A/N: Slightly shorter chapter this time.
The Shadow of Angmar
Chapter 29: Restored Was That Which Was Hidden
The host of eastern Dwarves struck an impressive pace, and arrived late in the afternoon on the second day.
Harry watched as they marched proudly into the camp that had grown up around the gates of Gundabad. Fourteen abreast, their column marched, and the rhythm of their tread was like a drumbeat within the earth. Their burnished armour shone with red fire in the waning light of the sun as it dipped lower towards the western horizon. At their head was a Dwarf of uncommon height, near half-a head taller than those who marched at his back. His armour was ornate, yet Harry could recognise the function in every feature, in every ridge and every curve there was the intent and design of a master craftsman.
Beside Harry were the principal leaders of Thráin's army. King Thráin, of course, stood in the centre, with Harry at his right hand and Náin, his cousin, upon his left. Then there was Nari, and Fundin too, and a few Dwarves of lesser lines. Haleth was there also, and beside him was Brytta who was his cousin, and who carried the Kings Banner. Finally, there was Elladan and Elrohir, though they were separated from the rest by a small measure of distance.
"Greetings and well met to our kin from distant mountains," Fundin proclaimed loudly as the newly arrived column came to a halt, and the beat of their march faded like distant thunder, the last few beats echoing weakly off the mountain that watched over them all.
"It seems we have arrived late to the battle," said the leader of the column. He sounded slightly disappointed by that fact, but soon cast it off for doubtless there would be many more battles to fight. "I am Gráni, son of Gráin who is King of Ironhaunt, and I come to honour the old alliances of our long kinship."
"Your support is gratefully received," said Thráin, taking over from Fundin. "I am Thráin, King of Durin's Folk. Beside me you will find Makhsûn, the Wizard, and Náin, Lord of Ironhills. There too is Nari of the Firebeards, and Haleth, King of the Riddermark and also the sons of Elrond; Elrohir and Elladan."
"Then this is an eminent alliance indeed," said Gráni as his dark eyes flickered rapidly over those assembled, assessing each in their turn. They lingered upon Haleth longer than any of the others. "Not for thousands of years has the world seen the like."
Something about how he said it, and the way in which his gaze idled upon Haleth moved Harry to speak. "Orcs and all the creatures of darkness are a blight upon all peoples. The Men of the Riddermark have long been allies to the Dwarves."
"So you say," said Gráni, seemingly accepting Harry's words. He inclined his head towards Haleth in grudging respect before he turned to Harry. "You are the one they call Darjûn, are you not?"
"That is how I was known by many in the East," Harry admitted. It had been a great count of years indeed since last he had travelled those lands. "How grow the Gardens of Ironhaunt?"
"Well, and strong," said Gráni, and beneath his thick beard and moustache, Harry saw his mouth curve into a thin smile. "The years have not been kind, least of all those since Lastûn left our mountains for his quest in the West, but no army can breach the Mekhem Fikhîb-Izrên and the legions of Ub-Khûn have long given up on trying."
It had been nearly 250 years since Saruman had come West, and in Harry's occasional meetings with him he had spoken only briefly of the situation in the East. It had been enough for Harry to get a sense of it, however. Just as Harry himself could see in his travels, darkness was growing at the edges of Middle-earth.
"Perhaps we can trade news later," said Thráin then. "You are surely weary after so long a journey, and must surely desire to join our camp, and to find rest."
"Thank you," said Gráni, offering Thráin a small bow. "With your leave, I will see to my Dwarves."
Thráin nodded, and Gráni turned to his assembled forces. He soon began rattling out commands, and they hastened to follow his commands with a competence that could only have been borne from a familiarity with war.
The hosts of the other Dwarf clans were by no means disorganised, for each had seen their own conflicts and difficulties in recent years, but none showed the same level of militarism that the Ironfists showed under the command of their Prince. Harry wondered just what mischance had befallen them that they had become so well acquainted with war, and the suffering it surely brought.
As the new host broke up, their tents already being erected with some impressive haste, the commanders of Thráin's forces also went their own way. Most returned to their own people, but Thráin caught Harry's eye, and Harry knew his presence was being quietly requested.
