The Tale of Aeros|
The wind-cloths of the five ships billowed out taut as they drove the vessels before a stiff westerly breeze up the inlet, four were white, but the leading ship bore black wind-cloths showing its seniority. These were specialised scouting ships, manned by men who were not only skilled seamen but also well-trained fighting men, but they fought only in self-defence.
During these middle days of Númenor they sought only to explore the Hither Shores, to discover the qualities of the inhabitants, if indeed there were any, and whether they served the Dark or sought the Light, and whether these lands if unoccupied offered possibilities or colonisation, for the wealth and peoples of the Land of Gift was steadily increasing.
High in the prow and poop, these ships were like the ships of the Elves, and on the prow was a platform high above the waterline where two men stood watching the south shore of the inlet. One was the ship's Captain, the other his apprentice, who was scarcely more than a lad.
"There it is" exclaimed the younger, pointing to a small cairn some fifty paces inland from the shoreline.
They were seeking a village where the Captain had been born and nurtured. The people of this region were of the Men of the Dark, short, stocky, unlovely to look upon, cruel and superstitious by nature. Fifty years or more before, the local tribes had come across a clan of people more fair and intelligent than themselves journeying with all their belongings towards the western shores, and had attacked and slaughtered them to a man and looted their property.
Except for one, a maid fair and desirable, who was seized by the leader and taken to wife much against her will. Brokenhearted at the fate of her companions she lived only a few years, during which she presented her husband with one son who was the father of the Captain. He wed with one of his tribe and fathered seventeen sons, the last one who bore the characteristics of his grandmother.
When a previous party of the Men of the Sea were sighted in the inlet he was sent to report on their doings, and found to his astonishment that not only were they like himself, but also that he could comprehend some of their speech. So they had taken him with them when they left after building on the shore the cairn to which they had returned, and now he was Captain of one of their ships.
The Captain held a coloured cloth above his head which was answered in like by the leading ship. At his command his ship turned towards the shore, the spar holding the wind-cloth was lowered and the anchor dropped. A boat left the ship with the Captain and some men, returning for more men. The sun was by now low in the western skies, they set up their tents, lit their fires and prepared their evening meal and settled down for the night, they would resume their search the next morn.
Next day dawned bright and fair, after breaking their fast six of them, with the Captain and an older man of much wisdom who was the Counsellor for the fleet, took their weapons and started inland, following the path the Captain had taken years before. He remembered his fear of the dark wood where no bird sang, the wild wood demons, the stagnant waters, the snakes and swamps, but he feared even more the consequence of returning without having fulfilled his task. He remembered how he had wondered what these Go-hilleg were like, these Men of the Sea, of whom his people knew little, and how he thought they might be like him and even that he might know something of their language. He arrived at the shore-hills safely, even more inclined to disbelieve the tales he had heard.
Three leagues it was to the village, but they saw no sign of life other the small animals during their march, but birds there were aplenty except within the dark wood. They found the site abandoned, and there were signs that it so had been for several years. The Captain stopped before a low mound.
"This was once my home" he said to the Counsellor, "and I doubt not that my father lies below it with his skull crushed by a blow from a club; the head man always hated both him and myself for neither of us feared him. But when the head man ordered me to go and watch you my father insisted that I obey".
Most of the huts were mere low mounds in the grass, but further on there was one which seemed to be less of a wreck, they peered into the doorway and saw three skeletons within, one obviously a well-built man, another smaller whose bony arms still held in its embrace the skeleton of a child.
"This was the dwelling of my youngest brother", said the Captain, "he wed just before I left, and his house was new. I deem that they died several years ago and were the last alive of the village, which was failing even when I left."
The party scouted around, and noted that the fields had not been tilled for many years and were rank with weeds, but there was no sign of fighting. Their mission accomplished they made their way back to their camp, by the time they arrived it was almost dark.
Later that evening over their meal the Captain and the Counsellor spoke together. "You are strangely quiet" said the Counsellor to the Captain, "I sense you are much saddened by what you have seen?"
"Indeed I am" replied the Captain, "I grieve for my father, who in my absence had none to defend him. But I think I know what happened. A few days before I set out to spy on you Men of the Sea, two men from a village several leagues further down the coast came to us asking for help, as they were taken by a plague. We would not allow them near the village as they might infect us, and as we had only just planted our crops, we had little sustenance ourselves and had nothing to give. But I doubt not that our folk were taken by the same plague. As that was several years ago I think that we are in little danger ourselves" .
"You judge well" replied the Counsellor, "But it seems to me ill to return to scenes of one's earlier days. For our hindsight is much clearer than our foresight, and going back often reminds us of what might have been had our actions been better informed. By what name were you known in those days?"
The Captain thought for a time. "Nay, that name was that of my grandmother whose lot was unhappy, I was named after her, only I now know it and I will keep it to myself. So when I was taken not unwillingly by you and your men, I told you that my name was Aeros. That was my Dreamtime name, it was in my dreams that I learned of you and your speech".
The Counsellor thought for a time. "It was fortunate that you came with us that day", he said "or the people of your grandmother's line would have failed completely. Whether they were of the Eldar or the Atani we will never know, but it matters not. I well remember that day, I know not whether you or I were the more surprised when you spoke to us of your Dreamtimes. But grieve no more, had you returned to your home it would have made your father's end no easier and you would have been lost to the world. So be at peace. But now is the time for rest, and you must see to the setting of the watch".
The Captain bid the Counsellor a good night and went about his duties. As he went outside the tent he looked around, the night was fine and he judged that they would have fair sailing weather the next day. After setting the watch and writing his log, the Captain sat and thought long of the events of that day and the day many years before when he had first met these Númenorians, but he was content, the words of the Counsellor seemed to be words of wisdom, and now he too was a Númenorian.
Next day they resumed their journey up the inlet and rejoined the other ships. But none other than he and the Counsellor knew that their Captain had been nurtured in the huts of the Men of the Dark, and none could know that in another age deeds of great moment would be done at the site of their day's explorations.