Work Header

And Borte Did Gather Her People

Work Text:

And before the Sun had fallen far from the noon out of the West there came a Great Eagle flying, and he bore tidings dire.[1]   His great voice was harsh and unpleasant as it echoed down to the plains of Thargelion, smoke and ash trailing off his feathers. The people in the land below the lake of Helevorn knew the Eagle came from the battlefields to the far north where still they could see dark smoke and smell foulness on the wind. And they knew that the Fifth Battle of Beleriand was over, and it was not victorious for some.

A small woman stood outside a large yurt that had the most beautiful and colorful decorations in this large and well-ordered camp. Her face was lined with age, but her stance was straight, and her thick, glossy black hair held only two strands of silver. A crown of gold-plated bronze inset with many red stones and gems shone brightly above her sloping brow, and anyone that looked upon her would know she was a princely woman of high status and regard. Her upturned face watched the Great Eagle circle above the camp of her people and proclaim dark words, tidings that she had already guessed at within the unease of her heart.

Sing not and lament,” the Great Eagle of the Sky King instructed them, “for the Armies of Angband have prevailed, and slain or scattered are all the hosts of the High King of the Noldor. Sing not and lament, for it is time to weep tears unnumbered for your dead, by the Treachery of Men were they betrayed, surviving people of the Faithful Bór.

The wife of Bór, mother of his three sons who had led their warriors under the red banners of the Noldor host to besiege Angband, keeper of the tents and leader of her people when the warriors were away, watched the Great Eagle circle her camp once more. Long she stared at the brilliant blue of the sky, at the whiteness of the clouds, at the still smoldering feathers falling from the injured eagle. Then the Lady of the Bór closed her eyes to weep, and all around her the people joined her cries of grief.

To their voices joined the mournful howling of the mighty hounds that guarded their herds and homes, and the cries of the hounds unsettled the horses and white-grey cattle. Great clouds of dust rose around the settlement, drifting into the bright blue sky, the sight accompanied by the sound of sorrow of women, children, and the old.

Then the Lady of the Bór stood from where she had knelt weeping and wrenching the grass. She removed the golden band from her head and carefully undid the many braids of her long thick hair. She pulled off the outermost coat of her garments, tossed aside the red coat with its many fine beads and golden embroidery, and stood clad only in the innermost white tunic and pants. Her people cried to see her new display of grief. Then she turned back and went into her tent.

Inside her tent the Lady of the People of Bór waited for yet more dire news, knowing she would never more see her sons, knowing that the Great Eagle had been but a kind forewarning by the King of the Great Blue Sky. She wept because she knew that she had little time before such weeping would be a luxury.

An ill omen it had proven, that her husband the Great Soul had died before the muster of troops - though it had been a peaceful passing in his sleep. Bór of the Great Soul, wise and strong and respected throughout the homelands of the Folk, had been greatly mourned by his people and the allied tribes. Even Ulfang had sent mourners to the death of his rival, and one of his sons had spoken sweet words during the funeral. The funeral songs had been sung long into the nights, new songs composed with each retelling of Bór’s wisdom and generosity, cunning and wealth. The sons of Bór had wet their own scarred cheeks with many tears of grief, but Borte had begged her people to not allow their sorrow to overshadow them. She demanded her sons lead their warriors to battle as their father would wish, so that he would smile down on them from the Great Blue Sky to see them defeat the evil Dark King. Borte’s sons, joyful Borlad and cautious Borlach and Borthand who could compose sweet and clever poetry, marshaled the cavalry of the Folk and rode away with horse and bow and sword to the army of the Bright Ones. Under the elven lords, the ones with too-bright eyes named Maglor and Maedhros, did her sons and their people fight, according to the oaths of loyalty first proclaimed by Bór that fateful night that the Great Soul decided that the offer of the elves in the lands west of the mountains was better than the tyranny known under the Dark King. Borte’s sons had dried the weeping from their eyes and left her with promises of glory and honor. The black horsehair of their war-standard had floated in the breeze as her sons and their warriors rode away.

No riders would be returning.

"Grandmother," a young girl whispered, kneeling beside the much older woman, "Grandmother, they call for you. Someone approaches from the river-side direction. Grandmother, I am afraid."

"Tell them I come, Marti," said the Lady of the People of Bór. "Be not afraid."

