(v) The Seeds of Doom
The Courage of Men Begins to Fail
For untold thousands of years, the Third Age of Erâth carried on in Changelessness. The battles faded, the discoveries went unnoticed, and the race of men became ever more dreary all the while. With the death of love and dreams, though, a new form of apathy came over the kingdoms of Thaeìn, and the lives of men were bleak indeed.
Yet it was a bleakness men were content with; without deep thought or feeling, there was little grief, though there was also little joy. There were few battles, but also few discoveries, and the race of men was truly at a halt. King after king came and went, and the lands were ever the same.
The Sarâthen’s vision of Changelessness had come to full fruition. Those that had remained in Erâth saw the indifference of men and were saddened, but remembered yet the destruction of the First and Second Ages, and were afraid of what might occur were the veil of Changelessness lifted. They had not intended that the race of men become uncaring about the world, and saw that they might yet be extinguished, if they no more than continued without caring to live.
The extent of this apathy was felt most keenly in what had once been the great cities of Thaeìn, Vira Weitor and Courerà. In Erârün, the lords of the realm did little more than ensure the meeting of swift justice to any who transgressed the laws of the kingdom, which were many. The lands were tended to by many who had never laid eyes on the slate towers of Vira Weitor, and the rule of their lords was unfelt. For their part, they did not notice, except when occasionally groups of soldiers would pass through their villages, and leave often more than a few bodies in their wake. They would recover, and carry on, soon forgetting what had occurred.
In Kiriün, the apathy was less grim, but existed nonetheless. The kings of that land became ever more disinterested in the ruling of their country, and did not abdicate merely out of fear of losing their power. Meanwhile, the kingdom truthfully was ruled through them by the daughters of Sóriana, who despaired also that they should labor for so many generations without recognition. Their devotion to their people was all that prevented them from abandoning the palace of Courerà, and though wisdom was preserved in their line, they became deadened all the same to the woes and cares of their people. They ensured their people were fed, and their illnesses cured, but despaired that they might nonetheless see one day the ending of their kingdom through the slow withering of indifference.
It should not be forgotten also that Changelessness affected the people of Hochträe also, though their principles of light fared them better than the other peoples of Thaeìn. For their part, they did not descend greatly into darkness or despair, but nor did they gain new perspective in the world beyond that which they already had. They remained powerful, but also passive, and found that they began to embrace the eventual ending of the world, which they saw as inevitable with Erârün and Kiriün suffering in such bleakness. Seeing they could one day be the last men in Erâth, they turned ever further inward, and their priests would spend years in isolation in the high mountains, so that they might know what it was to be the last man in Erâth.
The Sarâthen who remained began to doubt themselves, and indeed their very nature as Wisdom in Erâth, for twice since the beginning of the world they had set in motion events that had brought about the downfall of men, and feared they had done so yet a third time. But it was too late now to take back what they had done, and vowed merely that they would not again interfere with the fate of men, should it bear them to ruin or salvation.
It was indeed the very nature of Changelessness that was to bring about the end of the Third Age, and the very doom of men in Erâth, for it was this that blinded men to the stirrings of darkness once again until it was nearly upon them. The Sarâthen, restrained by their past and their vows, could but watch and hope.
Recovery of the Duithèn
As the courage of men began to fade, it did not pass unnoticed by the Duithèn. Their kind had been long since been forgotten by men, but they had not forgotten men, and how they had driven them from Thaeìn at the end of the Second Age. They had lain, greatly weakened, throughout all of the Third Age, watching with bitterness as the race of men carried on as though nothing had ever occurred. As all the great races of power, the Duithèn were patient, but bore their endless exile with bitterness and hate, and thought of nothing but regaining the world once more for themselves, and overcoming men with their own Darkness once and for all. They cared little if such Darkness brought about the ruin of men.
But it was only as the kingdoms of Thaeìn grew into despair and indifference that the Duithèn perceived their chance to return. These were feelings with which the Duithèn were intimately familiar, and they saw they might imperceptibly thread their own influence into the lives of men, and so begin to darken their counsel and bring themselves to strength once more.
But they knew also that if the Sarâthen, and the Illuèn who lived yet in Thaeìn, perceived their return, they would resist them, and knew they did not have the strength to battle those races directly. They would have to move slowly, and in great secrecy, avoiding always the other races of power in the world, lest they be returned to the wastes. They looked, then, to the lands of Aélûr once more, and to the races of darkness that dwelt still in the North of Thaeìn, and saw here that they might yet find the means to regain their power.
