Disclaimer and author's note: I don't own Túrin or any other characters in this story, not even the narrator. While she didn't appear in the version of the tale in the published Silmarillion, she is present in the "Narn i hîn Húrin" in Unfinished Tales. Certain dialogue, most of it, in fact, is taken from that work, so if you recognise it, that's where it's from. I also used information on the people of Haleth given in The War of the Jewels.
Many thanks go to Ancarett for the beta.
Now Comes the Night
The difference between my hands and those of a healer is not unlike Cabed-en-Arras. On one side lies the forest of Brethil that protects our secret home. On the other, the Orcs roam free, plundering all they can before killing or enslaving. Between runs a deep gorge full of water rushing between treacherous rocks. The two sides are close enough that a deer might leap across the chasm, and yet one misstep leads to certain death in the churning foam.
Tonight my hands are busy preparing the dead for their long sleep under the earth. This is now the second time they have performed these tasks. Earlier they had swathed the body of our own leader, our most skilled healer, in aromatic herbs meant to preserve. Preserve from what? Nothing is sufficient against the decay that inevitably comes to eat the flesh from the bones. But so our tradition demands. The body must be prepared. Even now my hands are—too late—sewing shut the gaping chest wound out of which our best warrior's blood has already spilled.
Death was expected to strike when the dragon came. I had walked the path from Ephel Brandir ready to serve as I could, if not as a healer, then in my other duty. It was mine, and I'd owned it for years now. It was my lot as the childless wife of Hunthor. Those who might still bear children would never endanger the unborn by laying their hands upon the dead.
For so they believe. To touch or even look upon death might harm a babe within the womb. The Elves have tried to teach us that death was meant as a gift to Men from the One who created us all. Our people had come west fleeing a shadow that had taught us to fear death, and not accept it as a gift. That fear has not yet been overcome among my people. It was far too well ingrained. Even I, who is more familiar with death than most and perhaps less afraid of it as a result, wrestle with the idea that such a thing could be a gift.
Yes, death had been expected this night but not in the manner in which it struck with Turambar slain upon his own sword. A shudder of horror quickly suppressed passes through me as my fingers press the ragged edges of flesh together, readying them for my needle. My hand passes over traces of old scars, the remains of past battles. There was a time in my life when I'd dreamed of having the right to touch this flesh while it was yet warm, vibrant, and responsive.
That time is long past, but my treacherous mind recalls the image of that day when the Gaurwaith almost took me. He'd replied to the name Neithan that day.
Neithan, the Wronged.
Ironically, he had owned the Gaurwaith, spurning me to return to his wrong-doing among the outlaws. My ego took a blow that day. Sometimes I ask myself if it ever recovered.
The air was redolent with the promise of spring the day I sneaked out of the protective garth about my father's farm-stead. I was shirking my duties and knew I would pay the price for it later, but after the dark winter months shut up inside our smoky dwelling, I was longing for the freedom of the woods. Well I knew the danger should any Orcs or outlaws be lurking at hand, but I trusted to luck that the outlaws had left their winter camp to move south and the Orcs were occupied elsewhere.
My trust was unfounded that day. Two of the Gaurwaith jumped from behind the trees, nearly landing on top of me. I screamed, and they laughed, knowing my cry of fear was vain. I was too far from my father's house by then to summon help. My heart in my throat, I ran, the Gaurwaith giving chase behind me.
I kept ahead of them, but I could hear them jeering at my heels and knew they were simply toying with me. They'd let me run until I tired – thus I would offer them less resistance—and then they would fall upon me and have their way. This I knew with the same certainty I knew my own name.
The day was cool, and yet cold sweat dripped down my spine as I kept on, brambles reaching out with grasping fingers to tear at my skirts. I was no longer certain where I was in my panic, only that my pursuit followed relentlessly behind.
I darted on through the trees until my legs felt heavy as lead now and my breath tore from my lungs in great, burning gasps. A thicket lay just ahead. I crashed into it, knowing I would surely meet my doom there. On the other side, I fell to the ground in dismay.
Another of the Gaurwaith stood there, and my blood ran cold as the realisation that I'd run into a trap struck full force. Even as I looked up, the man had his sword out and was leaping forward. Before I knew what had happened, he hewed down one of my pursuers and then froze, staring at the blood as it pooled red in the new grass.
My other assailant appeared, and time seemed to stop as shock held the three of us in thrall for a few moments. My remaining pursuer was the first to break his bonds. Drawing his own sword, he shouted, "Evil work, Neithan!"
Neithan's glance was cool, but he remained tense. "Where are the Orcs then? Have you outrun them to help her?"
"Orcs?" said the other. "Fool! You call yourself an outlaw. Outlaws know no law but their needs. Look to your own, Neithan, and leave us to mind ours."
"I will do so," Neithan replied. "But today our paths have crossed. You will leave the woman to me, or you will join Forweg."
My heart sank for a moment, as I realised I wasn't out of this yet, but even as it did so, a plan began to form in my mind. This new outlaw, this one who'd killed his fellow, had a different air about him. By the look of him, he was still young, and yet he commanded. Not only was he handsome, he had a noble bearing about him. And something told me he wouldn't harm me. He'd misinterpreted his fellows' intent just now. Even if I had to submit in the end, better him than the others. Perhaps I could convince him to be gentle.