Riders neared the camp carrying the white bows and pointed fur caps of the Folk, but the short pennants were blue lined with red, the flags of the followers of Ulfang. Borte re-braided the loose hair hanging down her face and back with many golden beads as quickly as her fingers could allow, her daughter-in-law Asúni assisting with the hair-dressing, and together they donned their finest beaded coats lined with the white fur of winter foxes. The other wives of Borte’s sons, Altanë and Rhosgeth, donned their fine clothing and pulled back their loose mourning hair. They fetched the wine and salt-bread for greeting company and gathered their children and the infant son of Borte’s daughter. He had been left with his aunts when Borte’s daughter rode to war with her own troop of horse archers. Now Boaz would never see his mother or father again, nor would Marti or any of Borte’s many grandchildren.

Borte wiped away the last sign of her weeping and positioned herself primly on golden couch of a clan leader inside the fine tent of her late husband, waiting for the men of Ulfang to arrive and give their own unwelcome dire tidings. She was proud and wise and would not show weakness before enemies. The Great Eagle of the Sky King spoke of treachery from men, and Borte of the Folk of Bór knew the likely source.

A serving woman escorted the warriors to her yurt where Borte waited with stiff spine and and red eyes. The gold of her best crown with its many hanging beads and plaques of gold and red shone like the sun in the braziers of the tent. Her daughter-in-law Asúni, as wife of her oldest son, stood at her side with a pitcher of wine and a covered dish of salted way-bread. The dishes were the best of their belongings, elven-made and covered in gold with the images of running deer. In contrast, the wine was poor, but Borte chose it so. Borte’s granddaughter huddled behind the bed rugs, where the great lady had instructed that Marti could watch only if she spoke not. The rest of Borte’s family, her daughters-in-law and their children, the white-haired elders, and the thralls, waited and hid in their own tents. Only a few would show themselves to offer water to the warriors’ horses and see what rumors could be gleaned. The serving woman glanced with worry at the swords and small bronze hand-axes that the warriors carried into the tent, but Borte raised no objection. Nor did she lower her eyes to see the dirt that their boots left on the fine fur rugs of her tent.

Borte recognized two of the warriors of Ulfang’s people, Uker and Jurga. They were high in the confidence of one of Uldor’s captains, and Borte wondered why they had been sent, and why Lorgan was not with them. Selfishly, she hoped this meant Lorgan was dead.

The faces of the warriors of Ulfang were unfriendly. Still, they bowed properly as one did to the wife of a great clan leader. Asúni held out the wine, and the captain of the men, Uker, drank from the pitcher but did not offer any to his men. Nor did he invoke the traditional greeting words, asking for the blessing of the great leader’s wife.

"Why do you come to the tent of Bór of the Great Soul?" asked Borte in her most even and cold voice. "What tidings?"

Uker spoke, a livid half-healed gash across his face stretching with each pull of his lips. “The armies of the elves and their men fell before the might of the Dark King, and the swords and arrows of the Folk. The Bright Ones, the elves, were tricked into attacking too soon, and their king was rent in twain by the fiery sword of Lord Gothmog and his body ground into the earth by our feet. Glaurung the Golden, glorious and bright as the sun, trammeled the second host, and the elves and dwarves fled like cowards in all directions. Mighty and great was Uldor, perfect was his plan. He surprised and surrounded the host of the Bright Ones when the battle seemed lost for the King of Angband, crushing the elves at the very moment of their false hope. Victory did his cunning strategies win for the Dark King, the Lord of All the Earth! Though an elf, brother of the Bright One with terrible eyes, slew Mighty Uldor, he could not save his armies. A futile spasm of a dying beast. Like wind-born chaff they scattered, washed away by the storm of our arrows. All the North is ours!” The captain of Lorgan’s left wing of horse archers shouted of victories, but his face showed the sullen anger of defeat.

Borte hid her shudder, waiting for Uker to continue, hoping her glee at the news of Uldor’s death did not show.

"Your sons were traitors who slew the brothers of Uldor, who betrayed the Great King and did not fight by the side of our people. They chose instead the foul elves and their witchcraft. Your sons are dead, Lady Traitor, and all their warriors died with them. We heaped their bodies in a great hill together with those of the elves, the Halad-folk, and the Hador-folk whom we slain all to the last man. They rot unburied in a hill as tall as the walls of the elf-city."

Borte said nothing in reply.

"Your sons are dead! Your warriors betrayed us!"

