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This follows movie verse insofar that civilians sought refuge at Helm's Deep before the battle of the Hornburg.
It contains references to a longer story I'm posting on ffnet and AO3, since it includes a scene with an OC, here explored through the eyes of a child. But in my opinion it can be read as well as a stand-alone.
And always (!) thanks to Ruiniel for beta-reading!
Flames and Vile Men
Our village has burnt to ashes. Our house, our animals, our garden; all gone.
They have set fire to it all. It was night when they came. We have not seen much of them. Vile men with flaring torches.
The village burst aflame. People screamed and the fires blazed. People fled in all directions.
The air was searing hot, and the smoke stung in my eyes and in my throat. Mother was carrying my little sister as she ran. And I stumbled behind her.
Everything was so wrong and terrible. We fled and did not look back. My baby sister never ceased crying. We walked all night without rest.
There were others with us; neighbours and friends, but still so many were not there. And we did not know where they were. Perhaps they had fled as well, or they burned in the flames or were slain by the vile men. I do not know and neither does my mother nor anybody I asked who was with us.
My sister still cried, but after so long a time, her voice dimmed to a pained, weary whimpering. And as the black darkness of the night faded into the misty grey of early dawn she had fallen asleep in my mother's arms.
We walked to the point of exhaustion. Fréa, a young man from our community took my sister from my mother's arms as she was sleeping. But when she woke she would seek for mother, scream for her, and her tiny voice would get louder, until mother cradled her in her arms hushing her screams into weary crying.
The fire had touched her left arm and side, had turned her skin red and burning. Some of the others who were with us bore wounds from the fire as well. But I did not want to look and I did not want to think about it.
We found a stream sometime in the morning where they could cool the burned flesh. And I thought of my baby goat in the stable. I hope somehow it could flee together with the other goats, and the chickens, my favourite hen, and - … and I think of my friends and my cousins, my aunt and all of them who are not here with us; if they made it out of the village and where they are.
My tears stung my eyes, running down my cheeks. Mother squeezed me in a frantic hug. She looked drained. But she still carried my sister anytime she woke. She is strong.
I do not know how long we walked. The sun rose, but I did not want to look at the people who were with us. Did not want to see how broken they are, and even more, I avoided looking at those who were burnt. Only my mother and my sister did I want to see. Because mother is strong and I love her and I trust her to save us.
From afar we spotted the wall, strong and tall as it stood between the rocks.
"We have reached the fortress," they exclaimed.
Some of them wept with relief. And I longed so badly to reach the gate, enter, lie down, and sleep in safety. Erase it all; the vile men, the fire, the torches, and most of all; the screams. Close my ears and hear nothing again.
More people had already sought shelter. It seems that our village had not been the only one raided.
Finally, I would be allowed to sleep. And I was so glad for my mother; that she did not have to carry my sister any longer. Aye, she is strong! - But how do I know how long she could have carried on?
I think I slept long because as I wake the place all around us is crowded. My mother says that the people of Edoras have all fled to this burg. They are many. There are bleeding men among them. Mother says they have fought in a battle, allowing their people's retreat to safety.
My sister whimpers miserably beside me, and then, fortunately, once more she falls asleep.
There is so much happening around me and I watch it all. It helps to keep me distracted from the thought of my village, from the people I know and perhaps I will not see anymore. It helps me to not think of my baby goat. Though what I see is most dire, it is the only distraction available.
My eyes wander over children huddled against their mothers, to exhausted people sleeping and lying on the stony ground, to the bleeding men. And I watch the healers, moving between them.
One young woman captures my attention as soon as I see her. Her fair hair flows over her slender shoulders in smooth waves and it glows a pale gold in the light of day. Her grey eyes are large, gleaming, and warmly concerned. Mother said that she is the young Lady of Rohan, the niece of the King, the princess. I watch her constantly as she cares for the people around us. I do admire her. In this dark day, she emanates such beauty and light. When I'm grown I would like to be like her.
The people around us talk about what happened to them, about what happened to others. They talk about the things going on in the last days and weeks, months, and years. They mourn and hope and talk about it all.
There is this woman with the pointed ears. I notice that the healers often call her from one wounded man to another when they seem desperate. The princess and the woman often reach one another and exchange important words, from what I can read in the expressions on their faces.
