Three large skin boats paddled by tired Men encased from head to foot in heavy winter white furs came around the headland of the little bay heading for the curve of beach. Their eyes of blue or grey showed oddly pale against their deeply tanned faces and their beards and the occasional wisp of hair escaping from beneath their hoods showed white though none were old and some were little more than boys.
Hanno, their headman, felt the bottom of his boat scrape on the pebbled shore and jumped out along with the others to draw it up the shingle, out of reach of the tide. Then they lifted out their cargo, big bales of seal, wolf and snow bear pelts, and turned the boats over for the bottoms to dry in the pale early spring sun.
The Men hoisted the baled furs onto their shoulders and trudged single file behind Hanno up the slight slope, past a rough sea wall built of thin sandstone slabs from the nearby cliffs and along a deep worn path through a strip of winter brown grass lightly dusted with snow leading up to the dunes overlooking the little bay. At the top of the path there was a door set into the hill side and closed with a single man-high slab of stone. Hanno gave this a gentle push and it pivoted to admit them.
The tunnel was pitch dark and wound in great bends first one way, then the other, then back again. Voices came to their ears, echoing slightly, and Hanno unconsciously quickened his pace. Nearly home.
Leading the way around the final corner and he saw before him the long, gently winding middle alley of his village with its dry stone walls, slab roof and flagged floor all lit by oil lamps, shallow saucers carved from the ubiquitous stone and set on ledges in the walls. Women as sun browned and pale of hair and eye as their Men sat in doorways leading to branching passages, sewing and working hides, their merry gossip echoing down the corridor mingling with the cries of the children as they chased a large grass stuffed leather ball.
Suddenly one of the children saw Hanno standing there and uttered a piercing shriek before running as fast as her small feet would carry her to greet her papa behind him. Instantly the Men were engulfed by their families, children hugging their legs, wives and mothers kissing and exclaiming over the number and quality of the furs.
Hanno wriggled his way through the tightly packed crowd to where Eila, mindful of her dignity as the headman's wife, stood waiting in the doorway to their home. Eyes blue as the icy winter skies smiled in welcome. "It's been a long season." she said, as she always did. Then put her arms around his neck and kissed him long and passionately - as she always did.
She was as slender and pliant in his arms as the girl he'd married seventeen years ago. Eventually he found the strength to push her away and ask: "Boy or girl?"
Eila grinned. "Girl." and Hanno gave a delighted whoop.
Then there was his mother Lusa, wrinkled and bent with her years, to greet. And the four children who - as usual - seemed to have grown enormously in his three month absence. Mayati, their eldest, and until now only daughter, was past fourteen and growing into a beauty like her mother - she wouldn't be with them much longer Hanno was certain. He was glad they had a new little girl to help her mother after the boys grew big enough for Men's work.
Eleven year old Aino thought he was big enough already. "Look, Papa, look! I'm almost as tall as Mama, that means I can go with you next year doesn't it? Doesn't it?"
"We'll see." Hanno answered as he had every year since Aino was eight.
"What did you bring us? What did you bring us?" the two smaller boys, Mika and Raamo, demanded in chorus.
"Some very strange things," Hanno answered, "but very beautiful." and felt his wife and mother look at him sharply, sensing the trouble under his words.
The side passage to the headman's house was a long one and at the end was another stone door opening onto a small roundish cell with a stone linteled doorway directly ahead and a branching corridor to either side. At a word from their mother the boys relieved Hanno of his bale of furs and dragged it up the right hand passage to the storeroom while the rest of the family went through the doorway into the main room of the house.
A joint of ox meat was roasting on the spit over the fire in center of the oblong chamber. The stone walls were hung with hides beaten soft, dyed mossy green and dull red and decorated with embroidery of sea-birds' feathers. Furs covered the stone box beds and storage chests, and chopped heather softened the flagged floor. Oil lamps burned on the stone dresser at the back of the room and a heap of baked oat cakes lay ready on a slab near the largest of the three beds.
Mother, wife and daughter helped Hanno out of his heavy outdoor furs and boots and into the open wolfskin vest and bear hide slippers that were all Men wore with their leather breeches in the heat of their stone houses. The Women too were thinly clad in soft deerskin vests laced closed and short, fringed skirts that left their legs bare from the knee down with hare skin slippers on their feet.
Hanno grabbed a cake from the platter and bent over the bundle of furs on the smallest bed. A little face, pink and crinkled, showed amid the silky pelts and a tiny, flowerlike mouth stretched in a yawn then a pair of startlingly dark blue eyes opened to give her father a dispassionate, unfocused look. Hanno was enchanted. "So this is my new daughter." he said, gently stroking the soft cheek. "A beauty like her mother - and her sister. Have you named her, Eila?"
"I thought 'Terhene'," his wife said a little hesitantly, "unless you think it would be unlucky?"
Hanno felt a superstitious qualm but squashed it firmly. "It is a noble name, a queen's name. My sister and my aunt's misfortunes didn't change that." he said stoutly.
"Then Terhene it is." said Eila. "Perhaps our little girl will make the name lucky again."
Hanno certainly hoped so, for he knew if she suffered any ill fortune he would blame himself - but why should she? It was a noble name and a beautiful one and his little Terhene would be an adornment to their clan.
Then the boys came tumbling through the door. "What did you bring us, Papa? Can we see it now?" Aino demanded.
