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Belenur and the Fall of Fornost

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Fornost Erain, the mighty stronghold which had stood proud for a thousand years, was nearly on its knees; before the gates of the citadel, the battered Dúnedain army struggled desperately to hold off the advancing enemy host, while nigh its northern wall Lord Beriedir, the King’s Steward, lay mortally wounded.

Hunkered down by the injured nobleman, Belenur held his hand and tried to offer words of encouragement. "It is not a deep wound, father," he said; "it should heal quickly once the arrow has been removed.”

"Nay, son," replied the steward, "this is no ordinary dart; it sprang from the crossbow of a chief lieutenant of Angmar, and it is beyond the skill of anyone here to stay its evil."

After a short silence, the young man began again, "But I am certain ___"

"Listen to me, Belenur," interrupted Beriedir; "there is not much time. You must go to my library and look behind that picture portraying a ship in stormy seas that hangs above my writing-table. There you will find a small, beautifully carved wooden box that contains a most precious item.” At that point the steward opened his eyes widely, clutched his son’s hand and added in a fervid tone, “Promise me that you will keep it in our family and guard it with your life."

"I will, father," replied the young man mechanically, mindful of naught but his father’s condition.

Beriedir then turned his head for a moment in the direction of the King's banner, and following that looked back at his son and said, "Arvedui is preparing to escape towards the north. Once you have retrieved the box, find whatever men are left of our company and follow him. Our kinsman must be protected at all cost, for he is our people's only hope."

But Belenur was reluctant to go. "I will not part with you, father," he said.

On hearing that remark, a flash of anger lit the older man’s eyes; and grabbing hold of his son's hauberk, he pulled him closer and said forcefully, "Do as I say." And with tears in his eyes, the young man left his father to die alone and betook himself to the Steward’s Mansion to do the dying man’s bidding.

That night, while camped by a stream in the North Downs with the remnants of Arvedui's army, Belenur was visited by a most enigmatic dream; and as the sun peered over the hills to the east on the following morning, he bade his chief lieutenant assume command of all of his men and remain with the King. Then he left camp alone and made for Imladris.

As he rode south towards the Great East Road, however, concern arose in his heart for his younger sister Aireniel, who had remained at their great manor house nigh the River Branduin; and so, to see about her safety, he decided to alter course and head for the region that had heretofore been the ancestral domain of his family. Upon arriving at the house, he told Aireniel to ride west without delay and seek shelter in Lindon, whither most of the remaining Dúnedain had gone, but she steadfastly refused to part with him. And with no other option left to him, Belenur bade her prepare to depart, and the two then set off together towards the haunting valley of the elves.

Long they journeyed east through those dangerous lands which lay between the town of Bree and the Last Bridge, striving to stay off the road and remain unseen whenever possible. At length, Belenur and his sister reached the Mitheithel, and upon crossing it, soon noticed that their path had become suddenly less threatening; for, unknown to them, the elves of Imladris in those days watched yet the road east of the Grey River.

After a few more weeks had passed, they came at last to a shallow in the River Bruinen, beyond whose clear waters lay domain of the Eldar; and with much excitement in their hearts, they led their mounts across the ford and followed the path that led to the House of Elrond. As they moved deeper into the valley and Aireniel was able to get a clear view of the unfamiliar scenery about her, she was soon struck with wonder by all the fair and wondrous things that came before her eyes. “Have you ever seen a place so beautiful, so … unreal?” she said. “One feels as though in a dream.”

“I came here once with father,” replied Belenur, and in that instant a pang smote his heart, as he recalled those joyful days alongside the departed one.

The two continued to ride quietly for a while, each engrossed by their own thoughts, but at length Aireniel broke the silence. “They say that the elves are leaving Middle-earth,” she said, with a hint of sorrow in her voice. To this Belenur assented with a nod, and the young lady then continued, “We have lost so much. Gone are our father, our home, and our kingdom; and yet, amidst all the pain, I have not felt utterly forsaken, for the presence and fellowship of the elves has been ever in my mind.” She sighed. “Whither will we turn for comfort when they are gone?”

