To Sail Against the Tide
by Grey Bard
It is commonly assumed that Sauron didn't have a body by the end. Gollum was right, this isn't true. How such a thing would have happened, a body dissolving into pure evil, is not clear. In any event, it didn't happen.
It is commonly assumed that ageless evil is above such petty things as the carnal act or the siring of children. This is also not true. Ageless evil is very much the same as any other evil, just infinitely older. Sauron occasionally got bored with plotting the doom of men and elves, and went down to the slave pits. That's how Morgauch occurred.
Morgauch was a very talented young orc, particularly cunning and vicious. He was hated and envied by all of his peers. He murdered his overseer at the age of seventeen, and looked to have a very promising future. Sauron ordered him killed as a routine precaution - leadership is not encouraged in orcs. He then had another drink and ordered the fortifications on the western wall reinforced. He never knew he had a son, nor would he have cared.
* * *
Elrond does not long for the Halls of Mandos or for the gift of death, but sometimes he envies his brother's choice to die a mortal death and rule a mortal people. There is a catch to being an ageless leader of an undying race - small, but inescapable. While Elrond goes on, century after century, untouched by time, so do his people.
At first glance, this is a blessing. Indeed, for the first several hundred years, perhaps it was.
To hear men speak of it, elves are a strange and dreamlike people, calm and vague with surreal moments of deadly and inexplicable passion. Who can comprehend the whims of elvenkind, they wonder, and so cease to wonder. Elrond comprehends it and all too well, knowing it as the engine behind every day of his millennia of life.
Does your neighbor annoy you with his incessant chatter of birds? Better to say nothing and keep the peace. Better to say nothing for generation upon generation, until either his chatter has become dear to you or you fall upon him, blade in hand, while you claim to be hunting the merry brown deer.
Does your cousin's uncle's grandfather hold the secret to the finest harps of Lorien? Perhaps you will spend the next hundred years looking for a favor you might do him, any favor he might wish. You may not be alone in this.
It was elven hands and elven blades that sacked the port of Alqualonde and killed the King of Doriath.
Planning a banquet or commissioning a bedhanging requires weeks of research and social calculation. Elrond gathers histories and annals in self defense. Settling landscaping disputes can take years.
The patience of the son of Earendil is vast and his will is iron. If knowing the secret heart of every singer in every tree is what it takes to keep his home alive, and it is, he will try to do it. He built Imladris, and he will not let her fall.
Still, is it any wonder that mortals, from time to time, come as a sweet distraction? Is it any wonder that he fosters the sons of the Dunedain?
What does Elrond do every day? His people are at peace, and Sauron lies dormant. What is there for him to do? What ridiculous questions men ask! There is far, far too much for him to do.
* * *
Nursing in the Houses of Healing was no walk in the woods. Deona might be only the daughter of a ladies maid, but she was nobody’s fool. In her time in Lord Eriath’s kitchen she had worked under some true dragons, but none to compare with Lady Eowyn. She watched the nurses like a hawk, and ran the Houses of Healing like a general of the kind her brother said they hadn’t had in the actual army since Boromir.
“No offense to the King and all,” Aldred had said, “But your Lady Eowyn could have eaten Imrahil for breakfast and Angbor isn’t much better. Pity she wasn’t a man.” Deona agreed, because in that case Lady Eowyn would have been safely in the army or the Riders of Rohan and far away from her.
“Bed check time!” chirped Aenara, who was far too cheery to be a proper nurse. Wonderful. Yet another thing to lay at Lady Eowyn’s door. She might have been new to nursing when she took over the Houses of Healing, but she understood organization – and how! More than a little too much. Daily bed checks, a slate with the tally of patients dead, ill, wounded and unconscious, and surprise inspections of every ward at any moment. What did it matter if the window sills were dusted?
A Ringwraith victim five beds away began howling again. Deona grimaced. Back to work.
* * *
The children of men may say the hearts of dwarves are stone and steel and so they are. Solid, strong, and nearly eternal, capable of a harsh and pure beauty. The songs of dwarves do not appear out of empty air, nor are they all of gold or at least the getting of it.
There are dwarven poets and the very best of them envy not elf nor man nor Valar, nor do they have cause to. Such a one was Norri son of Ulaf, one of the greatest of the Second Age.
Born in the Gray Mountains by the holy mountain Gundabad in the rime frost of a northern winter, he was full of the dark season’s hunger - in Norri, an unceaseable grasping for life, for skill, for art. A great builder of the saga drums, he was the student of the master craftsman Thorunn, whose lifelong quarrel with Dain son of Murin over the proper architecture of the drum created the two rival traditions of drum building in the generations to come.
Unlike his teacher, Norri was a greater drummaster than ever he was a builder, and a natural speaker to the rhythm of the talking drum. Never a quiet dwarf, he was nearly as obstinate as the infamous Thorunn, and his reputation for this grew, even as his works spread.
Indeed, both fed upon each other, for while his flytings were rare, these scorn-songs were nearly without peer.
He had little interest in the music of elves, nor did he have patience for elves themselves. Instead, he immersed himself in the work of his hands, the quarrels and fascinations of the world he lived in and the deeply dwarven business of saga-spinning.
It would not be accurate to name Norri son of Ulaf a Loremaster, for such he was not, precisely. History served as fuel and food to his work, less an end than a beginning. “The King's Wager” was one of his greatest works, known throughout the dwarven lands, yet Durin V maintained to his dying day that praise him though it did, it was nothing but lies.
With his fame, Norri was always assured an ale and a welcome in the dwarfholds but for those among whom he had made himself unwelcome. There were tables in Khazad-dum that would cheerfully serve him bilgewater for his “Tumunzahar Deserted” and ones in the freeholds of the Blue Mountains who would make him great toasts for the same. The moneylender Frir of Azanulbizar is said, in all earnestness, to have had a special axe sharpened and ready for him on account of several unforgivable lines in “Ransom Forth the Shades to Mahal”.
Frir's vengeance was not to be.
Bands of raiding orcs had always been a hazard of life in the high peaks, but over the course of several years, they had become bolder and cannier. Many a caravan to Khazad-dum was lost without a sign of its fate. There were rumors of a leader, mysterious and strong, but orcs were more given to boasting than leadership and the warnings passed with little notice.
In 1298, hillmen streamed out of the Ettenmoors as if at a signal and massed an army on the Coldfells. They marched north through the mountains, gathering orcs to their number as they went, and by the time word reached Gundabad of the scope of these forces and their target, it was far too late.
Too late for even dwarves to fortify the holy mountain, the place of Durin's awakening, well enough to stay an army. Too late to get word to the Dwarven King, far on the other side of the advancing troops, for help. A simple evacuation would make too fine a target – old dwarves and children climbing down the mountain and crossing the open plains would be easy meat for an army on the move. Gundabad was the oldest dwarfhold of them all, but it was never large. It took almost all the fighters they had to hold the east and southern walls against the foe convincingly. Norri was among them.
Covering the retreat of the survivors through the west gate and down the River Langwell, the defenders held the walls for six days and fought for the hold for three days more.
There were no chants of the deeds of those long days to ring in the depths of Khazad-dum or the halls of Erebor in ages to come, for the only living witnesses were the orcs and the hillmen and their dread King of Angmar himself. Only the number of days it took to kill them all is known.