Disclaimer: See Chapter Two
"An ”The army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team.
This individuality stuff is a bunch of bullshit."
- General George Patton Jr
The March of the Host of the Valar, Year 553 First Age
The light of Middle-earth might well have been more delicate than the Blessed Isle of Aman, but Rion could still appreciate the crisp freshness of the early morning air and the earthy smell of a forest still covered in dew. Pale shafts of sunlight managed to steal through the thick canopy of foliage and created light in the dimness. Everything here smelt different. The scent of the leaves and the earth was more subtly drawn; the water did not have the rich wine-like clarity of the springs and falls in Aman but an odd metallic taste which told of origins deep in the mountains of fire that had been part of the birth of Arda. Nothing had prepared him for the fact that Middle-earth was more like a pale cousin many times removed in comparison with the rich, scented and scintillating fullness that was his homeland.
“You will find Arda Marred to be vastly different to anything you have grown used to.” His atar who had awoken at Cuivenan and followed Ingwe and Orome the Valar over to Aman cautioned grimly. “The forests are ancient and dark. It is rumoured that many terrible things still roam there. On our journey to the coast before coming to the Blessed Isle many were lost along the way, not least to Melkor the deceiver with his honeyed tongue and his creatures. Arda Marred is a dangerous place best now left to the beasts. It is no longer a fit place for the Firstborn and it is only the fact that the Valar wish to remove Morgoth that they send an army there to settle things once and for all and open the road West for those who deserve it.”
“What of the ban on the Noldoli kinslayers?” Rion had asked curiously.
His atar’s face darkened. “They deserve no mercy from us. Namo pronounced their doom as they left Aman, let them live with it as best they can. They do not deserve a place here.”
His wife sighed deeply, but made no comment, instead she kept her attention on her loom.
“I know what you feel.” His atar said defensively casting a glance at her. “I have heard many say the same; that the Noldoli deserve pity and forgiveness. Tell that to those who lost loved ones at Aqualonde, tell that to the Teleri widows who grieve for their husbands. Not all of them have been yet released from Mandos. Too easily have the crimes committed by the Feanorians been forgotten here. However there are many who do not wish them to be here.”
Rion exchanged a wry glance with his mother who smiled faintly and encouragingly at him. “It is my belief that Lord Manwe will offer the kinslayers a release of the ban nevertheless. We cannot continue to live with this hatred among our kindred, Noldor or otherwise, it will destroy us. Forgiveness must needs begin some time. Let it be now.” She countered gently and snipped off one of the richly coloured threads of wool. “And now I must make supper. We need an early night if we are to travel to the coast to see Rion off with the Host.” She stood up and went into the kitchens to supervise the evening meal.
The anxious faces of his parents were the last things Rion had seen as the ship carrying him and many other Vanyarin warriors pulled away from the quay. He desperately strained to keep them in view even as the thin ghostly tendrils of mist curled themselves around the ships and the Elven warriors who still crowded the side, hopeful of keeping their loved ones’ faces in their memory; not knowing when or if they would see them again.
It was the brightness of the ship carrying the Maia Eonwe, Herald of Manwe that guided the fleet through the mists that had been caused to form around the Blessed Isles in order to hide them from the eyes of mortals. His inner light shone like a beacon of hope and courage even when the mists grew thicker and darker. Rion and many of his companions had been heartsick and only recovered when the fleet had finally cleared the mists and the sparkling wine-dark seas of Middle-earth had become evident.
The sound of hooves jerked Rion back into the present. A dapple-grey stallion, a splendid beast, rode swiftly past the column where Rion and his comrades in arms marched behind their Lord Ingwion and his senior commanders. Long white hair streamed from the rider’s head and he looked neither left nor right, not even to check that no one was in his way. As he passed he turned his head briefly and looked directly at Rion who saw his face and decided that it was akin to a hawk or even an eagle perhaps. He had a large hooked nose and bearded mouth set in a hard straight line below eyes of depthless black.
“Don’t stare too hard.” An amused voice said in Rion’s ear. “He may turn you into something wholly unnatural.”
Rion turned to find that a dark-haired ellon had reined in his huge bay horse beside the column and was grinning mischievously at him. He struggled to remember his name but only succeeded in recalling that his liege-lord was Finarfin, High King of the Noldor who remained in Aman after the kinslayers had left and that he had been attached as liaison to the Vanyarin column.