Borte glanced to her daughter-in-law. Asúni mirrored her lady in the silent stillness of her pose. Neither glanced towards Marti, hoping the clever small girl had sneaked out of the tent to warn everyone, that she did not hear of her father’s death from his enemies or would cry out her grief.

"How is it that my sons and their men betrayed their oaths, if they died a shield-guard to their lords?" asked Borte, while inwardly her thoughts raced and quaked like a panicked warhorse exhausted by the drums. The warriors of the followers of Ulfang scoffed at the claim that Bór’s rightful lords were still the elves that they had publicly pledged to, bragged of this betrayal to the side of the Dark King. What was accounted honor to these men; what was held as loyalty? Her husband had doubted the greed of Ulfang, believing that the gold of the elf-lord to the North would not be enough to truly turn the heart. Lord Caranthir was wealthier than the greatest king of men thanks to his taxes on the trade road, but the elf would never share enough of that gold to satisfy the desire of Ulfang, no matter the number of envoys returning from Helevorn heavy with gifts. Oh, Ulfang had vowed fealty, as Bór had. But her husband had been a wise and honorable man with a soul as great as the blue sky. The people of Ulfang, her kinfolk knew, were a sly and dishonest people for all they professed to possess honor. One did not buy a horse from the kin of Ulfang unless one accepted that it would turn lame within a mile of riding it. But Bór had trusted, as Borte had trusted, that the tribes who came with Ulfang believed the same promise that had brought her kin from over the mountains. The same promise Bór had sent back with messengers to successfully bring their allied tribes into the rich green lands of Beleriand. Surely the freedom of Beleriand and the fealty of the elves was better than their old masters of orcs and foul sorcerers, those demons under the Dark King. Surely the Folk had been ashamed of their dark past, their old slavery, their old alliance. Surely that shame was why silence was given of the duplicitous offers from the false envoys before the Folk had crossed the mountains. Surely words spoken to powerful and wealthy lords with such magic and swords and armor that shone so bright would be kept, as men would not break solemn spoken vows and still be accounted men. Surely not.

"So that was what the Old Weasel Ulfang was up to," Borte said. "He was very cunning, as is well-sung and known, and that trickery he passed down to his sons," she added in a paltry attempt to dilute the scorn. "I am sure the Dark King well-rewarded you for your victory."

"Reward?" interrupted Jurga, and his men reached for the hilts of their swords and narrow bronze axes hanging from their belt sashes. "The Dark King has commanded that we all move our tents to the land of the Hador-folk, that the cold lands hemmed by the mountains shall be our new and only pasture. We have been given the land of Dor-lómin, and all its people as slaves. But all of Beleriand should be our due! Only the hidden kingdoms of the elves, and their one walled city on the coast, lie unconquered, and yet for the treachery of your sons who did not answer the call of their rightful Lord are we given but one land full of unruly thralls and thick with elf magic."

"Is Dor-lómin not the personal land of chief-most of the elves and their most favored warriors? Surely that is a prize of great honor," said Borte in a dry voice.

"It is better than nothing," said Asúni in a low voice, but her remark inflamed the tempers of the men.

"And now you have nothing," sneered Uker, his covetous eyes on the gold and fine trappings of Borte’s tent. The great lady stood from her couch, but the captain of the army of Uldor laughed at her. "You have no warriors to stop us from taking what we wish." He turned to the warriors behind him, sending half out to lasso cattle and horses. Borte began to protest this thievery, but Uker laughed again. "Will your lords stop me, Borte the Mother of Traitors?"

Outside she could hear the screaming begin from her servants, the alarmed barking of her dogs, the high-pitched squeals of her horses. Uker leaned outside the tent to shout orders, already pocketing a string of gold that hung from the walls of her yurt.

One of the warriors reached for Asúni with a leer, and Borte’s daughter-in-law screamed. Beside him Jurga smiled in encouragement and untied the knots of his belt sash, and Marti rose from her hiding spot to hurl a fiddle at his head. The warriors ignored Jurga’s bellow of rage for the entertainment of their own lust, watching as the first warrior began to force himself on the wife of Borlad. They laughed as Asúni fought against his grip, and the others reached for young Marti, who scrambled across the floor to her grandmother. One of the men cuffed Borte hard across the face as the lady moved to stop them, and Asúni kicked and bit as the man threw her down and against the wall of the tent.

Borte stood and shrieked a high wailing cry until all eyes in the tent were upon her. The great lady stood unmindful of the cut on her cheek or the bite of her golden crown pressing into the flesh of her tightly-gripped hand.

