“Any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C Clarke
“What do you make of the tracks?”
“Truly I do not know what to make of them. Apart from the fact that they are Orc tracks and that there is a great deal of confusion among them.”
“Are we being followed?”
“If we are then they are undoubtedly going the wrong way. I do not think they know we are even here.” Gildor dropped to his haunches and examined the ground intently. “At least one of them is carrying a heavy object.” He pointed to a set of tracks that had sunk deeper into the earth than the others. “That in itself is strange. Orcs do not usually carry many supplies. At least not so much that they are weighed down. Unless it is a captive of course.”
Erestor sighed and mounted his horse. “I am not sure whether to be relieved that they appear to be going the opposite way or worried in case they are swinging around for an attack on our rear. Either way, we had best get back to the main column and make our report. It may be that the King orders us to track them, but I would have us report it first.”
“I agree, I admit that I am curious as to know what they carry with them and why they seem to be so uncertain in their direction. Orcs are not usually given to indecision. If anything they are single-minded and relentless in their objectives, unless they are fighting among themselves.” Gildor also mounted and they both spurred their horses back along the track to the main part of Gil-galad’s merry band of Elven warriors.
Four leagues distant from Erestor and Gildor on the banks of the Sirion.
“What are they doing?” The Chief whispered.
“Nothing.” Gary said. “They’re just standing there looking around. I don’t think they saw us.”
“So we just lie here until they get bored and go away?”
Gary glared over at the Chief. “That’s my plan at the moment, unless you have a better one.”
The Chief shook his head morosely. “I just feel like a sitting duck here. I think we should make an attempt to move before they decide to take a nice little paddle across the river and explore over here.”
“Sir, take a look. One of them has an SA80.” Kim’s voice was infused with excitement. “It’s slung across his shoulder.”
Gary cautiously lifted his head and peered through the reeds. Sure enough one of the bandy-legged uglies was sporting a nice assault rifle in plain view. Plain enough for Gary to see that the magazine wasn’t attached. The only use it would have in a fight of any kind was as a club, but for all he knew that was the creature’s main intention. He was also curious as to why this cross-eyed little fellow was the only one with a rifle. The others still carried their bows, arrows, swords and clubs.
His curiosity was satisfied when their leader, or at least the large one that seemed to be their leader, spat out what sounded like a string of curses at the rifle wielding one. He then knocked him to the ground with such force that Gary heard the creature’s neck snap. A large heavy bundle dropped to the ground with a loud clatter and the SA80 slid from his shoulder and rolled down the bank slightly. It came to rest in the long grass next to a large boulder by the water’s edge just short of landing in the river itself.
The dead creature’s companions had already begun to fall on his lifeless corpse with the clear intention of dismemberment and the leader had to exercise the ever-present violence that passed for his authority to stop them, but in doing so he failed to realise that the weapon was now concealed.
A tiny flicker of hope ignited in Gary’s heart when he realised that. He held his breath and watched them as they scuffled with each other and were finally brought to obedience mainly by the flat of the large creature’s sword. Unfortunately nothing they said was intelligible so he had no idea what was being said. They spoke in a harsh guttural tongue which no softness to it, instead it was full of hard sounds, spitting consonants and glottal noises. It sounded utterly prehistoric, or what Gary imagined prehistoric speech would have sounded like.
After a short while the leader pointed to the large unwieldy bundle that had fallen near where the dead creature had been standing and gestured at one of the others to pick it up accompanying the gesture with a short sharp bark of command. As he did so Gary spotted the familiar and distinctive grey metal and pale green of the missing assault weapons sticking out of the rough material they were wrapped in.
The leader looked around him one last time, his glittering obsidian gaze swept across the opposite bank and through reeds and grass where Gary and the others lay hidden but even that sharp gaze didn’t detect the errant SA80 lying innocently in the grass by the river. He even sniffed the air, as if trying to seek them out by smell, the broad nostrils flaring even wider than they were normally and for a moment the dark brow knitted in confusion as if his senses had betrayed him somehow, then he grunted and turned away.
Gary let out a long low sigh of relief. If it wasn’t damaged, then at least they had a weapon and he had a magazine with rounds in it, not to mention the advantage of knowing what to do with it. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
The creature jerked his arm peremptorily at the others and they all crashed back the way they came. Gary saw that the beautiful glowing man was still there with them but was now a lot more worse for wear and had obviously been the target for a vicious beating. He sported livid bruising down one cheek and the shoulder of his tunic was soaked in red, but he was still alive. He ran at the end of his leash, but his head hung low with exhaustion and the lustrous golden hair, now liberally streaked with blood, sweat and dirt, had been tied back with something. A slight shock roiled through Gary as he realised that the man’s ears curved gracefully upwards to a delicate and elegant point.