“They have been waning for years, that is true,” replied the young man; “but many yet remain, and their final parting will not happen soon, Airy.”

She continued to gaze for some time at the many wonders about her, though her expression was now a sober one. “Still,” she said at length, “I wonder what sort of place Middle-earth will be once the last of the Eldar set sail for the West, when their gay chants and haunting laments are heard no more upon our roads; or when no longer our mortal eyes may behold with wonder their enthralling works, marvel at the mysterious power of their relics, or know the enchantment of their moon-lit magic.”

After a short time the two suddenly found themselves surrounded by elves, who questioned them and then took them to the palace. Once there, Belenur was summoned to a large chamber, where he was met by Lord Elrond, Glorfindel and Erestor; and after a short debriefing of what had befallen during the Battle of Fornost, he was asked about his purpose in Imladris.

“On the night that followed the end of the battle, while I slept,” said the young man, “a most vivid and mysterious dream came to me; and at that moment I knew that I had to come hither.” And on hearing this, Glorfindel lifted his head and gazed upon the man with heightened interest.

The expression on Elrond’s face, however, remained severe. “And for this reason alone, Belenur son of Beriedir,” he said, “you forsook your duty to him who is your king as well as your kinsman?”

"If my life must be forfeit by my desertion, then let it be so,” replied Belenur; “but this message, my heart told me, I had to heed."

Elrond then asked him to describe the dream, and after taking a moment to search his memory, the young man said, “First, I saw a brooding man in ranger's raiment, haggard and dusty, with a royal crown upon his head. After that, I beheld a small black bird which flew in from the east and settled next to the troubled man. The creature then began to grow and change its shape until it assumed the form of a tall man clad all in black and hidden behind a red mask.” He paused for a moment to examine the faces of the elves and see if any of them betrayed any sort of understanding as to the meaning of the images described; but their expressions were unchanged, and so he continued, “Then these scenes vanished, and all became wrapped in a strange hue, neither dark nor light; and I heard a voice, thunderous yet strangely soothing, which said to me, 'The doom of Arvedui is written. Take the … the item to the House of Elrond; for it is to remain with the appointed line, and to go hence and dwell in the South ere the fall of the Black Tower.' ”

“The Black Tower!” said Erestor, turning to Elrond. “Was it not torn down following Sauron’s downfall?”

“It was.” was the son of Eärendil’s terse reply.

Turning back to Belenur, Erestor then said, “There was hesitation in your words, and I believe there is more to this message than was said. Can you state clearly what is this thing that shall dwell in the South ere the fall of the Black Tower?”

The young man hesitated for an instant, and then said quietly, “I cannot.”

Elrond gazed keenly at his guest for some time. “There is no way for us to ascertain your claim,” he said at length, “and your unwillingness to offer additional facts leaves us little wherewith to judge its truthfulness or import. You shall therefore remain in this house until your people find a new home for themselves; whereupon you shall go to them, who will decide upon your fate.”

An elf named Gwynduil was assigned to supervise the activities of the human guests while they remained in Imladris. His attitude was ever friendly towards them, and he often joined them on their long walks along the palace’s lofty terraces. On one of these walks, Aireniel asked him if he had seen Valinor.

“I have not,” replied the elf. “I was born in the highlands of Ladros in Beleriand, but soon moved to Nargothrond with the House of Felagund.”

Aireniel sat down on a bench and remained silent for a moment, with her eyes cast down. “Why are you all leaving?” she asked suddenly.