"Do not touch my daughters or me," said Borte, her eyes bright and hot. "If you do I shall curse you with impotence, and it shall be the first thing to rot black and fall from your body, followed by your fingers, tongue, and toes. If you touch any woman of my camp, then it shall be the last you ever touch with any pleasure in this earth. You know I am a witch. Know you are cursed."

The warriors drew back in alarm, for they feared the majesty and magic of the great lady, and knew she was in league with elves and therefore knew curses their own shamans could not combat. And there was still a courtesy ingrained in the captains of Uldor’s men, for while the Great Lady Borte was of a rival and dissimilar tribe, they were still counted Folk, and she was the widow of the leader of a great confederation of tribes. Uker bowed his head and roughly cuffed the man that had leered and assaulted Asúni, then motioned that his men drag him from the tent. “Forestall your curses, Great Lady,” he said in a low voice, “but know that the Mighty King of Angband is displeased with your people, and your magic is no match for his. Or his orcs. They will come for you, and all your traitorous kin. You are the Accursed, the Bringers of Shame.” And with a petty parting shot he added, “and your cattle and horses are still forfeit. Today I shall be kind, and take only two-thirds of each herd. But we need replacements for the animals lost because of your warriors, and the journey to Dor-lómin.”

Uker and his men stood from the tent, and no one of the People of Bór moved to stop them.

Marti assisted her grandmother to clean the blood from their faces, to straighten the garments of a still shaking Asúni, and to return the fiddle with its now cracked sound-box to its position of honor in the tent. All these small tasks were to forgo contemplation of their fate. Borte was silent, listening to wailing of the people outside her tent as they gathered their ransacked belongings and pieced together what the warriors had torn in fury when Ulfang's folk rode away from the camp of Bór fearful of the curse that might befall them if they stayed. Borte knew they would return soon with a shaman and orcs, goaded by the displeasure of the Dark King’s captains. Finally, the Great Lady Borte spoke. “If we stay, they shall kill or enslave us. They will leave us nothing. Come winter we shall starve.”

"You are right, Honored Mother," replied Asúni, as Rhosgeth combed back the hair of her sister-in-law and hugged her brave daughter Marti. "Our husbands would not wish us to curse them as we toil for men with the souls of weasel and wolf, wretches who pledged fealty to Uldor and his orcs."

"Lorgan, now," whispered the serving woman, Ullad. "I heard he was the captain chosen to lead the Folk after the deaths of all Ulfang’s sons."

"The Dark King take their souls, and let no praise songs reach the ears of the Great Sky," spat Asúni. "Lorgan is a beast, and his men are worse."

"What do the elders say?" asked Altanë, the last of Bortë’s daughters-in-law. She held two babes in her arms, Boaz and her own son Ellach. Without their herds and the safety of their warriors, both children would starve come winter, if not sooner.

"We cannot stay. I have sent hawks to the people of Uldin and Targon. They may choose to go with Lorgan to Dor-lómin, or go back over the mountains."

"And we?"

Wearily, Borte replied. “I see only one choice for us. They say the Bright Ones fled this way following the dwarves. Uker’s band has already sacked the city of Lord Caranthir, and they say Lorgan wears the elf lord’s many jewels around his neck and has already commissioned armor of gold from the horde of treasure. But the Bright Ones survived, and have fled towards the Dwarf Road. We must gather what we can and flee south, and hope that the elves honor the debt won by my sons’ deaths. They must protect us, or else their vows of fealty are as forfeit as those of Ulfang.”

The wives of her dead sons nodded to Borte. “We shall follow you. This is a good plan,” said Altanë, speaking for all. “The elders will agree.”

“Come, Marti,” said her mother, “we must gather our belongings. It could be a long journey. I need your help.”

Through the night the survivors of the followers of Bór worked to salvage what they could, grateful that the men of Ulfang’s tribe did not set fire to the tents and only injured a few of the people, the bruises and easily set bones of rough handling. The scouting party had been small, and cowed by the fear of Borte’s curses. They had only taken horses and cattle, and the most visible finery. The next time their lassos would be for slaves, and they would leave nothing.

In the morning Borte addressed the chief of her servants. “Command that any thrall still in camp is freed, their debt of work fulfilled, and tell them it is best they flee, or find a different master. The colors of Bór shall not be welcome in the new lands of the Folk, and we can no longer protect them. It is best they forget our names.”