I think he’s an elf sir. Kim’s words back in the hospital came tumbling back into his head making it spin with confusion. Beautiful captive men with pointed ears, primitive cannibalistic creatures stealing modern weapons, woods that changed magically the further they went, lack of any kind of modern civilisation and earthquakes. Nothing was making sense any more. It was almost as if they were somewhere else entirely instead of the English countryside and if that was the case, how the hell had they got there?
The first little edge of the plan at the back of his mind to get to civilisation and instigate some sort of search disintegrated into nothing. It was slowly but surely beginning to dawn on him that Jim was absolutely right. Nothing here was as it should be.
Wherever ‘here’ was.
The Halls of Manwe, Oiolosse, Aman
“Is this wise? For them to be there seems to me to be an unnecessary risk.”
“Unnecessary.” It was a flat statement rather than a query. “Each decision that has been made regarding the Hither Lands is necessary and carries risks and consequences. We knew this when we heard Earendil and the decision was made to send aid. The consequences have already begun to occur, it is the price for that decision, our last intervention in the affairs of that place. All will be changed.”
“And the rending of the fabric between planes of existence? Was this planned?”
Lord Manwe Sulimo, Lord of the Breath of Arda, sighed, leaned his elbow on the arm of the bench he sat on and rested his chin on his hand. A light scented breeze wafted through the open marble halls and caressed Manwe and his wife the Lady Varda Elentari, she who is known to all Elves as Elbereth. It brought a gentle touch of joy to both of them.
“I do not know, but I think not.” He said finally and reluctantly. “Yet not all of Eru Iluvator’s plan is revealed to me this time and I must seek counsel with him once again.”
“I think I begin to see.” Varda sat down on the marble bench beside her husband. “It is my belief that the mortals were in the wrong place at the wrong time and the creatures of Morgoth were there because he knew what would happen when the changes began. He knows us too well, my husband. He saw an opportunity to seek a way into a time far in advance of the First Age to gain some advantage in a battle he knows that he must ultimately lose and now that intrusion must be corrected before it wreaks havoc on all and changes things beyond recall. Does Eonwe know of this? He is, after all, in command of the Host.”
“Not yet.” Manwe admitted. “I had hoped at first that matters would resolve themselves naturally once the earth had settled, but too much has happened now. I will counsel him after I have spoken with Eru. The decision on what to do must rest with him for the moment.”
“Can we give the mortals no protection?” Varda stared wistfully out into the far distance.
“We cannot interfere further. Morgoth has already taken advantage of the changes being wrought in Ea for his own ends. Eru has allowed the mortals to pass through, but for what reason is presently hidden from my sight.” He touched his wife’s hand lovingly. “We must trust to Eru my beloved. There is a deep design in this, I know it in my heart.”
Varda smiled and wound her slim fingers in his. “I trust.” She said. Her eyes twinkled roguishly. “But that does not mean I cannot light their way a little when all becomes too dark for them to see their path.”
Lord Manwe Sulimo laughed softly and brushed a tender kiss over her hair. “Sometimes fleshly bodies have some pleasant uses.” He teased, lifting her hand to his lips and kissing each fingertip before letting it go. He stood up with a sigh. “I must seek counsel with Eru. We will continue this later my Lady of Starlight.”
Varda watched him walk away, his soft footfalls making no sound on the cool white floors. As he walked he shed the flesh that he and all the Valar used when interacting with the Elda and moving around in their company, yet his shining spirit was still plain to her as it always was. She waited until he had entered consultation with Eru and then turned her attention to the Hither Lands.
A gentle hand sent a light stream of starlight which settled around the four mortals from a different age on the riverbank and concealed them from the evil of Morgoth in the shape of his creatures. It would at least give them time to realise what had happened to them and a brief time to decide upon their next actions.
That much she could do for them.
The tent of Eonwe, Herald of Manwe, Commander of the Host of the Valar, somewhere in North Beleriand
“What troubles you?”
Eonwe glanced up from the table where maps of Ea were spread. “Something is afoot.” He admitted. “Four mortals from another time have been admitted to this Age. Mortals who do not belong here, yet it has been allowed and for what purpose we do not know.”
Tulcas moved restlessly around the spacious tent. “Manwe has told you this?”
Eonwe nodded. He moved to a small table and poured himself and Tulcas a glass of wine from a flagon kept relatively cool in icy water. Tulcas laughed softly and took the wine, swilling the deep golden liquid around in the goblet and taking a deep appreciative sniff of the bouquet.
