terror as the sea heaved and surged.
For a time the wind faded, then gradually, though far more swiftly than the slow rhythm of the tide, the waves fell short, and the sea retreated, revealing the naked seabed, littered with the wrack of sunken vessels. He gazed about him in astonishment, the ocean itself was leaving Vinyamar, or merely withdrawing, the better to marshall its strength for a mighty wave to finally sweep the ruins of Vinyamar from the face of Arda.
But the wind returned with a blast that shook the rock-like Tuor, and behind it, piling up into great dark mountains, came the sea, and Tuor was overwhelmed.
The cold was shocking, the salt water filled his eyes, his nose, his mouth. He knew that the armour, light as it was, would sink him, but instead of fear he felt a joyful peace, a sense of homecoming, a release from all care. The sea spun him wildly, but he gripped the hilt of the shining blade, while his helpless limbs tumbled through the roaring waves.
Then, amidst the turmoil, he felt himself lifted through the water, wondering if he would be dashed against the shore and perish, broken between wave and rock. Light grew around him, and as his head breached the surface he gasped for breath, with the cold sea water streaming from his shaken limbs.
He looked around, and then up, and on up, until at last his eyes beheld a sight that stopped his heart in its course, then set it hammering in his chest.
Ulmo was there.
Tuor was held in one mighty hand, great fingers curled about him, formed of the very waters of the sea, shaded as precisely as a fine charcoal drawing, and the wise, sad face of the Vala of the Waters, Ulmo himself, looked down upon the astonished figure of the Man.