Rion frowned as he watched the grey stallion disappear with his rider in the cloud of dust kicked up by the horse’s hooves. “I do not remember him from Aman.”
The Noldo smiled. “He was there, but you will not have seen him on the slopes of Taniquetl much. He is Curunir, a Maiar of the order Istari, or Wizard as some name him. He is a servant of Aule here to assist Lord Eonwe.”
Rion looked troubled. “Can he turn me into something unnatural?” He asked doubtfully.
The Noldo threw back his head and roared with laughter, then he shrugged nonchalantly. “Who knows? He is Maiar, he is probably capable of conjuring many things just with a wave of his hand. He works with fire and the clay of the earth and Aule smiles upon his creativity.” He dug his heels into the bay’s sides. The horse reared slightly and whinnied causing the fair-haired warrior in front of Rion to turn and glare fiercely. Cheerfully unconcerned about the anger directed at him the Noldo bent down slightly towards Rion as his horse pawed the ground, eager to be off. “I would be careful though. You caught his eye. He could well have earmarked you for his next project.” Then he was gone leaving Rion standing with his mouth open and looking foolish. The silvery laughter trickled back along the track.
“What project?” Now Rion looked much more than troubled.
The fair-haired warrior shook his head. “Cursed Noldorin, you would think that here in the land of their kinslaying kindred, they would act with some decorum. The fruit seldom falls far from the tree.”
“You must not be afraid of Curunir little one. He would not hurt you. Nor will he turn you into a toad.” A deep amused voice interrupted them before Rion could answer the warrior. They both turned and immediately dropped to one knee in front of the mighty Eonwe himself. Behind him, on the largest coal black horse Rion had ever seen sat an imposing figure with the glow of the Valar and the music of the Ainur clinging to his person. Bright yellow hair flowed from under a winged silver helmet and his eyes were atwinkling periwinkle blue.
“Lord Tulkas.” The warrior breathed in awestruck tones. “The Valar grace us with their presence this day.”
Despite being as awestruck as his colleague at the sight of the Commander of the Host and one of the Valar casually riding alongside the column, Rion was more concerned at the idea that he might end up as a wizard’s experiment.
Eonwe seemed to sense his perturbation,he dismounted from his horse and handed the reins to the fair-haired warrior who bowed deeply. “I would be grateful if you would lead my horse for me.” He said quietly and the warrior inclined his head, conscious of the great honour bestowed on him. The Maia gave him one of his swift beautiful smiles and then turned to Rion. “Walk with me for a little while.”
Rion blushed to the roots of his hair. What on earth had he done now? Everyone in the column was now staring and whispering to each other. At least it felt that way to him and it was hugely embarrassing. To his great relief Lord Tulkas did not dismount. Instead with a gentle pressure of his knees he slowed his horse to keep pace with Eonwe and Rion.
“Your name is Rion is it not?” Eonwe asked him.
Rion bobbed his head furiously. “Yes my Lord, but how did you know of me?”
Eonwe gave him a strange little smile. “Think you that I do not know every Elf and creature in my charge here in Arda Marred? What kind of commander would I be were I not to interest myself in the affairs of those who will fight in the name of the Valar and Iluvator?”
“I would think that you have a very large memory my Lord.” Rion said admiringly before he could stop himself. “There are thousands here.”
Another beautiful smile and Rion’s devotion was captured forever. “Tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, but my memory is both large and long. Which is just as well since I will have to account for each and every one of you, both to Lord Namo and Lord Manwe at the end of the war.” He changed the subject abruptly. “You were the warrior in charge of the search party that went to look for Lord Melannen were you not?”
A shadow fell across Rion’s face. “Yes my Lord.” His failure to find Melannen still distressed him greatly. Tears filled his eyes and he struggled to stop them from rolling down his cheeks.
“Lord Ingwion told me of your conversation with him.” He laid a gentle, conforting hand on Rion’s shoulder. “Do not let your heart be troubled child. Destiny is not so well ordered that everything happens without disruption. It is more like a great ocean that swells to mighty waves when you had thought to have calm waters and becomes a millpond when you expect a great storm. You were not destined to find Lord Melannen, for his path now lies in a different direction to ours, at least for the moment. Be at peace young Rion, you must gather your strength and courage for the battles yet to be faced and won.”