My pursuer was laughing. "If that is the way of it, have your will. I make no claim to match you, alone; but our fellows may take this slaying ill."
Before Neithan could respond, I clambered to my feet and laid my hand on his arm. Beneath my fingertips I could feel his strength, residing in tightly corded muscle tensed to spring. Looking from the slain outlaw to Neithan, I could not hide my joy in the death. The Gaurwaith hounded us as badly as the Orcs.
"Kill him, lord!" I said, indicating the other. "Kill him too! And then come with me. If you bring their heads, Larnach my father will not be displeased. For two 'wolf-heads' he was rewarded men well."
Neithan didn't even look at me. "Is it far to her home?" he asked the other outlaw.
"A mile or so in a fenced homestead yonder," came the reply. "She was straying outside."
Finally Neithan addressed me. "Go then quickly. Tell your father to keep you better. But I will not cut off the heads of my fellows to buy his favour, or aught else."
Thus I was sent back to my father to be doubly chastised, dismissed as a wayward child. I turned to go in disappointment, hearing him say a few final words to his companion. My father's beating, when I returned home, was no harsher than expected. Far worse was his sentence that I remain indoors until he found me a suitable husband. During that period, I had time to ponder the nature of my disappointment. Had it stemmed from Neithan's dismissal or the fact that he'd remained with the Gaurwaith? I'd given him a way out, and he'd chosen not to take it.
My tedium was relieved much sooner than I might have imagined when fate intervened in the form of an Elf of Doriath who came seeking news of a lost friend. His ethereal beauty held me speechless for several moments when my father brought him before me. I'd never seen an Elf before, although I'd grown up hearing of their deeds and their teachings had spread as lore among our people from one to the next. This one encompassed the same silent strength I'd noted in Neithan himself. There was something more, though. It was a lightness, despite his being a Dark Elf. A shadow lay on Neithan – I'd discerned it before somewhere deep within me, but now in comparison, it leapt before my eyes as plain as the sun on a summer's day. I told the Elf of my encounter with Neithan and in return, he, realising I had helped him find what he was searching for, warned us of Orcs gathering on the borders of our lands.
In this manner I came to Brethil, sent away with the other women, children and aged to escape the onslaught. I never saw my father, nor, indeed, any of the other able-bodied fighters of my acquaintance. They went to the Crossings of Teiglin to guard our rear and died under the Orcs' crooked blades and iron-shod feet.
Eleven years passed during which I spared that incident in the woods little thought. Why should I? I never expected to see any of them again, and the grief of my father's passing was keen enough to cut through all else. Hunthor took me as his wife, and as the years passed, I became acquainted with a grief of another sort, that of a barren woman.
I learned the healing arts of Brandir as I could, but my childless state determined my lot, that of tending the newly dead. Under Handir, father of Brandir, skirmishes with the Orcs at the Crossings were frequent, and then there was work for me aplenty.
And then in the year of Nargothrond's fall, all changed. Handir himself fell, and while the men debated who should become our new Master in the Moot-ring, I prepared our former leader for his long rest. The Moot followed tradition, choosing Brandir to be our new Halad, in spite of his lameness which would prevent him from leading our warriors out to fight. The decision had not stood unopposed, for Brandir would have us hide in our forest, trusting to secrecy to keep us safe, and not all of the woodsmen of Brethil agreed with that strategy.
Those who preferred to guard our lands in strength still went to the Crossings, and thus they brought me yet more work when they opposed the army of Orcs leading the captives of Nargothrond to the thralldom of the North. The Orcs slew their hostages to the last, bringing me into contact with Elves once again. These were women of the Noldorin race, those who had come in long years past from over the western sea. Some of them, perhaps, had looked upon the glory of the Powers themselves.
It grieved me to see their beauty fallen so low.
One of them, before she died, left a message for the Black Sword, whose prowess had been so great, even we had heard of him. I tended her with care, closing the wounds by which she'd been pinned to a tree, and we laid her in a mound separate from the others. She was buried where she died so that the Black Sword might find her when he came.
And come he did.
A month passed, and my husband came to me on a night and told of a man that had come to the Crossings seeking news of the captives of Nargothrond. By the weapon he bore, they knew him for the Black Sword. He was lying, Hunthor told me, even then in Brandir's house, being healed of some ill.
When he recovered and came among us, I knew him for Neithan.
That he did not recognise me was unsurprising. He'd barely looked upon me that day in the woods, and the intervening years had wrought their changes. A hard life in the woods does not treat a woman's beauty kindly, and so it was with me.
I never told him who I was. I knew he would prefer it thus when he gave his name out not as Neithan, nor even Mormegil, the Black Sword, who was indeed rumoured to be Túrin, son of Húrin. He would have us call him Turambar, the Master of Doom, and treat him as if he'd always lived among the people of Brethil. Long I pondered these things. It was said that all the family of Húrin had been cursed by Morgoth. If this man were indeed the son of Húrin, he was trying to hide from his fate in our woods, just as Brandir would have us all keep secret to protect us from the marauding of Morgoth's Orcs.