Gwynduil’s lips curled up slightly as he perceived the reproachful tinge in the young lady’s question. “For different reasons,” he replied; but seeing that that vague remark would not satisfied her, he continued after a moment, “I am to leave Middle-earth because I can bear not see the hurt upon the land.” After that he walked towards the bench and took a seat next to her. “There was a time not so long ago,” he resumed, “when we would venture far beyond our borders, and had many friends among the beasts and the trees that dwelt without. But most of them are now dead or gone, and the erstwhile merry songs of the crystal streams have become naught more than deep and sorrowful moans.”

A deep sense of regret came over Aireniel on hearing what had been done to the land and its creatures; and as one of the race of Men, she felt a shard of guilt pierce her heart. After a moment she asked, “Do you loathe Men?”

“I do not,” replied Gwynduil. “Brave and worthy ones I have known among the Edain and their descendants, like Barahir son Bregor and others of his house. But one there was whom I loved above all else; we called him Agarwaen, though you may know him as Turambar, as he later named himself.”

“His was a tragic tale, if I recall correctly,” said Belenur; “yet it is said that he was for the most part well-loved among Eldar and Edain.”

A smile came then to Gwynduil’s lips, and a sparkle flickered in his eyes as he recalled with admiration the mien of the ill-fated hero. “Who that knew him, be it king or foot soldier, could love him not?” he said. “Bold and steadfast he was; taciturn in idle company, yet iron-willed and vibrant as mountain-fire when the hour called. Naught but the highest honour or utter despair awaited us who followed him, we knew; and yet we hesitated not, but marched forth with light step and gay song.”

After a brief silence Belenur asked, “Were you with him at Tumhalad?” To this the elf assented with a grave nod, and the young man then continued, “That battle went ill, did it not?”

“Alas, It did!” replied Gwynduil. “For their numbers were far greater than we thought, and with them was that terrible drake.”

“It is fortunate, though,” said Aireniel, “that you escaped with your life.”

Gwynduil fixed his gaze one some far-away place as he recalled with dull sorrow the events of that day long past. “We soon realised,” he said, “that our struggle was hopeless, and began to retreat in haste towards our stronghold. But as we hurried away from the enemy, my company was torn asunder from the rest, and we fled towards Doriath and knew naught more of those we had left behind.” He paused at that moment with a blank expression upon his face; but after a short time his eyes began to brighten, and he continued in a more spirited tone, “But even then I knew that the last line in the tale of Turambar had yet to be written; and my heart greatly rejoiced when, years later, word came to us that he had slain that great worm of Angband at Cabed-en-aras.”

Following that he stood up, walked slowly to a nearby lookout platform and set his pensive eyes towards the west. “My Lord Finrod once told us,” he resumed, “that great beauty may be found in sorrow, but I understood not the meaning of those words until I met the one oft called Elf-Man.” He drew a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “To most, his brief life was but a dark tragedy, I know; yet the memory of those grim days feels rather like a sweet and stirring lament to us who were there on the vales of Narog, to us who hoped, wept and fell at the side of him who wielded the Black Sword.”

Now on a late afternoon several months after his coming to Imladris, Belenur was in one of the many towers of the palace looking out at the steep mountains about him when Glorfindel came in and stood next to him. After a brief silence the elf-lord said, "Arvedui is dead," and Belenur gasped. "He drowned in the icy waters of the Forochel; your presence there would have been no aid to him."

"I should have died with him," said the young man with regret.

"It would have served no purpose," replied the elf.

"Purpose," rejoined Belenur with disdain. "What purpose could there be now for one such as me?"

Glorfindel’s gaze remained fixed on the encircling mountains, and his words were unhurried and sober. “None I can see for one whose time in this world is so brief,” he said; “unless there be a part for him in the Great Scheme of Arda.”

“A part in the Great Scheme?” repeated the man, doubtfully.

"That dream you had,” said the elf, “if indeed a true account, hints not of some higher design for you?"

Belenur considered the words of Glorfindel for a short while and then said, “If what you say is true, then poorly shall I play my part. For how can I seek to accomplish my task when I know not its intended end, or the purpose of the ... the item.”