They made their way quietly through the camp until they came to the doors of Gundabad, which they walked through into the great entrance hall beyond.
In only two days, the Dwarves of Thráin's host had brought about an incredible change in the place. Gone was the filth and grime that had laid upon every surface, the legacy of the Orcs who had dwelt there so long. At the end of the hall, there was a doorway, the great doors that had once hung there were long gone, perhaps broken up to make weapons and armour. The room beyond, which had once been the receiving hall for the Lord who had dwelt there in the far-off days of the hold's glory, had been taken over to house Thráin's court.
So large was the room, and so scarce were the remaining fittings and adornments, that only a small corner of it had been prepared for his use, and the result was a tiny living space, lonely within the yawning vastness of the hall. It was like a child had taken up residence in the home of a giant.
"You are concerned about our newest ally," said Thráin as they crossed the wide open floor. "I would hear your thoughts, and what it is that has troubled you so soon after his arrival."
Harry frowned and glanced at Thráin, surprised that he would broach such a subject so brazenly. He had been perturbed, yes, by the attitude of the Prince of Ironhaunt, but that did not require the attention of the King. Thráin was watching him, eyes attentive, as if they were talking on some matter of great import.
"I would not say concerned," said Harry, though he was unsure how to best describe the sense he got, or if he should even state them. Gráni had marched many hundreds of miles, at the head of a host of Dwarves of rare scale and capability. Whatever misgivings he may harbour concerning the role of Men in their alliance, if indeed that was what Harry had seen, would surely not come to anything. "I merely noted the attention he paid to King Haleth, even above the sons of Elrond.
"I know that matters in the East are volatile, and in truth I am surprised that Ironhaunt chose to come to our aid in this matter given the steady rise of Ub-Khûn, but come they have, whatever their reasons. They are here, and I merely hope that their long wars with the Men of the East, who have been under the sway of the Enemy for many years, do not colour their relations with our allies. Our strength is surely in our unity, and I would not see that unity fractured."
Thráin listened in silence, nodding occasionally until Harry had finished speaking. "Your concerns do you credit," he said as he took a seat and gestured to another for Harry to do the same, "but I am left at a crossroads as to how to address them."
"There are no issues to address," said Harry, frowning. Why was Thráin so intent on pursuing what amounted to little more than a momentary apprehension? "Not now, at least. Gráni is, by all accounts, a fair leader of his people, and an astute commander upon the battlefield. He will surely be a great boon to our efforts in this war. If the rumours I have heard of him are true then he will treat with the Éothéod as fairly as he deals with all others."
It had been less than two days since the chamber far beneath the mountain had been shown to the Lords of the Dwarves, and in that time Harry had seen an immediate change in how he was treated amongst them. He had always been held in regard, and treated with much respect and deference, but that had changed.
Before, he had still been one among many of Thráin's advisors. His word had held weight, yes, but that weight had been measured alongside all others. After the Lords had seen the chamber, which all had taken to calling Imhdum, the Creating Hall of Mahal himself, his word had come to be treated as some kind of holy writ, as if he spoke with the voice of the Valar themselves.
Harry was not deaf, nor was he stupid. He had heard the rumours that had spread throughout the camp like wildfire. In whispered voices they all asked the same thing, what truly was Harry?
He might have been able to ignore the new attention had it not been for one small thing. He himself had little idea of what the answer to that question may be. He was Harry, of course, a lost traveller in Middle-earth, long sundered from the place he had once called home, but what did that really mean? What was his purpose, his nature? That was something altogether different.
It was not a question that he had failed to consider in the long years since he had come to dwell in Middle-earth. So many years with only occasional companions meant there was often little else to consider but the world around him and his place within it, if indeed he had one. Even his name had become a rare thing, seldom heard upon the lips of those whom he met.
Was he truly Harry now, after 800 years so far from all that had made him the person he had once been? He had so many names. Makhsûn, Eardstapa, Gimilzubnu. It seemed everywhere he went, he was given a new one. He had been known by them for far longer than he had really been Harry.
