The first time she saw him, he was one of eight, and she wondered if he was a Vala.
It was hideously clear, by then, that the orcs that had come pouring from the North in great numbers were not only raiding for slaves, food, and whatever took their fancy. Not this time. This time they had come to stay.
Her people had tried hiding at first, and that was something that long years of slave raids had taught them to do with unparalleled skill. Later, they had tried to fight: hunting spears, bows and reaping-hooks of herdsmen and farmers against the serried, armoured ranks of the enemy. They had tried to fight, and they had lost.
And then the Noldor had come crashing into Hithlum in shining armour, a host lit by many lamps and by a soft radiance that clung about them. At their head were eight bright figures with eyes that shone like stars, and the orcs fled from the hooves of their tall horses in terror, leaving their captives to weep with unexpected wonder and joy.
When the surviving chieftains of Hithlum came to meet the Noldor, the shining figures took off their high helms and called greetings in voices that were strange, but friendly enough.
In their camp upon the shores of Lake Mithrim they seemed more like people, and less like some strange power from beyond the world. She went with Annael and the others to meet with them, bearing gifts of fine-woven grey cloth, smoked duck and venison, and received as her own gift a knife of some astonishingly sharp grey metal, the hilt worked with strange shapes and set with glittering stones.
It was then that she first heard Makalaurë Fëanor’s son sing, there by the lake under the stars.
She was not entirely sure, at first, that she liked the Noldor music. It did not unfold in the way that the songs of the great singers of Mithrim did; silvery notes woven together into a complex whole. Instead, he sang alone, accompanied only by the instrument he played; a mighty voice that echoed the golden light in his eyes and spoke to the stars as if they were well-known friends. But there was no doubting the power in it, and as he sang on, a song of defiance against the shadow in the North, the vision of a land filled and overbrimming with light overcame her.
The Noldor did not stay long. Annael, Renion and Faechith, the chieftains of the great families, had hoped to persuade them to settle in the lands around the lake and form a strong defense against Angband. But Fëanor the king would not be stayed, not by any news of the power of the Enemy. He waited only long enough to learn their speech, to hear the full report of what had happened in the land of mists and the news from Beleriand before he marched out again, east through the mountains to the plains, and to what lay beyond.
The third time she saw Makalaurë, he stood before his people in the starlight. His head was high and his face defiant, and as he spoke, he wept, and the tears on his face reflected the fierce light in his eyes.
The Sindar had come out to meet their new friends in their retreat back to the lake of Mithrim. So she heard the news at the same time that many of the Noldor did, told in that great golden voice, that Fëanor the king was fallen in battle, and that his eldest son was captured. Makalaurë would stand as king of the Noldor. They would hold the land of Hithlum within the mountains, and build up strength for a new attack.
The first time she spoke with him was different. No shining armour, and his voice of gold quiet and a little sad, like a weapon sheathed. She had brought in a draft of pony mares from the hills, and after she had turned them out in the big paddock for Ambarussa and some of his people to take a look at them, she turned and found that the Noldor king was leaning on the fence next to her.
“They don’t look much like war-horses,” he said to her in his oddly accented Sindarin, when she caught his eye.
She shrugged. “No. But we have no war-horses, here in Hithlum. These are the tallest that we have.”
He said nothing but tilted his head to look down at her, and raised an eyebrow. “They never needed to be,” she said, defensive. “We aren’t as tall as you, and we don’t wear armour. Our skills are in stealth, not in battle. But I think they will bear taller foals, if we bring them to your stallions..”
“Ambarussa thinks so too. I hope you’re right. I wonder, do you think any of your people might be persuaded to wear armour and to ride them, in time, if we made the armour? It’s become painfully clear to me that there are not enough of us to assault Angband alone.”
Startled, she looked back at the ponies circling the paddock in the starlight. “You can’t summon more of your people to come across the Sea to your aid?”
He scrunched up his face and laughed wryly. “There were many more that were eager to come, but... at the time, we thought this would be enough. Something of a mistake, as it turns out, but it’s too late now. We must press on with the allies that we have, and... since the Enemy holds my brother, the problem seems particularly urgent.”
She nodded with sympathy. “He holds my brother, too, I think. My father was killed, but we never found my brother’s body, and the last we knew of him, the orcs had taken him.”
He stared at her wide-eyed for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged unhappily. “If you really think the Enemy can be defeated, you’ll find many of us here in the North who have our own quarrels with him.”
“Do you think your King Thingol might aid us?” he asked seriously. “Annael thinks not, but surely if his own people are held as thralls in Angband..”
She had to laugh at that. “We’re not Thingol’s people. Not any more. He left us.for long ages to be alone with his lady-love, and when he returned, we had grown tired of kings and left to seek our own lands in freedom.”
He smiled at her. She was getting used to those disconcerting eyes. “That’s what Annael said too.”
“It doesn’t make you angry? You’re a king.”
“Not your king, though, so why should I be angry?”
This strange king-from-across-the-sea intrigued her. “Perhaps I expect all kings to be angry!”
“Angry about wanting freedom and wide lands to wander in the starlight? That’s what we wanted, too.”
“ Through sorrow to find joy; or freedom, at the least? ” she quoted the Noldor saying, trying to speak the words as his language made them.
He made a face and looked away. “That was the idea. Ironic, really, given where my...our brothers are now. Not much freedom there, nor joy... But we didn’t know about Angband then. We thought we would find our enemy, take our revenge and reclaim the Silmarils he stole. I think now it might take rather longer than we thought it would.”
The very idea that the Enemy could be defeated was intoxicating. And, though unlikely, there were still the armies that had swept the orcs from Mithrim like leaves in a stream.
“Maybe you will manage it yet. But I wouldn’t count on Thingol’s help: he thinks we can’t be trusted. That we are spies for the Enemy.”
He frowned. “A strange thought that you’d spy for the enemy who took your brother as a slave.”
“Isn’t it? But they live a very long way from Angband, in Doriath, safe behind their walls of enchantment. Annael must have told you that.”
“He did, but well... we are strangers here, in a strange land, speaking a strange tongue. I hope you’ll forgive me if I ask a question twice.”
She considered him for a thoughtful moment. “You’re a very odd king,” she said eventually. “Not that I know any other kings. But you don’t seem much like anything I’ve heard of Thingol.”
He frowned, and then shrugged. “It might be that I’m doing it wrong,” he admitted. “I never thought I’d be one, and so I didn’t do a lot of preparation. So, if I suggested to Ambarussa that some of the Sindar of Mithrim might be prepared to ride the foals that these ponies will drop one day, you think you might be one of them?”
She looked out again in the starlight at the ponies, which were standing calmly now, heads up and looking at the tall Noldorin war-horses grazing not so far away. She followed their gaze, and looked at the Noldorin horses too. They were fine, well-balanced looking beasts, with powerful necks and haunches, and they were taller than any horse she had ridden. It would be interesting to try their paces. In fact, as she looked at them in the starlight, more than interesting.
“I’ll think about it,” she said.