“It is quite possible,” said the elf-lord, “that the true purpose of that item whereof you will not speak will remain for ever hidden to all. But whatever its aim, it shall be attained regardless of your wisdom or intent; for all things foresung must come to pass in the end.”

Belenur looked long at the elf-lord in silence. “You speak nonsense,” he said at length, and Glorfindel turned a pair of curious eyes towards him. The young man then continued, “How can we be allowed free and unfettered choices, for thus it is held by the wise, and yet be doomed to an unchangeable future?”

The elf-lord turned his gaze slowly back to the surrounding mountains. “Doom lies not in the future,” he said; “it stands outside of Time. You seek to apprehend that which cannot be fathomed.”

Again there was a lengthy silence, as the young man strove in vain to understand the meaning of the elf’s words. After a moment, however, he decided to attempt to make his argument from a different angle. “Is it not true,” he said, “that to some among the Eldar, and perhaps even Men, visions of the future are at times given.”

“Visions of the future,” muttered Glorfindel slowly, as if judging the accuracy of that expression. “I would not call them thus,” he continued after a moment; “for the wisdom that is given us involves no greater foresight than that required to know that a stone which has been let go will in time strike the ground.”

“Well, whatever you call those glimpses,” pursued the young man, “can they not serve as warnings, that we may follow a different course and thus avoid an undesired fate?”

The elf-lord drew in a long breath. “Whatever be your intentions, the path of fate is forever fixed,” he replied. “No doom, great or small, may be averted; it must come to pass even in the face of ominous signs, like the unstoppable tide that drove the Noldor on that sorrowful march …” His words ceased suddenly at that point, and his eyes darkened as the momentous events of a time long past began to assail his mind. And following what seemed to Belenur like a lengthy pause, he resumed in a low voice, “I was there on that fateful hour long ago, when stirred to great passion by the angry words of Fëanor, we abandoned Tirion and set off on a dark road. And following that dreadful prophecy uttered before us on the shores of Araman, I heard our Lord Fingolfin say to his brother that even were he to be persuaded of its folly, he would give up not the journey; for a vow he had made to Fëanor before the throne of Manwë.” Glorfindel closed his eyes for an instant, as in sorrow; and following that, he fixed his gaze once more on the surrounding peaks and concluded, “Looking back on that moment many years thence, I finally understood that our choice on the day had been naught but an illusion, and that the terrible things foretold by Mandos upon that high rock had been ordained long ere the Firstborn awoke in the East.”

Belenur, however, was not convinced by the elf’s tale. “But each lord could have just as well chosen not to heed the call of Fëanor,” he said, “or as did Fingolfin’s brother, abandon the march along the way.”

Glorfindel hesitated for an instant, as if unsure of what he was about to say. “More was there, I believe, than alone the words of Finwë’s son,” he said. “It was as if something in our very hearts was pulling us then towards the east, as if that voice which first awoke in us the longing for the West was in that hour wooing us back to our ancient home. And so, despite the dire warnings, we each found in our own hearts a reason to leave Aman behind and march forth under that long dark, and come at last to this tearful land bereft of life unending.”

After those strange remarks, Belenur thought it pointless to continue on that path and sought to return the discussion to his particular problem. “ Well, whatever be the case,” he said, “choose I must. But once I regain my freedom, how am I to know whether I should stir not and remain with my people, or head south and seek perhaps that black tower?”

“Only your heart can guide your choices,” replied Glorfindel; “for not even the Valar sat in counsel can foresee all outcomes.”

Belenur let out a loud sigh. “The Valar,” he said scornfully. “We will receive no guidance from them; after the fall of the Númenóreans, they care naught for us.”

While Belenur spoke, Glorfindel tilted his head up slightly, as if irked by his remarks; and for an instant, it seemed to the young man as though the light within him shone a little brighter. “The rebellion of Andor,” replied the elf-lord, “proved to the Valar that they understood not the hearts of Men, even those whose fathers had once fought alongside themselves.” Then he turned his head to face the man and added, “But not ere the last heir of Elendil puts down the scepter and the White Tree withers to dust, shall the Lords of the West cease to brood over the fate of the children of the Edain.”