Perhaps the Elves were closest to him in appearance, for even after so many years he had not aged in the way of Men. His hair had faded a little, his features had become a little sharper and more defined, but his skin still held strong to a youthful complexion even after it had seemed so thoroughly lost after his time imprisoned within the dungeons of Angmar.
Despite that, it was with Men that he most closely identified, and yet as the years had marched on, he had drifted ever further from them. He could not even recall the number of generations between Haleth and the brave and perhaps foolhardy Fram. How many children had been born, grown old, and died while he'd walked the wilds of Middle-earth?
The Dwarves were scarcely better in that regard, and yet Harry had found himself holding to a closer relationship with them. Perhaps it was the comforting constancy of their people.
Others would surely have counted him among the Istari and yet when he stood before Saruman he felt once again like a child. No matter how old he may become, no matter how much knowledge and ability he might gain, Saruman would always be more knowledgeable, and more wise. It had been long years since he had spoken with the Blue Wizards, who had remained in the East even after Saruman's return, but he could well remember the quiet wisdom of Rómestámo, and the veiled power of Morinehtar.
"Very well, then," said Thráin, pulling Harry from his thoughts. "I will do nothing for now on this, as you suggest. If you see anything else, I would ask you to bring it to me."
"Of course," he said, but he knew it was a lie. Unless there was something truly serious, Harry elected to say nothing at all. To have his words held in such esteem felt like a heavy burden indeed.
He took his leave then, and soon he found himself treading the already well-worn path down to the deep chamber. The tunnels that led to it had been paid special attention by the work-groups of Dwarves who'd been assigned to the seemingly endless task of washing away the Orcish filth. Within the first day, the whole length of it had been lit up with dwarvish lamps, and every one of them was maintained and refilled regularly to ensure that the path was always well lit.
As he made the slow descent, Harry passed by a number of Dwarves, and even a pair of Elves who were returning to the surface after descending to view that which was being called a wonder by their people.
Already, Harry knew, messengers had left to Rivendell and Lothlórien to bear news of the new white tree.
Only the men of the Riddermark had been left largely unawed. Harry had nearly broken out into laughter when he had heard two of their number whispering to each-other, questioning how long it would be until the tree withered and died in the darkness, for everyone knew that it needed to see the sun to flourish further.
It had not been long since the tree had flowered, but even so, were it in danger of fading in the darkness then surely it would already have shown some sign. Instead, it only looked more healthy; its blooms more luminous, and its leaves more lush. Harry was not sure from where it drew its sustenance, but it was clear it had little need of the sun.
In ages past, when the Two Trees had bloomed in Valinor, all of Middle-earth had been in darkness, lit only by the stars. In those far-off days, all that was green and growing had needed not the life-sustaining sun, so near was the memory of the powers that had birthed the world. Perhaps there, in that cave, so far from the world above, that had once maybe been the realm and home of Aule himself, that power was yet strong enough to sustain it.
The chamber, like the tunnels leading to it, had been lit up by the Dwarves, and the glittering walls of dark stone were like the walls of night, shimmering with stars. When Harry entered the chamber, he was met by the many who were already there. Everyone had their tasks and duties to attend to, but many chose to spend what free time they did have within the cavern.
Daewen was already there, sitting cross-legged before the tree as she stared up at it. Harry was not sure how long she had been sitting there, but she had not moved since last he had visited, more than a day previous.
At Harry's arrival, she stirred, and turned to meet his gaze.
"I have lived all my life hearing stories of the wonders that once existed West of the sea," she said, forgoing any greeting. "Of the Bells of Valmar, and the Pearls of Alqualondë. Arwen told me of the Lady Galadriel's memories of the Great Square of Tirion, where grows Galathilion, and I long dreamed of making the journey into the West to see it.
"I am not sure if I ever told you, but I planned to be away once the war with Angmar was done, more than 800 years ago. I thought, then, as we marched in war against that dark foe, that all that was good in Middle-earth was doomed to the same fate, however distant it might be."
"Why did you not leave, then?" Harry asked her as he lowered himself to the floor nearby to her. "Why have you lingered so long when so many of your kin have taken that journey?"