I have to wonder if Turambar might have indeed lived up to his new name had he heeded Brandir and remained hidden. For he would still go to the Crossings with Hunthor and Dorlas and the others of like mind, suffering none to come near the mound of the Elf-maid. His prowess kept the Orcs away from our lands, but it also drew the hatred of Morgoth onto our people.
It also allowed him to find Níniel and bring her among us. She came to Brethil not long after Turambar, and a shadow lay heavily on her. He'd found her lying naked on Haudh-en-Elleth, the grave of the Elf-maiden at the Crossings, and bore her up the hill to Brandir's care. Long she lay in a fever, and I, along with the other women, helped tend her. When she came out of her dark dreams, we found her unable to speak. Whatever evil she had fled, it had left her utterly destitute, even to the point of being incapable of telling us what had befallen her.
We, the women of Brethil, taught her to speak once more as we would have a child. For me, this would be my only opportunity to teach another speech. She learned quickly, so eager was she to recover what she'd lost, and so she would term it, asking, "What is the name of that thing? For in my darkness I lost it." She soon became hale, but her memory never reached back beyond the day Turambar found her on the Elf-maid's grave.
Brandir fell in love with her that summer, as she regained her strength. I would often see them together, he leaning on her proffered arm as she helped him walk. His feelings were evident in the way he looked at her, and in the way he leaned closer to her than necessary. Níniel, however, remained oblivious, for her eyes ever turned towards Turambar when he was about. When he finally took her as his wife last summer, we made them a merry feast. Only Brandir remained grim-faced that evening.
Their time together was short, not even a year. For rumour of the dragon's advance came to us this spring, and when the evil drew nigh, Turambar went out to face it, taking only my husband and Dorlas with him. I cannot help but wonder how things might have turned out if Níniel had loved Brandir instead. For the most disturbing part of the tale is yet to come.
Even now, my mind refuses to lend it credence, and yet….
An Elf out of the Hidden Kingdom came among us mere hours ago, in time to witness the manner of Turambar's death. It was he who told us, the woodsmen of Brethil, how it came to pass that their best warrior cast himself upon his own blade and how his wife became desperate enough to leap from Cabed-en-Arras.
Even now, I can hear the other's voices. They are arguing, disbelieving, asking for the story to be repeated, in the vain hope that it may somehow change, trying to make sense of the senseless. Níniel was in truth Nienor, daughter of Húrin and Túrin's own sister, whom he had believed safe in Doriath under the care of King Thingol. So Mablung of Doriath has told us.
From what I've been able to piece together of the tale, Níniel went alone to seek her husband's fate, and she found him lying near the dragon. She tended his hurts, but somehow the darkness that had shrouded her memory was lifted. Mablung has said that he thought the dragon himself must have put the spell of forgetfulness on her. Perhaps in the worm's passing the spell was lifted, and her memory returned.
Then she knew and fled in horror. Turambar, learning all that had befallen, then followed her into despair and death.
Brandir had told us all at the last who Turambar was, the son of Húrin, accursed of Morgoth. I remember the shadow I had discerned in both brother and sister and realise that I had seen the darkness of Morgoth himself upon them. His arm has reached out to them from leagues upon leagues away on his throne in the frozen North. The thought covers me like a cold blanket, causing me to shiver in the chill, pre-dawn air. It sucks out the last shreds of hope I ever held for the Dark Lord's defeat. The evil we have witnessed tonight has proven his might to us all.
As I finish preparing the body of the one who called himself the Master of Doom, I wonder how things might have differed if I'd prevailed upon him to return to my father that day. I might have convinced him to stay and take me to wife instead. I might have become bound up in the curse on his family, but I would have saved him from committing at least one evil—there might have been two bodies less for me to prepare. As things stand now, with our people bereft of its leadership, my fate with him could hardly have been any worse.
And I was just one person on the path. What of the Elf-maid? What of his friend who had come seeking him at my fathers house when I was younger? What of any of the others who had touched their lives? Could any of them have helped turn this aside?
Acrid fumes reach my nostrils at the same time as the recognition that I do not know the answer to my questions. The men are burning the dragon where it lies. I draw my cloak closer about my face, trying in vain to ward off the noxious vapours.
Shouts from the forest catch my attention, and I stand. Men are emerging from the trees, bearing a heavy burden. I hear a woman's scream followed by wailing.
"We've found Dorlas," one of the men announces, and I know that my work here is not yet done. How much more yet awaits me? I do not know the answer to this question, either.
"Dorlas?" another voice replies in shock. "Where?"
"In the forest not far from Nen Girith," answers the first.
"And yet the dragon lies here at the ravine. Who yet lives that might read this riddle?"
"Indeed. Brandir's sword lay beside him covered in his blood."
They leave the body of Dorlas at my feet, and move off again, exclaiming over this latest news. I no longer feel anything but numbness. I still have no inkling as to the fate of my husband. With a heavy sigh, I push up my sleeves, and set back to work.