It was over men that the Duithèn had the most influence, and they saw that while no men of darkness lived yet in Thaeìn, groups of twisted men had survived the ages in Aélûr, despite the reign of the skøltär and other races of darkness. It was therefore here that the Duithèn first visited, and began to whisper in the ear of the men of that land.
The men of Aélûr, after spending so many thousands of years in shadow, hiding from the beasts, were bitter and twisted, and their minds were no longer like those of the men of Thaeìn. They felt the longing of many hundreds of generations to take back the country that was rightfully theirs from the beasts of darkness, and felt the Duithèn’s thoughts – encouraging them to do precisely this – as their very own. The skøltär, who had become complacent in their dominance in Aélûr, were taken by surprise as they found men were suddenly fearlessly raiding their caves, leaving entire hosts of their own dead.
The men of Aélûr were not foolish, and brought their attack upon the skøltär in the bright of day, when the creatures of darkness were at their weakest. They armed themselves with more than blades and arrows, wielding weapons made of the poisoned land itself: great lassos of poisoned and thorny vine, spears of petrified ashwood, and darts dipped in the venom of what snakes and spiders they were able to kill.
The war upon the skøltär was swift, and vicious. Unused to battle after so long, the skøltär found themselves driven back, and over the course of time the men of Aélûr multiplied, and once more began to fill the land. They were not able to defeat the skøltär in their entirety, and the Duithèn, of course, did not want it so: there was now such a great number of skøltär in Aélûr that they knew an army of skøltär from both Aélûr and Thaeìn, reinforced by a renewed kingdom of men of Darkness, would be unstoppable.
Soon, the men of Aélûr had reclaimed many of the ancient towns from the skøltär, and the greatest prize of these of course was Vira Dûthna, the terrible City of Black Death. The skøltär had left it in ruins, and dwelt in the rubble, but now men reclaimed it and began to restore its terrifying walls. It was the work of many hundreds of years, and progress was slowed by attacks from the skøltär, furious at being displaced so, after so many thousands of years. But they could do little, for the men of Aélûr had the strength of will of the Duithèn behind them. And indeed, the Duithèn themselves began now to regain their strength with the progress of the men of Darkness in Aélûr.
With the renewal of the men of Aélûr achieved, the Duithèn next revealed themselves to the skøltär, and to the wolves also, who dwelt yet in Aélûr. They brought to their memory that it was they, the Duithèn, who had brought them into Erâth so long ago at the start of the Second Age (a lie; the Duithèn had merely twisted what life already existed), and reminded them to whom they owed their allegiance. They brought a halt to their attacks on the men of Aélûr, and gave their domination to these men of Darkness once more. The wolves cared little, for they would attack and kill as they pleased, and the men of Thaeìn pleased them as much as any other. The skøltär, however, were bitter and deeply resentful; their reign of thousands of years had been ended by what they perceived as a sudden uprising in the weak men they had for so long hunted as prey. But against the renewed power of men and the will of the Duithèn they could do little, and so consented. Their hatred of men did not diminish, though, and in secret vowed that they would yet one day rise against all men of Erâth, and destroy them to the last child. The Duithèn were thus pleased.
A Kingdom of Darkness in Thaeìn
With Darkness in Aélûr once more returning to their control, the Duithèn now turned their attention to the lands of Thaeìn. As before, they sought to conquer this once remaining bastion of men who clung yet to light, but they now found a new advantage. With the breaking of the Bridge of Aélûr so many thousands of years ago, many skøltär and other creatures of darkness remained in the mountains of Thaeìn. It was to these creatures the Duithèn next came to, and sought to bring them together under one banner of Darkness and thus ally them with the races of Darkness in Aélûr.
Skøltär, wolves and monsters all resided still in Thaeìn. Men there now were none; without the command of Goroth, the skøltär turned upon the men of darkness, and there were soon none left in the mountains of Thaeìn. The skøltär had been unsuccessful in invading Hochträe, and so came to dwell poorly in caves and in the thin woods of the high mountains. They were ever bitter, and spent much of their time brooding and wishing for the destruction of all men.
They were, through force of time, also changed from their kin in Aélûr. The creatures of Darkness, it seemed were not under the same spell of Changelessness as the men of Erâth, and had grown in various manners over the centuries. The skøltär of Thaeìn, though still recognizable as these terrible creatures, were smaller, and weaker than their western cousins. Their intelligence was less also, and without strong command they were disparate, and unable to mount any true assault upon anything.