It was no small number who had taken that path, over the Straight Road, to Valinor in the years since Harry had first arrived in Middle-earth. He could still remember how busy the House of Elrond had been when he had resided there after his first ill-fated trip to Khazad-dûm. So many of those whom he knew then had left. Camaenor had gone west nearly 300 years ago, and so too had Caleniel and Elfaron near a century later. He wondered what it was that had kept Daewen in Middle-earth when so many of her kin were leaving. Soon, it seemed, the last homely house would lie empty.
"Perhaps it was more than one thing that caused me to stay," said Daewen, her voice thoughtful. "Arwen did not want me to leave, of course. She still loves Middle-earth dearly, and argued for me to remain for as long as she did. I think the greater reason, though, was you."
Harry blinked in surprise. "Me?"
"You," she said, and she smiled. "I saw you rise from that dungeon, and it seemed to me that there could have been nothing lowlier in all the pits of Udûn and yet you did not give up."
Those days would ever be etched into his memories. Though distance, and the long procession of the years had dulled them, he knew that he would never be completely free of them.
"I did give up," said Harry. It was not something he had admitted to many. Indeed, only Saruman had heard more than the briefest description of what he had endured in those terrible dungeons. "The first days I spent there felt like years, and I was there for months. I watched my body wither, and yet it never died. I thought it had been years, centuries since I had seen the sun, since I had known friendship, or even the least of kindnesses. I gave up, but even now I find I cannot fault myself for that."
"Yet, here you are now," said Daewen, and she shook her head as if she almost did not believe him. "Even on the day of your release from the tortures of the Witch King, you had hope. You stood before the greatest Lords of Men and Elves, and you were not bowed."
Harry stayed silent then. He was not sure that she had found the truth of it, but perhaps that did not matter. He had been unbowed not because of a hope for the future, but instead because he knew that nothing that might follow could be worse than what he had already endured. Even had he been returned immediately to his cell, and his confinement continued, he had seen the world beyond the cell. He had known a brief time without suffering. There was a hope in that, in the knowledge that the world beyond not only existed, but did not share in his fate.
Unbothered by his silence, Daewen continued, "When I saw you, and I saw that strength, I was reminded of the histories I have so long been told. When I was younger, I would love to hear of Valinor, and the great works that had been created there. I would dream of one day seeing them, and I would weep to know that I would never see the Trees, as those who came before me did.
"Yet, after I met you, it was instead the stories of Middle-earth that held my attention the most. Not only Beleriand, though they were the stories most oft-told in the House of Elrond, but those that came before even them. Cuiviénen, and the cold pits of Udûn. Darkness once fell across the face of Middle-earth, and once it was thrown back, the Elves created wonders more beautiful than we had ever known before.
So I resolved to wait, and to watch," she said. "For if you could find a path back from the creature that was dragged out of the fetid pits of Carn Dûm, then surely there is a path back for us all, if we but have the strength to walk it. Even now, after so long, when I look at you, I can still see the echo of what you once were, that creature. I mourn for him still, yet that sorrow serves to make the transformation seem more wondrous. Perhaps, I thought, such a transformation is possible for the world which I have loved for so long."
She looked up at the tree, and Harry could see the stars of crystal reflected in her dark eyes. "Now I see that I was right to wait, for if I had left, I never would have seen this place."
Harry could not help but smile at the optimism in her voice. A memory came to him, then, of a time so distant that it was little more than the most distant of dreams and yet the words rang clear through the years. "Once, a teacher of mine told me that happiness can be found in even the darkest of places," he said. "All we need to do is remember to turn on the light."
"And here is the light," said Daewen.
"Perhaps," said Harry, "or perhaps it is merely an attempt at turning on the light. A tree, hidden far from the world is not going to beat back the darkness that threatens the world. The shadow that is rising in the East would descend upon this place like a dark sea upon a candle if the free peoples of Middle-earth do not fight to protect it."
"Then you sought to create a rallying place for Men, Elves and Dwarves?" Daewen asked. "I can see, perhaps, how that may work. This place is already revered above all others by the Dwarves, and the tree itself will surely draw Elves from all across Middle-earth to it. Men too, for it is of the line of the White Tree of Numenor, and perhaps greater than any of its sires."
