In Brethil's Shade - Afternotes

'Where are Haldad my father, and Haldar my brother? If the King of Doriath fears a friendship between Haleth and those who have devoured her kin, then the thoughts of the Eldar are strange to Men.'

These words of the mortal woman Haleth of Brethil ring down through the ages of Arda, so famous -- or infamous -- that they are preserved among the few sayings of any of those who lived in the First Age, in the chronicles of the High-Elves. And from this foundation I have built a portrait, sketched in charcoal still smouldering, of she who helped to forge the Third House of the Edain from the ashes of their homeland in Caranthir's neglected dominion.

The fact that initially, in the earliest rough cuts of the histories of Beleriand, when only three mortal generations were believed to have passed between the coming of Men and the Battle of Sudden Flame, the most famous leader of the Haladin is referred to with male pronouns, is easily to be explained Within the confines of Arda by the differing linguistic usage -- just as in Middle English "his" and "her" are genderless, meaning "one's" and "their", or, but not necessarily exclusively, as in ancient Egypt it was said of King Hatshepsut, "His Majesty the Pharaoh had these obelisks raised to the memory of her father," leaving the reader to wonder how many people are referred to in that sentence. (From the Outside, it's fascinating of course that Haleth-the-Hunter -- whose name is cognate to the Anglo-Saxon word for "hero" -- was changed to a valiant Lady rather than a Lord and given, as per a side note in HOME somewhere, an honor guard of axe-women. The name-element Hal~ in the language of the Haladin, similar to the Eorl~ element of Rohan, has the general significance of "leader," within the context of Middle-earth.)

All the sensitivity, grace, and angst of a Marine Drill Sergeant...

...That is to say, quite a lot -- but not resembling anything you'd necessarily be expecting. Haleth isn't just a bitchy prima donna with attitude who's obeyed and followed through hell and to the other side because her dad was the boss. She cares deeply and passionately and completely about her people, and she's willing to break heads and bloody noses to save lives, if she has to. A voice like a chainsaw is a great help; more energy than a turbine generator and the stubbornness of a mule are prerequisites -- along with the intelligence to use them properly. In another Age and place she'd be leading a platoon, or commanding a fire-and-rescue department, and at once both a terror and an idol to her followers. And this is how it has to be, not how I want it to be, and cannot be otherwise.

Purdah, and variants thereof -- the keeping of women in confinement by social tabus and self-imposed (ultimately) customs, is a consequence of luxury. It cannot exist when times are hard, the removal of half or more the population from active duty, save without grave consequences to society and standard of living -- it requires the infrastructure and prosperity to allow this wastage of human resources. You don't find it in genuine frontier societies, and it's amazing how fast most vestiges of it break down in disasters like wartime. (I don't include all forms and manifestations of what is commonly known as "chivalry" in the same category, by the by, nor consider all to be equally pernicious.) Human society being the self-made structure it is, it can quickly segue back in peacetime -- consider the aftermaths of the First and Second World Wars -- but those could, equally, be considered the opening of massive social faultlines which only seemed to return to the former (and mostly illusory) social stability before finally coming into the open again after brief reactionary attempts to bring back the former situation.

And the same is true of frontier aristocracy. Useless idiots don't survive, and aren't respected. The Chief or Headman of a place on the margins of survival has to be the guy you can go to when things go crazy, who won't play mental games or pass the buck, and who's gotten that role of authority by exercising leadership ability repeatedly over time, in good times and bad. It might be extended by assumption to the rest of his family, on the grounds that a good competent person will demand and get the best from everyone around him, starting with his kids, and will attract the best people to him, starting with his wife -- but if this doesn't happen, and times is tough, the slackers will be left by the wayside.

This is not mere historical conjecture nor opinion, either. This is in fact how the essentially anarchic Haladin end up with the leaders they've got -- just read through the Silmarillion sections, if you don't believe me. You can't take command responsibility and authority and wield it successfully if you don't already have it. This sounds paradoxical -- but if you haven't got the innate willingness to "kick butt and take names" and the sense to know when this is appropriate and when it isn't -- no amount of hereditary respect is going to make people follow your orders willingly and well. You will become marginalized, either "kicked upstairs" or deposed outright (or maybe just fragged) when somebody else starts doing the job you're supposed to be doing, and does it better.

And Middle-earth, in the First Age, is a frontier place of dire necessity and hardship, not unlike Bronze and Iron Age Europe in that respect . . . this ain't Imperial Rome, people, with running water laid in and shipments of international trade goods and the mails running regularly and taxes to pay for the same -- this is the cold Northern woods, and the fact that you're innocent bystanders trying to scratch a living out of the old-growth forest isn't going to protect you from being collateral damage in the war of vast and ancient and alien forces from halfway across the world.

Hence Haleth as I draw her is a driven, ferocious, unyielding sort, but not insecure, not acting out of reaction (or overreacting, more like.) She can see what has to be done, she does it. After all, she's been doing it all her grown life. Because someone's taking charge, other people now know what to do, there's continuity from the past, this is good in unsettled times, and because she does a good job, nobody wants her to stop. Even if she wanted to. This is how leadership works in real life, and how it works in Arda.

And no matter how weird and eccentric they might have thought you in ordinary times, afterwards your eccentricities will become badges of pride -- or more likely, not even noticed, the way that if you do something often enough, and act like you've got every right to do it, without going on the offensive or defensive but just doing it, no matter how unusual it might be, eventually people will just expect it of you. They might say, as of Unn the Deep-Minded of the Icelandic Sagas, that probably no other woman in the country could have accomplished such a thing -- but they'll say it with pride. And they're going to be too busy watching to see what you do next to try to stop you from doing anything. In fact, they're going to be waiting for you to tell them what to do next . . .