But only a few of the servants and slaves that had not already fled the camp chose to leave, for they had decided that there was no hope for them elsewhere. Their old homes were destroyed or the journey back over the mountains impossible to cross, and they knew that misery or to be slain immediately were their likely fates if the people of Ulfang found them. Some were moved by pity for the women of the Bór, or trusted in the wisdom and majesty of the Great Lady. In gratitude did Borte weep to see her former thralls attend to the last packing of the camp, many helping the elders of the tribe gather the most precious of belongings and call back what scattered cattle Uker did not steal. “From now you are counted my sons and daughters,” she told them. “Our fate shall be yours. I cannot promise any safety, though I shall try.”

One of the oldest of the male ex-thralls offered to stand guard at the borders of their land as lookout. The boy’s older brother had ridden with Borlach as one of his warriors to gain freedom and glory, as had many of the male servants and thralls of age to fight. This boy, Roas, was only a few years older than Marti. Borte gave him one of the spare bows of her father, one of the last heirlooms not sent with her sons when they rode for war. Her daughters-in-law gave him a waterskin, some waybread, and one of the best remaining horses. “Watch to the north with the eyes of an eagle, and ride back the instant if you see riders approaching. They will be enemies.” To the rest of her people Borte commanded, “Finish gathering what you can. Food and animals are our first priority, and warm clothing. Bows and arrows; we may not be warriors but we can still hunt for food. And the Gap is unguarded; now orcs and the fell creatures of the Dark King shall run south of the Thirsty Plains.”

Borte and her people found the Bright Ones in the forests south of the Dwarf Road, on the northern side of the River Ascar. The camp was large, full of injured elves and their tall pale horses. The elves has shouted when the Folk approached, but seeing that their numbers were only women burdened with many children and the old that doddered on weary legs or rode on horses burdened by also carrying the hides for tents and blankets, they re-sheathed their swords and put down their spears and bows. Little Marti glared at the elves with suspicion. “They do not look unlike men,” she whispered to her mother, “except their faces are very pale, and they are very tall. And they have funny helmets.”

“Wait until you see the Lords of these Bright Ones,” said her mother Rhosgeth. “They are all brothers, and the eldest of them is very tall and has hair that gleams red in the light, like the wise shaman in your favorite hero story. And their eyes burn like ghosts.”

“Is he the one Grandmother must beseech to take us in?” asked Marti wise beyond her years.

“Him and the Lord Maglor,” said the boy, Roas. “They were our lords, as the Folk of Ulfang were Lord Caranthir’s.”

“Not like them,” snapped Rhosgeth.

“No,” said Borte in an even voice, “for the blood of Bór know what it is to serve with honor,” and she smiled at the adopted boy, who solemnly saw his duties to protect the women of his new family and tried to fulfill the role of many grown sons. Whose heart was as loyal and noble as an eagle. Borte feared in the unease of her heart that he would know only hunger and never see the white horsehair banners of the tribe at peace. “Now stay here and do not approach the Bright Ones. I shall go alone to the tent of their leaders.

Before the tents of the elven camp glowed strange lights of a cold and unwelcoming blue, emitting from hanging stones instead of the tall bronze and copper braziers Borte understood and were accustomed to. Keenly missing the comfort of natural firelight, she sought and found the chief-most tent. Over the threshold she stepped. She approached the six elven lords, the Bright Ones that were the last hope of refuge from destitution. Around their eldest they stood or sat, and the one with a single hand and hair the reddish brown color of a summer fox pelt sat in a field chair redressing old wounds. He glanced up as the old human woman entered the tent, then to his brothers for an explanation. Low she bowed, the golden plaques and beads of her best crown dangling on either side of her sloping brow.

Lord Maglor of the Bright Ones welcomed her with his pleasing voice, the one that made the elven tongue sound almost melodious and graceful. The light of his unnatural eyes were still too bright, something viper-like about the silent speed of his hands still too unnerving.

“Hail Borte, the Lady of the Easterlings, Wife of Bór. You appear wearied.”

Lord Maglor’s tone was courteous. Borte remembered that she had sent hawks informing her overlord of her husband’s death. The mighty singer did not attend the long funeral rites or offer any song, but he had sent a long and praise-filled note in the curving script of the elves, which clever Borthand who had learned the written language of the elves had translated for everyone. Before the war Lord Maglor had favored her sons with praise for their skill with horse and bow, had offered a beautiful book full of the strange curving elven words for Borthand, and sent Borte’s daughter a beautiful hunting falcon as a wedding gift. To him did she address her words, hoping his ears would be the most receptive.