“Very nice.” He remarked after taking a sip. “Of course this is a complete indulgence on our part, you know? We do not really need sustenance of this kind in order to survive.”
Eonwe gave a soft chuckle. “Nevertheless it is one of the nicer aspects of having a fleshly body.”
“What do you intend to do about these mortals?”
“I have been told to do nothing as yet and we are not to hinder their progress.” Eonwe sighed and took a large gulp of his wine. He shook his head in exasperation. “I have been told that this matter is extraneous to our quest here, but my heart tells me that there is more going on. I have requested permission to go and see these ‘wandering mortals’ for myself and Lord Manwe has reluctantly given it.”
Tulcas frowned. “You will ride all the way back? You command the host Eonwe, to leave them without a leader…”
“Not without a leader.” Eonwe interrupted. “Manwe has given permission for me to shed my flesh to travel in spirit and thought. It will take but a few moments to reach them and assess how much of a problem they will be.”
“Hmm.” Tulcas fixed the Herald with a penetrating gaze. “We do not know their purpose here and you cannot interfere?”
Eonwe shook his head. “No. They are to travel on unhindered and their purpose is part of Eru’s plan of which he has not seen fit to enlighten Lord Manwe.”
Tulcas put his goblet down and stood up. “You should not go alone. I could travel with you also.”
“I cannot leave the host without a leader even for the short time it will take me to travel back to them and return here.” Eonwe said firmly. “You must stay and act in my stead, just in case. I do not intend to go alone. I will take Curunir with me.”
Tulcas nodded. “As you wish little one.” He got to his feet and stretched. “Keeping a fleshly appearance can have its problems. These muscles, flesh and sinews have a way of becoming stiff.”
Eonwe raised an eyebrow. “Something that I would have imagined a divine Ainur should be well able to combat without resorting to physical exercises. And please do not call me ‘little one’. It makes me sound like an elfling who has just finished sucking at his mother’s breast not a powerful Maia and the Herald of Manwe.” He finished crossly.
Tulcas’ loud rumbling laugh rattled through the tent. “Point taken my Lord Herald.” He bowed deeply but looked up with a twinkle in his eyes. “Far be it from me to belittle the Maia who is greatest in arms and the Commander of the Host. Just do one thing for me and be careful please. I will look after the troops while you are gone.”
Eonwe gave a reluctant chuckle. “You are worse than a mother hen. I will be fine and back before you know it. And in one piece.” He added for good measure.
A tall warrior spoke softly from the tent entrance. “My Lord Eonwe, Curunir is here as you requested.”
“Indeed. Show him in. Lord Tulcas was just leaving.” He poked Tulcas, who was showing every sign of settling himself back in, with a surreptitious elbow.
Tulcas jumped slightly and gave Eonwe a quizzical smile. “I was? Oh, yes, I was. Just leaving.” He shouldered his way past the warrior and left the tent whistling a merry tune.
Moments later a tall white-haired Maia with burning dark eyes entered. “You wished to see me?” His tone was sharp and peremptory and he gave no courtesy to the Herald.
Eonwe felt a flash of irritation. This was ever typical of Curunir, he constantly hovered just on the edge of insolence. An insolence that was more masked when in the company of any of the Valar, but still there. With his fellow Maia he made little effort. However, this time it suited Eonwe to let it go, but his answer gave no more courtesy than he had received. “Yes you will accompany me on a small trip this night and we go in spirit, not fleshly form.”
Curunir looked annoyed. “There are many things that I need to prepare before we meet Morgoth it battle. Can this little trip not wait?”
Eonwe drew himself to his full height, which was considerable, and allowed the glow of his being to infuse his physical form. “This is a command Curunir, it is not open for negotiation. Maia of Aule you may be, but under my command here in this place you will obey me without question.” His tone was soft, but left Curunir in doubt as to the fact that he expected instant obedience.
“As you command my Lord Herald.” Curunir’s tone took on a falsely deferential note. He wasn’t stupid, he knew when shows of arrogance would not get him anywhere and certainly not with Eonwe, who undoubtedly held a lot more authority than he did.
“Good. We leave after the evening watch has been set. Come here and we will leave quietly.” Eonwe settled himself back down at the map table with another goblet of wine. He did not offer Curunir any but instead gave him a diffident wave of the hand. “You have my permission to leave.”
Curunir bowed, hand over his heart. His expression was serene, but his dark eyes burned with resentment. Some day he would show them all that he, Curunir, was worthy of being granted power and respect of his own, and not merely that granted by serving the Elder King and he would laugh in the face of that sycophant Eonwe.
He stormed through the camp and warriors scattered nervously left and right, not willing to upset the Maia who, it was rumoured, was capable of some rather dubious and not very pleasant acts.