Hanno took a pouch from the belt lying among his outdoor furs and carefully poured the contents out onto the stone table that stood at the foot of the firepit. White, red, green and blue stones, like chips of colored ice, glittered in the mingled lamp and firelight set in a collar, a chain, a pair of linked clasps and several brooches of yellow or white metal. Women and children stared round eyed, struck silent by astonishment.
"A strange thing happened this season," Hanno told them, "while we were hunting Men came down from the mountains to trade with us for food and this is what they offered in payment. We would have preferred their metal knives and spears but those they would not part with - so we settled for these baubles. They are pretty things are they not?"
Eila was looking intently at her husband rather than at the jewels. "What Men were these?"
"The King of the Southlands and his war band." her husband answered quietly."
Eila's eyes went wide. "But the Dark King rules in the South!" 1
Hanno shook his head. "It seems not. These were Men, Eila, taller than ourselves and dark haired but fair skinned. Not Hill Folk, nor yet Orcs. Arvedui, their King, told me that his people and the Fair Folk had driven the Shadow back from the Western Lands centuries ago, but the Dark King was trying to retake his old domain and they had been sorely worsted in the latest battle - which is how he and his Men came to be hiding in the Northern caves where the Short Ones used to live."
"Then the Southlands are back in the Dark King's hands?" Hanno's mother, Lusa said.
Her son shrugged helplessly. "I do not know. Arvedui said his folk had suffered such reverses before but rallied and driven back their foe and he trusted to do so again. Certainly he meant to try."
Lusa and Eila exchanged troubled looks. The children however were intent on the baubles. Mayati picked up a heavy chain of moon white metal set with deep red stones like burning coals.
Hanno smiled. "I thought you would like that one. Well, boys, which do you want?"
After some hesitation Aino chose the collar of sun yellow incised with an intriguing design of wandering twisting lines and set with a single great white stone. It was far to large for him of course - but he'd grow into it. Mika and Raamo each took brooches; one shaped like a hand cupping a green stone, the other a many rayed star covered with glittering white crystals. And Hanno took a third brooch, a great blue stone nesting amid delicately wrought flowers and leaves of moon colored metal, and pinned it to his new daughter's fur bunting. Her eyes were just the color of the stone.
Later, after the children had gone to their beds, Hanno told his wife and mother the rest of the tale. "The Fair Folk sent a great boat to carry the Southern King and his Men home." He shook his head in wonder. "Long as one of the great greys 2 it was, and built all of white wood with two great white sails. It was too big to come through the ice to shore so we drew them on our sleds to meet the small boats it launched." He frowned unhappily. "Arvedui was all on fire to be gone but I did not like the smell of the wind and begged him to delay until summer when Her 3 power wanes - but he would not listen. And sure enough a great storm of wind and snow blew down out of the North while their sails were yet in sight. We saw the great boat driven back upon the ice but there was naught we could do but seek shelter ourselves until the storm blew out. When it did we went out to where we'd last seen the boat but found only a few spars of white wood and a length of torn sail caught in a mass of ice."
"A storm out of the North." Lusa said flatly.
Hanno nodded somberly. "It was no natural storm but Her malice, I am sure of it."
"Do you suppose She knows you tried to help this Arvedui?" Eila asked uneasily.
Her husband could only shake his head. "I do not know. I hope not." and the two Women shivered their agreement. Reaching for his discarded belt he opened a second, smaller pouch and brought out a ring of glittering white metal wrought in the form of two twined serpents devouring flowers of gold and set with a green stone. "Arvedui gave this to me before he boarded the boat. He said it was a great heirloom of his House and if we were ever in need his kin would give us whatever we asked in ransom.
"Now I am troubled," he continued as Eila and Lusa passed the ring from hand to hand examining it. "By helping Arvedui I may have drawn the enmity of the Dark King, as well as Cold Javaala, not just upon our village but the whole realm. I fear I will be bitterly blamed for it but I think I must tell our own King what has happened."
"Yes, Kuningas must be warned." Lusa agreed crisply. "You must go to Kotka-Meri, Mihillo will send word to Saame-Tundar." 4
"No." Hanno said firmly. "I will go to Kuningas myself. It was I who spoke with Arvedui, and only I can answer the questions our King may ask. And if there is blame I would rather it fell upon my shoulders alone than on our whole Clan." Neither Eila nor Lusa looked at all happy but they did not argue. "I will leave as soon as may be. Not tomorrow but the next day, or the one after that."
"But you have just gotten home!" Eila protested in dismay, "I cannot spare you again so soon."
"Then come with me." said her husband.
1. The title 'Dark King' is used interchangeably for both Sauron and Angmar - appropriately enough as the Chief Nazgul is but a servant of the Dark Lord. The Forodwaith have had no contact with the southern lands for a very long time, at least since the Dark Years of the Second Age, and know nothing of the War of the Elves and Sauron or the establishment of the Realms in Exile.
3. She is Heskil, Lady of Winter, a corrupted Maia once in the service of Nienna. She dwells in the far North of Middle Earth and ice and snow are her domain - which from time to time she seeks to extend into the lands of Men. The Forodwaith regard her as a greater enemy than Angmar or even Sauron. Javaala is their name for her in their own tongue, but it is seldom spoken aloud for fear of drawing her malice.
4. Mihollo is chief of their clan, the Clan of the Sea Eagle, and Kotka-meri is his seat. Saame-Tundar is the capital of the realm of the Forodwaith on the north-western shore of the Bay of Forochel.
I have used Finnish as a source for Forodwaith names. Hanno's house and village is modeled on the neolithic Orkney village of Skara Brae.