How do I know all this? They rename themselves after her. You don't take someone you dislike and disrespect and who's so unpleasant that you begrudge them saving you as your personal identity, do you?

She's Haleth-the-Hunter of the Haladin. You want to mess with her? Go ahead -- she's had a bad year. You want to mess with her people? --How many notches are there on your axe...?

It's that chick with the axe again, Sir...

...and it looks like she's planning on staying--

Before anyone rushes to judgment on Elu Thingol of Doriath, just consider a moment what he has to contend with. It isn't enough that his neighbor to the north is an evil demigod who's demonstrated both willing-and-able to destroy substantially everything in the world rather than let anyone else enjoy it, who's lately taken to sending out armies of psychopathic cannibalistic mutants to obliterate, enslave, and eat everyone who's just trying to live a normal, constructive life in Middle-earth. Now he also has psychotic relatives-by-marriage invading the lands he has devoted his life to protecting, divvying them up among themselves, and telling him he should be grateful they're there to protect him.

And now, after things are more-or-less settled down again, he's got humans living in his woods, without asking permission, without asking forgiveness either, just moving right in and settling down to stay -- after he's had ominous premonitions and Bad Feelings about the presence of Men in Middle-earth for centuries. (Being psychic isn't always a fun thing, you know.) So much for trying to keep them out of his domains! But what does he do? Not send in an army to wipe them out, not forcibly attempt to evict the refugees who've set up camp. He negotiates, protractedly, and demands essentially nothing from them in tribute. Leave his people alone, don't wreck the land, keep watch for invaders, and they can stay and he'll leave them alone.

This might sound cold, callous, and no improvement over their last landlord -- but the Haladin get to live as they always have in little clearings scattered around, homesteading like the ancient Pictish and Allemanic tribes, or like Old New Englanders, with small informal villages here and there. Warm hospitality, perhaps not  -- yet when the chips are down, and the Dagor Bragollach erupts, and an armed force of Orcs is able to surge down into the borders of Thingol's kingdom, the King of Doriath is warned by them via the Elves of the borders who have achieved a friendship with their strange new neighbors over the last hundred-odd years, and his chief Ranger dashes to their assistance with an army of Elves armed with axes. There's been some cultural mixing obviously, but not in the way that Thingol feared from the Noldor, the cultural imperialism of a "stronger magic" overwhelming the native folkways.

It might be a funny arrangement, but the People of Haleth are happy with it -- she doesn't drag them halfway across the continent again, rather than stay near Elu Thingol. They are the Third House of the Edain, after all...

--Yes, but it won't be a problem, truly--

This is pre-palantir, First Age Middle-earth. You can't just pick up the phone and say "Put me through to your King, please." There's no nightly news, no morning newspaper to feed rumours across the land. If messages need to go back and forth, if information has to be conveyed -- someone has to convey it. Carrier pigeons are only so useful -- critical stuff has to be taken in person, and somebody's got to do it. Who, of course, will depend on all kinds of circumstances. Considering the delicacy of the situation, the familial connection, the hands-on attitude of the individual in question and not least of all his insatiable curiosity, can we doubt that Finrod Felagund was personally involved in conducting the canonical negotiations between the legendary Lady and his long-suffering kinsman?

History does not record Thingol's response to that audacious retort, (made in the best ancient Primary World traditions, right up there with "Oh, about six feet -- or seven, since I hear your lord is a tall man"); but I like to think that Finrod would have made certain to do it properly, with full formality before "the court assembled all" and enjoying every absurd, awful moment of it -- and that Elw, justly frustrated with lofty High-elven lords who wouldn't even stoop to give him common courtesy, would appreciate the blunt directness of sarcastic Haleth -- and would even more appreciate the situation she'd put his grand-nephew in, before agreeing to give it a try and see how they worked out . . .

Details, details...

So now we have most of where this story came from, and all that's really left is to make a few remarks on the tone and details. I drew a lot of my impressions of what the Haladin would have been like from Rosemary Sutcliff's wonderful books on Ancient Britain -- chiefly Warrior Scarlet, Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch -- which present ancient culture clashes, vivid and likable characters who nonetheless have priorities distinctly alien to modern mores, and pre-technological lifestyles in a lyric and unforgettable way. Bits of Tacitus are reflected here and other Roman authors who preserved, if dimly, recollections of those Allemanic tribes whose small villages and independent settlers resisted the might of the Imperial military industrial complex and whose axes kept a Legion from returning once, in a battle under the boughs of a vast oak forest... Also drawn on the recovered bits of history from family pioneer members and regional events, and the realization that some things Just Don't Change.

So now you know why, and how, after I stopped laughing at the audacity of that wonderful line, wildcat Haleth to the King, I started thinking about how it must have played out, and how it might have, and who would have been there and what they might have said and done and thought, and what it would all have looked like. I hope you enjoyed it a bit at least, too.

Silmarillion, Del Rey ppbk edition: "Of the Coming of Men into the West," pgs 166-167, 170-172; "Of the ruin of Beleriand," pgs 184-185; and one of the other volumes of HOME, but I'm not sure which one, since it was at a bookstore that I was skimming through it.


In Years of the Sun & Moon