Slowly Borte began her plea in the halting words she learned of the elven tongue, to tell of how enemy warriors had come after the battle to mock the deaths of her warriors and steal their prized possessions, to blame the Folk of Bór for the broken promises of the Dark King in Angband, and the dire fate awaiting them. She felt shame at the clumsiness of her words, for her sons were more skillful in the trade-tongues of the elves and north-men.

She was interrupted by the former lord of Helevorn, the once wealthy Caranthir whose great dwarven treasures now lay in Lorgan’s hands. “Send them away,” he addressed to his brother.

“They are men, and cannot be trusted,” spoke another of the Bright Ones.

The eldest of the Bright Ones was silent, though the Lord Maglor was glaring at his brothers in affronted anger. To his elder brother he spoke, “They owe me a life debt, for men would have slain me had not Borlad, Borlach, and Borthand died to kill the deceitful Ulfast and Ulwarth. They were the ones to stop the assault on your standard, and protected my back and sides in battle. To them you owe your life; you cannot send them away.”

"The Second-born are all ungrateful or unworthy of our trust," said Lord Caranthir, "all liars and cowards." His red face turned hatefully onto Borte. Another brother, the Bright One accounted fair among the elves, added his own scorn in a quiet voice, speaking of mortal thieves of jewels and women. "They prove themselves willing servants of Morgoth, eager to stab us in the back from their envy and treachery. Send them away, Brother, as I should have done in the beginning, or better still kill them."

Borte could not withstand yet more men besmirching the honor of her kin and wishing death upon her, most of all the ones to which her husband had pledged fealty. “We have done nothing to deserve foul and untrue words!”

"Peace!" Maglor called, unheeded. 

"You were traitorous," shouted the elf, "you knew of Morgoth’s plans, of Ulfang’s betrayal, and you said nothing!"

"Not traitors!" Borte screamed, sick in her heart of that word. "No, My Lords! My sons died to save you! My sons!" she screamed, face wet with tears. "All of my sons you took, leaving none for my company. All of them stayed by your sides; all of them died to protect you!"

The youngest of the Bright Lords looked down in stricken memory, and Lord Maglor of the serpent-swift blade and the beautiful voice bowed his head and murmured, “Peace, Lady of the Easterlings. I do not dishonor your sons, for I watched them die to protect me and my brothers.” But then he turned to the faces of his younger brothers before looking back to Borte. “Caranthir speaks true, however, in that it is far too suspicious, the treachery that occurred, for both Uldor and your sons were high in our councils and planning, and we were almost fatally betrayed by a wellset and long-planned ambush, with no hint of warning.”

Borte answered. “We sent messenger with our suspicions of Uldor’s movements, and always we told my lords to doubt his motives. My own brother Ban’s son I sent, when we heard the rumors of more hosts of Uldor’s men than those accounted to march to Lord Caranthir’s side. Our best rider, but armed only with our suspicions. Not knowledge solid. And always has there been distrust and rivalry between the tribes of Bór and Ulfang, so our words were discounted as jealousy.” Borte frowned for the cutting irony of how often her husband had complained that Ulfang’s sweeter words and more cunning flattery engendered more delight and trust from the elves. Ulfang’s people had ever-ready the praise of their lord thanks to their swift-skilled envoys who quickly learned how to ape the Bright Ones in elven tongues and their manner of use of metals and stone, and the Folk of Bór could not compete with their greater skill in hunting and war, in metalwork and gems, the lavish gifts and poisoned words.

"We received no messenger," said the tall lord, Maedhros with the hair of a summer fox.

“Then I must count my nephew among my dead,” said Borte, her tone matter-of-fact, and the second-youngest of the elven brothers, the one with a smile that sat crooked on his face and touched nowhere but his lips, snorted in amusement.

“My Lords must give us shelter,” said the Great Lady Borte in a voice clear and loud, her head high and proud. “We swore ourselves to you as our lords, and we have not broken our oaths. My Lords must not break your oaths.”