They say she comes from the South. I've heard as they talked, the people. She has this thick raven hair, and amber-toned skin, and a slightly haunted look in her dark eyes. I ask myself if they all look like this the Haradrim, and if they have all pointed ears, like hobbits and elves or even those beasts - if they are of a different race…
I ask my mother. But mother says no, that they are humans like us. - But why then is this one so strange?
They thank her at times, and when they do so she smiles. She looks young then, almost as young as my friend's senior sister. Her skin is smooth and even. But within a breath, the shades around her eyes and under her high cheekbones deepen again, and her eyes turn haunted and dark. Suddenly she looks old, so immensely old for her flawless skin. Older than my grandmother who died last year. Older than anybody I have seen. And I shiver at the unsettling strangeness of it. She scares me.
There is another being with pointed ears on the burg. He is an elf. Mother confirmed.
I am excited. I have finally seen an elf! I had heard of them only in tales before. They say strange things about them; that they can do magic, and are immortal. They are dangerous too, I heard, and formidable warriors. Some of my friends were frightened, but I am intrigued. This one carries a bow, and two white, elegantly carved knives are sheathed at his back beside the quiver full of fletched arrows. He looks the way I have always imagined those beings. He is beautiful, hauntingly at that. His gaze wanders over the whole scene in front of him, over us… His expression is difficult to read. His eyes are grey – or blue… I cannot really discern. And although they look grave and deeply sad at what he sees, they glitter like the stars at night even now in plain daylight.
I would like to touch his pale hair. It looks like flowing silk of silver and gold. I wonder how it feels. He has braided it back behind his ears in elegant tresses.
The woman with the dark eyes and the pointed ears stops dead in her track as she notices him. Is she startled? They are close, and so I hear them exchange incomprehensible words in a strange tongue. His deep voice is smooth and pleasant; a lilting tone and play of words. It is the language of the elves I guess. The Haradrim woman with the pointed ears must be knowing their speech because she answers him in what seems to be the same language or similar to it at least. Her voice is slightly raucous as if she hadn't spoken for long. And the words sound harder coming from her tongue.
They are eerily strange - both of them.
My sister has awakened. She cannot sleep. The burns pain her.
The elf and the woman with the amber skin glance over to us, and already she is approaching. As she moves ever closer, I tense. I feel scared. But mother seems not to. She allows her to reach us and seems even glad for it. And so, hesitantly I relax as well. There seems to be no danger coming from her.
My sister stares at her wide-eyed and innocently, while she spreads a thick ointment on the burnt skin… It breaks my heart to think of the pain she is in. She is so small. But now she utters not a whisper. I wonder what spell this woman is using, or if this effect comes just natural with her soft touch.
The woman's eyes as she ruffles my sister's hair look different; they are no longer haunted, they no longer appear old at that moment. Her gaze is that of a mother. Tender and caring - and knowing. And as her gaze brushes me while getting on her feet. She smiles faintly. But this time she does not look young, and neither does she look old. I cannot give an age to that gaze. She looks sad and beyond weary.
I am distracted by my thoughts. And I just see her leave on a horse.
I am curious about the elf, and so, as the strange woman is gone, I regard him intently. I study his movements, his posture, his features, his beauty. I drink in the sight, in hope that someday, if ever I should see them again, I may tell my friends that I have seen an elf, and get them intrigued at the image of him.
My sister has gone silent. She sleeps again. My eyelids grow heavy, beckoning me to do the same. Gladly I succumb once more to the much-needed rest. And I dream… - I dream of fire, and vile men. Yet this time they are far away. A battle rages near-by. I see the elf fight. He knocks and releases arrows with his great elegant bow. - He looks dangerous. And I feel safe.
1st place (shared with another story) at Teitho Contest nov/dec 20, challenge 'Gems and Jewels'. My thanks to all who voted for the story! And to my faithful beta Ruiniel; you're always great!
This version is slightly differing from the one I entered at Teitho, as in the ending I added some few lines alluding to my OC from a longer story I posted on ffnet and AO3.
It is somehow a sequel to the previous chapter 'Flames and Vile Men'.
This follows mainly movie verse where civilians sought refuge at Helm's Deep, but as in the book verse, there are no elven reinforcements at the Battle of the Hornburg.
Words can not tell...