Several months later, as they strolled about the palace gardens, Belenur learned from Gwynduil that Glorfindel was preparing to lead a host of riders into battle against the forces of the Witch-king.

“Will the elves fight alone?” asked the young man.

“No,” replied Gwynduil, “it seems that a prince of Gondor has sailed up to the Grey Havens with a great force of men, and that he is planning to march against the forces occupying Fornost. He shall be aided by the elves of Lindon and what remains of the Northern Dúnedain.”

Upon hearing that last remark, Belenur set off at once to see Elrond and ask to be allowed to join Glorfindel’s host, that he may fight at the side of his lord Aranarth. Thus he said: “The father I abandoned in his need; the son shall have in payment my sword and my blood.”

Having obtained leave to march with the elves, Belenur next went to his sister and asked her to follow him to his chamber. There, he told her of the battle that was to come and of his decision to ride to the side of Aranarth. After that he took her hands and said, “You understand why I have to go, don’t you, Airy?” And she assented with a nod while tears rolled down her cheeks.

Following that he retrieved a small wooden box from his knapsack and then said to his sister, “This contains an item of great import. It has been with our family since the days of Haeron, our forefather, and my heart tells me that it is meant to fulfill a great purpose in the future. You must tell no one about it and keep it safe until my return.” At that moment a dark cloud came over his eyes, and he cast down his gaze; but following a brief silence, he lifted his eyes back to his sister and continued, “Should I not return, however, you must guard this item until your first son comes of age, whereupon you must pass it on to him; for he would then be the heir of Haeron.”

As is told elsewhere, the forces of Gondor and Lindon drove the enemy from Fornost and forced them to retreat in haste towards Carn Dûm; but ere the host of Angmar could reach that great fortress, they were overtaken simultaneously by the allied forces from the west and Glorfindel’s riders from the south. At that point, Belenur left the riders from Imladris and rode over to join the men led by the Prince of Gondor as they advanced towards the banner of the Witch-king; and espying Aranarth’s guard several lengths ahead, he hastened at once to the side his lord. But as he came within a few lengths of the son of Arvedui, the young man spotted an archer of Angmar who held an arrow trained upon the Chieftain of the Dúnedain; and without thought or hesitation, Belenur spurred forth his mount.

In an instant all went black, and he fell from his horse as a biting pain ran through his chest; and for a few moments he lay alone in the shadows, knowing not aught of what befell about him. But as light came slowly back to his eyes, he discerned the figure of a tall man who walked hastily towards him; and as the man reached his side and hunkered down by him, he recognised the face of his lord Aranarth. “Belenur, what have you done!” said the heir of Isildur.

The young man took the chieftain’s hand. “My father was wrong, my lord,” he said weakly; “Arvedui was not the last hope of our people, for I yet see hope in the one before me.”

“Noble son of Arthedain that was,” said Aranarth, “your name shall be remembered in song wherever our people dwell.”

At that moment the two men heard a great tumult to the north and turned their heads at once in that direction. After a few confusing seconds, Belenur understood that the Prince of Gondor and his riders had finally broken through the Witch-king’s elite Black Guard; and in that instant he knew in his heart that after five hundred years of untold wickedness and terror, the Kingdom of Angmar, with all its arts unholy, was come at last to an end.

When the son of Beriedir turned his head back towards Aranarth, he found that Glorfindel had ridden up them. He tried to speak, but a weak cough hindered him. After taking a few seconds to settle himself, he again turned his eyes towards the elf-lord, and with a faint smile on his lips, said laboriously, “I suppose there was a purpose for me after all.” And then laying back his head, the young Dúnadan departed whither the fëas of men turn in the end, with a peaceful heart.

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