“We are not Oath-breakers,” the Bright Ones chorused together as if in one voice, and Borte did her best to not display how as spooked as a wild horse it made her. The Lord Maglor smiled, and the Lord Maedhros made a negligent wave with his remaining hand. The other Bright Ones scowled, but Borte knew her people were saved. “You may bring your people. We offered them succour in return for allegiance. But you must not betray our trust again, and vow now that no weapon you shall raise towards any of the Firstborn, nor steal anything that is rightfully ours.”

In the cold and even voice the Great Lady replied, “By the honor of my husband, Bór of the Great Soul, and the honor of my sons, I vow.” The insults she would ignore for salvation. She bowed thrice, each time a little lower than the last, then turned around and walked outside the tent. Then she made a piercing cry to call her family. Safety guaranteed, her daughters-in-law led the rest of Borte’s people towards the elven camp, with young Marti and the boy carrying the white bows of her people, hiding that their other hands still gripped fistfulls of arrows behind their backs. The elves were not the only ones to mistrust if the alliance would hold. Altanë, the two babes in slings across her back, led her mother-in-law’s horse at the center of the procession, the paired eagle and vulture gleaming in gold on the breastplate. Borte had been ready to barter her horse, and the best of their remaining herd, to the elves in payment for safety if need be. She was glad it had not come to that.

“Make your camp as you are accustomed to downwind of us,” instructed the youngest of the Bright One lords, the one with russet hair and the hunting leathers of the elves that clung to the shadows of trees.There was a dark story about that Bright One, but Borte could not recall the details to entertain her granddaughter. “Keep your animals penned, and do not enter the woods. Those who dwell in there are unfriendly to your kind.”

The elves watched as Borte’s kin and servants unloaded the hides and poles for tents, unlatched the bags of their scavenged possessions from saddle packs and side bundles, and whistled for the dogs to bring in the remaining sheep and lyre-horned grey cattle. The elders unpacked the most precious items, the fiddles and drums, the dishes and goblets, and the golden banner. The most valuable heirlooms of Bór’s house, the great bow and the curving sword of god-blessed steel, were lost in the north, buried under the bodies of the slain in a great hill. Borte heard behind her back one of the elves laugh as she marked the dirt for the first of the yurt poles. Bent over as she was, the old woman could not tell which elf found scornful amusement in her people's actions, so Borte ignored them. Asúni held a torch so Borte could see the ground. The earth was hard and the autumn grass beginning to brown. The serving woman, Ullad, assisted her, while others pounded the stakes to tether animals. All her life Borte had followed the routine of making camp, and she tried to glean comfort from it once more. The warm firelight masking the unnatural blue elf-light greatly aided in the easing of her discomfort.

Rhosgeth chided her daughter and the boy for their arrows, bidding the children pull away their weapons before the Bright Ones took offense. Marti obeyed. Roas stood sentry as the women worked to build the camp, staring down the Bright Ones, before a serving woman cuffed his ear gently and told him to go help the dogs to herd in the livestock. Only a dozen of the long-legged white-grey cattle had survived the thieving warriors and the journey down, and Borte and her daughters-in-law had wrapped blue ribbons around their large horns to bless the fortunate animals. Of horses they still had many, though were running low on grain to feed them.

Then the boy ran up to Borte, shouting that something was wrong with the dogs, that they would not come.

Borte’s favorite hound, her bear-chested Graw who ate from her hand and slept beside her bed, whined and pulled away as Roas brought him over. Borte called for Graw to heel, but the furry-maned dog looked at the tall elves and raised the hackles of his back. A growl rose from his throat -as if he beheld wolves- and the tall elf with the twisting grin approached with a fist and a sharp command. Graw lunged, his white teeth flashing and spittle flying, and one of the Bright Ones fell on his back with a scream of terror and the memory of Huan’s bright teeth. Borte cried and Roas lunged for the leash, but her hound did not heed her command. One of the elves shot an arrow at the dog’s feet, nearly hitting it. Borte looked up to see the serpent-sword Maglor with a bow in his hands. Before the worse could happen and the tenuous alliance rebroken, the snarling hound turned and ran away, and none of Borte’s cries, or those of her daughters and grandchildren, could stop him. The rest of the hounds followed Graw, chewing through leashes and slinking away into the forest, and Borte was afraid the rest of their animals would follow, the horses and cattle abandon them. She wanted to ask the Bright Ones why the hounds had turned on them, why Graw had snarled at them like they were wolves or enemies like Lorgan’s men. She wanted to weep.

"You will turn on us," said the Bright One with the crooked mouth.