So the Duithèn found them, skulking in the dank depths of Thaeìn. Their influence over skøltär was less than it was over men, and though these creatures were of weaker mind than others, it was long before the Duithèn could coax the skøltär of Thaeìn into a rough, poor kingdom. Slowly, they began to gather, and formed towns in the northern valleys, where little grew and the land was barren rock. They would not venture further to the North, for that was the realm of the Dragon Lords, and though no Dragon Lords existed into that time, the skøltär had retained an ancestral memory of the terrible winged beasts and their powerful commanders.
The towns of the skøltär were sickly and twisted, and at first had few dwellings at all; most skøltär slept and lived off the bare rock itself, and cared not for the building of houses. They found strength in their new numbers, however, and began gradually to build shelter for themselves from the rain, and the ash of the North. These were not dwellings for families, though; the skøltär did not breed as men do, and had no use for homes. Often skøltär would fight for the occupancy of a fragile shack, and might bring it down entirely in their fervor.
Indeed, fighting was perhaps the one thing that kept the skøltär together. As their numbers grew, so did the tension between them, and the need for a strong leader soon emerged. Chiefs would arise, and challenge one another for the dominance of a section of the land. In this way, the strongest and most cunning skøltär inevitably became leaders, and eventually a rightful king of the skøltär was pronounced, and the first true kingdom of Darkness in Thaeìn was born.
The new king of the skøltär demanded that he be built a palace like those of men, though indeed it was grotesque and black in appearance. When it was finished, he dwelt there with a number of lesser lords of the skøltär, and lorded cruelly over his people. Never in Thaeìn had the skøltär had a kingdom, and this newfound power was intoxicating. The black king of the skøltär found pleasure in putting to death his subjects at a whim, and they feared and hated him rightly, but could do nothing. The kingdom of the skøltär was tyranny, and the Duithèn were also pleased.
The Discovery of Namrâth
As the Duithèn’s power began slowly to return, they began to feel the pull of an old and forgotten power of Darkness. They left the skøltär, and the men of Aélûr, for a time, and sought to discover the source of this power. They felt assured that it would prove a valuable token in the downfall of the kingdoms of men.
As they focused on the nature of this power, they were astonished to discover that it was Namrâth, the evil sword of Darkness, wielded by Goroth during the War of Darkness of the Second Age. It had endured, lost and forgotten, and contained still the essence of every creature it had ever slain. Namrâth had fallen into the black Sea of Aélûr with the body of Goroth when the Bridge of Aélûr had collapsed. It had thence been lost, and neither man nor skøltär knew any longer of its existence.
This was an unexpected advantage to the Duithèn, for the spirit of Goroth also had not been destroyed. His flesh had long since been lost to the seas of Erâth, but his spirit had been dissipated throughout the seas and lands of the West, and remained through the Third Age, though in such a weakened state that it was unrecognized by any who lived at that time. The Duithèn knew that if the dark blade were returned the seat of Goroth’s power in the kingdom of Urkûl in Aélûr, Goroth himself might return to his former strength, and once more lead the armies of Urkûl into battle against the men of Thaeìn.
But the Duithèn were also faced with an obstacle they could not overcome. While they now knew of the continued existence of Namrâth, they were powerless to find it, and knew only that it no longer dwelt at the bottom of the sea. Whether it lived now in the lands of Aélûr or in the kingdoms of men in Thaeìn, they knew not. The Duithèn were also in too weakened a state to yet take physical form in the wider realms of Erâth, and could not move the sword should they find it. It was thus be necessary for the creatures of Darkness whom they influenced to scour the lands endlessly, searching for the blade of darkness. Without it, they stood little chance against the kingdoms of Thaeìn, driven down by Changelessness though they were. The men of Aélûr had no great leader, and the skøltär of Thaeìn were weak. Namrâth was essential the renewed War of Darkness against the men of Thaeìn.
So the Duithèn returned to the skøltär of Thaeìn, and intended them to turn every stone in Erâth in search of this blade. However, they received unexpected resistance. In their absence, the rulers of the skøltär had grown overconfident in their power, and would not do as the Duithèn demanded. They did not see the value in retrieving a lost heirloom of the past, when they were day by day regaining their own strength – strength enough, perhaps, to challenge the kingdoms of men unaided by the men of Aélûr.