Harry shook his head. He had not sought to create anything so grand or great. "I sought only to bring some life to a dead place," he admitted. "What has happened here is… I understand it little more than you do, in truth."
"Then perhaps, once this war is done, and the Mountain passes are safe, you should invite the Wise to this place," said Daewen. "For surely all of them would travel here, once they hear of what it is that you have created."
Surely Saruman would know what to make of it, or Galadriel. Elrond, perhaps, or even the Grey Wanderer, Gandalf. Harry himself did not know what to think, and the longer he sat in consideration, the less he seemed to know.
He had spent many long hours in counsel with Saruman, and there was little doubt in his mind that he would know what it was that had made such an impossible feat reality. Saruman, though, like every Istar Harry had known, seldom made clear his thoughts. Perhaps among the other Istari they spoke more frankly, but Harry often felt that they held back much of their knowledge.
Every time he saw Saruman, he saw a depth there, as if there was so much more to him than any mortal eye could perceive. his power was great, yes, but Harry's sense was that even that part of Saruman's power he had seen, impressive as it was, was dwarfed by the power of his true presence. For whatever reason, he kept that power veiled and hidden.
Once, Celeborn had spoken to him during one of his brief and infrequent visits to Lothlórien, and told him that the Istari were not to be followed, but always to be heeded. He said that their purpose in Middle-earth was to guide, and not to command, and that was why they kept so much of their power and might veiled.
What, then, was Harry's purpose? He had not the wisdom of the Istari, or their endless knowledge of magic which, even after 800 years he could not truly approach in understanding. Yet he had a purpose. He knew it, but he did not know what it might be.
What was it he'd been told when he'd nearly died in the churning white waters beneath Khazad-dûm? Nothing ever ends, that each end is in fact merely the beginning of a new and winding road. What road had he been thrust out onto when he had come to Middle-earth? Perhaps more importantly, who was it that had spoken with him?
The Elves said the Powers who had once formed the world had departed, and after the War of Wrath, came never again to the mortal lands of Middle-earth, in fear of rending it asunder as they had in that great battle. Yet who else could that figure have been, but one of the Valar?
It had been no Istari, of that Harry was sure. The power that he'd felt from them was completely different, though perhaps he hadn't known it at the time. It was as if Saruman was a still lake, placid, and yet with unknowable depths hidden behind the mirror stillness. Morinehtar and Rómestámo were different too. One was like spring rains upon high mountains, while the other was as a cheerful brook, making its merry way to the sea, and yet together, Harry knew they surely could become an unstoppable torrent, with the power to cut its own path through earth and stone. The being he had met in the waters had been like an ocean, and made the Istari he knew appear to be little more than a puddle, or the smallest brook in comparison.
Ulmo, the Lord of Waters was surely the most likely possibility. Alone of all the Valar, it was said he had not sequestered himself away in Valinor. Though his voice was seldom heard, not since the ending of the First Age, when Beleriand was sunk below the sea by the warring powers, had he truly made himself known.
Why, then, would he choose Harry to meet, and to speak with? He had offered Harry the choice, then, to pass on or to continue, to take the road that had been stolen from him by the Witch King, or to continue upon his current course. To what purpose was Harry given that choice?
He remembered the name of Beren. The Man who had fallen in love with Lúthien, and who had been gifted a second chance at life, to spend with her whom he loved above all others. Did that gift have a purpose? On that, the old tales were silent. There was no guidance to be found there.
"It is not only this that I do not understand," said Harry, coming out of his contemplative silence. "I have searched Middle-earth for years, centuries even, and I have not understood even my most simple question."
Daewen turned her grey-eyed gaze upon him, and he felt the question there.
"Why am I here?" he said.
She frowned, and Harry thought it was because she did not understand the nature of his question. "You are here because you chose to be," she said, as if it were simple. "It is the same reason I am here, and the same reason all those who have joined in this war have come here."
"That is not what I meant," said Harry, shaking his head. He could not help but smile at the simplicity of the answer. "I wish to know why it is that I am here, in Middle-earth. Was it truly an accident of fate, or is it as I believe Lord Elrond thinks, that there is some deeper power at work?"