Rion furiously blinked away his tears. “But what if those hideous creatures, those orcs, have him? He will need us to rescue him.” His voice was laced with despair.
“We can spare no others for it now, all are needed for the battle to come.” Eonwe answered gently. “But do not despair. Be easy in your mind that others have been allotted that task and even now move to achieve it.” He gestured to the warrior who held his horse and mounted when the animal was brought to him. Once mounted he smiled down at Rion. “I will look for your progress with interest Rion. Namarie.” Then he dug his heels into his horse and cantered away followed by Lord Tulkas. Rion’s hopelessly adoring gaze followed the tall handsome Maia until he and the Vala were swallowed up among the trees.
“You should be careful to whom you bestow that devastating smile young one.” Tulkas said jovially. “I think you have gained yet another admirer. You leave them floundering in your wake like lost children.”
Eonwe looked shocked. “Are you suggesting that I deliberately arouse their devotion and then treat them like mere flotsam and jetsam on the waves? Shame on you for thinking that I could behave so callously Lord Tulkas.”
“Oh I don’t think you even realise you’re doing it.” Declared the Vala cheerfully. “But if you asked that young ellon to crawl to the final battle on his hands and knees I swear that he would do it and eat dirt all the way in the hopes of just one smile from those beautiful lips of yours.”
Eonwe touched his lips without thinking and then, realising what he was doing, crossly put his hand back on the neck of his horse. Tulkas saw him and gave a sly chuckle. “It’s the physical form you choose to take my lad.” He stared critically at the Herald whose shapely brows drew together in a horrible scowl under the scrutiny.
Eonwe’s chosen form was that of a human mortal with rounded ears, unlike the leaf shape of the Eldar, but any further resemblance between him and an ordinary member of the Edain on Middle-earth ended there. His hair hung in glossy golden brown waves to his waist and, when not tied in warrior braids, usually framed his strong square shaped face and a chin scored by a deep cleft.
His eyes were blue, but instead of the bright periwinkle of Tulkas, they were a dark and moody hue framed by thick dark lashes. His mouth was finely sculpted and yet mobile and when he smiled two deep dimples peeped out on either side of it. His physique was matchless. Broad shoulders and muscular chest narrowed down to a slim waist and long, perfectly shaped, finely muscled legs completed the picture. The whole effect was emphasised by the distinct golden glow that emanated from his skin.
“What exactly is wrong with my form?” Eonwe demanded.
Tulkas shrugged and grinned. “Oh absolutely nothing. You cut a very fine dashingly handsome figure, especially for a human.”
“I always wear this form.” Eonwe sounded affronted. “Everyone is used to it. If I suddenly appeared tall and willowy with a thatch of golden hair and pointed ears nobody would know who I was. Confusion would reign. Not least from Lord Manwe himself.”
Tulkas shouted with laughter. “I am just saying! Oh my, you are just too easy to bait my child. Just be careful where you cast that lethal smile of yours or you’ll be leaving a trail of broken hearts and fading Elves behind you wherever you go.”
Eonwe rolled his eyes in exasperation and disgust. “Did Lord Manwe send you to me just to torment me?”
Tulkas’ face grew serious. “Not at all. He sent me to aid you. Your beautiful smile and form will count as nothing when we finally face Morgoth. Then we shall see if my lessons in warcraft have been learned well.”
Eonwe sighed. “Are you here to take command my Lord?” He asked formally.
“Not at all. Command of the Host was rightfully given to you and I can think of no-one better to lead them.”
Eonwe stared at the Vala. “Then when the final push comes you will allow me to lead?”
Tulkas smiled gently at him. “Are you asking me whether I will muscle in on you and take command or whether I will follow you?”
Eonwe was silent for a moment. “Both.” He said finally.
Tulkas raised a blond eyebrow. “Perhaps I will do neither.” He said with a mischievous wink.
“Then if you can’t do either, at the very least stay out of my way.” Said Eonwe with a determined glint in his eyes.
Tulkas’ roar of laughter was so loud the trees rustled and the ground shook.
“I do wish Lord Tulkas wouldn’t do that.” Finarfin said crossly as he tried to control his nervous steed. “He frightens the very devil out of the horses.”
“Not to mention the rest of the Host.” Murmured his second in command.
Note: Curunir is one of Saruman's other names