"I have seldom known Lord Elrond to be wrong," said Daewen. "In fact, I think it is only the Lady Celebrián and Arwen who may best him in a debate. Perhaps the Lady of the Golden Wood, too." She was quiet then, thinking about Harry's question, before she spoke again, "I am not counted among the Wise, but I wonder why it matters so much to you?"
Her question caught him unawares "What?" he asked.
"Your ultimate fate is hidden from you, as it is surely hidden from all of us," she said. "I know not what awaits me in our next battle, nor what may follow it. None of us do. Perhaps the Wise know, but I think that surely is a terrible fate. Is it not enough to simply be able to sit in a place of beauty, and to enjoy that which blooms in darkness, without worrying over the purpose or meaning of it?"
Harry opened his mouth to respond, but then, after a long moment of silence, closed it again. He wasn't sure what he'd been planning to say, but soon realised the truth hidden within her words.
During his time in Middle-earth he had heard all manner of tales. There were the stories of the First Age, and of Beleriand, and the heroes who had once walked that land which was now lost beneath the waves, and they were often told amongst the Elves, and the Men of the West, but they were not the only stories he had come to learn.
Every one of the groups of peoples he had encountered had their own stories, myths and legends. Every one of them had their own champions, their own tyrants, their own tragic heroes. From the Wains of Rhûn, to the tent-cities of Khand, to the ruined brass and gold towers of the distant Arzủbelrŏhin in the far flung south, to Imladris and the remaining Havens of Lindon.
In every place Harry had been, they had at least one story on the perils faced by those who either sought out or fled from their fate. In the north, that tale was of Túrin Turambar, the 'Master of Fate', who had battled against the fate that had been laid upon him by Morgoth's dark sorcery. In the end he had lost everything, and in his battles against that fate he had brought low all whom he loved.
Then there was the story of Varraga of Khand, called the Fortunate One, who had been fated from birth to bring about the freedom of his people from the tyranny of the people who had enslaved his people. Despite that, his title had proven untrue. His life had seen nought but one tragedy after another, seemingly endless in their cruelty and variety. His mother, father, sister, daughter, all had died before him, as he pursued the destiny for which he was meant to be fated. In the end, he, too, had died. Broken and alone, it was only in death that his final doom had been shown to be true.
Why, then, was he so intent upon knowing his own fate? Did he wish to seek it, to see it done with all the speed he could muster, as had Varraga? Or did he wish to fight it, to take his own path, unencumbered by whatever doom the fates had woven for him, like Túrin?
Would either of those courses lead him true? He leaned back on his arms, and stared into the ghostly blossoms of the tree overhead, and the glittering stars beyond. Perhaps Daewen was right. Perhaps it was time he stopped in his search, and instead sought to find his own purpose.
There was a long silence between them then, and it was a comfortable one, as they both were lost in their own thoughts.
"Tell me, then," he eventually said, "of Imladris, and all I have missed there in my time away."
Daewen stirred from her deep thought. "Much has changed, and yet much has stayed the same," she said quietly. "With each year, the voices in the valley grow fewer, and those that remain think all the more of joining them on the Westward Road. Yet still, the air is sweet, and the waters run clear as glass. Arwen still sings in the valley, and the birds still join her."
A smile grew upon Harry's face as he thought back to those days he had spent in Imladris, for truly they had been amongst the happiest of all of the days he had spent in Middle-earth. As he lay back once again, and listened to Daewen tell him all those who had come and gone to the House of Elrond, he closed his eyes.
Perhaps it was just his imagination, but as unseen eddies rustled the leaves of the tree overhead, he heard, hidden within the sound, the distant music of Arwen's voice, joined by the golden burble of winter streams.
A/N: Arzủbelrŏhin is meant to be a mutation of Azrubêlôhîn which is Adunaic for "Child of Earendil" (adding the Ar- prefix to make it a city). It is non-canon, and I imagine it as a Numenorean colony much further south than Umbar.
Varraga is also completely made up. I imagine him as being a cultural hero for the Variags of Khand. Additionally, Mankhad is also made up, but incorporates elements of 'manar' in Quenya, meaning 'fate', or 'fortune'.