The air in the caves felt damp and hollow, heavily reverberating with unnatural thunder. She had always been afraid of thunderstorms when the rain dashed upon their sturdy wooden house, and bolts of lightning struck the night-sky sending deep shudders through air and ground. Yet now she would have given anything to sit in her cosy little cottage, watching the storm raging outside, securely wrapped into a soft woollen cover, the fire crackling reassuringly in the small hearth…
But their house was no more. There would be no going back, no reassuring warmth from that little hearth, no evenings snuggled together under soft covers… never again.
Instead, she peered out from under her mother's arm, as she held her and her sister tight, covering their ears with the palms of her hands when the rumbling thunder would get threateningly loud. But it did not really help stifle the sound, because the whole mountain and the air within seemed to quaver. Her mother cried, and it frightened her. She was not used to seeing tears on those soft, familiar cheeks. Mother was strong. And this was not right. Mother did not fear thunders nor storms, this was something else completely. And she knew what it was. She was only a child, but she was old enough to understand, that this was way worse.
The women around them held their children, in the same way her mother held her and her sister. Fearful eyes, wide open – and with every shudder; the screams of the children, the broken voices of mothers wanting to soothe but failing while trying to hold their own tears at bay.
It had begun early that night…
The burg had turned to near frenzied chaos. The men's faces were grim as they hurried around, gathering weapons and armour. But what frightened her most was the fear she saw in their serious eyes. - What was about to happen, she wondered, if even the men were terrified?
She watched the confusing images playing out while she clutched at her mother's skirt.
And then between all the disconcerting sounds of confusing voices and calls, rattling of carts, and clattering of metal, she heard a raised female voice. Immediately her attention was peaked, as she recognized that the voice belonged to the fair Lady of Rohan. The niece of the King, the princess.
"Let me fight!" She heard her say out loud and insistent. And between all the shapes moving about, she tried to get glimpses of the maid standing determined before the captain of the guard; her eyes flashed and the fine lines of her jaws were resolutely set as she pierced the man with a fiery glare.
Still clutching to her mother's gown the child stared at the woman with the flowing long hair in awe. So the princess knew how to fight, and it was obvious that she wished to go to battle, for them, for her people… The small girl set her mind, even within her next breath, that someday, when she was old enough, she would learn how to fight, and be fierce and valiant like her princess.
"My Lady! Please! Do not insist! This is an order from the King! You must stay with the women and lead them through the caves should need arise! There is no way to refuse this order." The captain said with finality, his voice strong and even. And then he turned his back on her and left to his business.
The young Lady said nothing. She did not hold him back, but her face was somber at first, and then revealed emotions she was probably forcefully restraining, as she stood there in the midst of people, watching the soldiers gathering all men and boys they saw fit to fight. She raised shaking hands, pressing them upon her brow and eyes, bending her head, only for a second. When she lifted her head again there was moisture pooling in her eyes, and she looked angered, desperate and sad altogether.
The writhing sobs of a woman next to them tore the girl's mind away from the Lady of Rohan.
"No," the woman begged, her voice torn with distress, "Please!... He is only twelve!" She reached out her hand for her boy as they took him with them.
He glanced back to his mother, confusion and fear on his young face when she let out a desperate wail.
"Mother!" he called, "Do not cry, I will return!" his clear, child's voice rang over to her as if wanting to soothe the frightening despair of his mother.
In the same moment, the girl felt a presence, and a soft light was cast on the stone. She lifted her gaze and not far from her she saw the elf. The being with hair of fine flowing silk, and stormy, clear, almost transparent eyes. The being she had admired earlier that day as if he were a figure out of a great tale.
And now, there he stood again, solid and real, tall and slender, his fluid motions brimming with strength. His pale hair and skin faintly glowed against the shades of dusk on the dark grey stone.
Her gaze lingered on him. He glanced their way, eyes filled with grief while taking in the image of the woman beside them, who then collapsed to a sobbing heap.
The elf pressed his eyes closed as if wanting to reject what he had just seen, and when he opened them again, the clearness was gone, their blue dark and blurred, and his nostrils flared. The straight, fine lines of his beautiful face now stood out hard as he shot an accusing look at his companion.
The man with the dark, unruly hair. He was a ranger, the people had said, but he had those strangely clear eyes of the elves, and he was meant to become a great King, she had heard from the talks of the people. His handsome face was stern before the events unfolding. But he did not look like a King - surely not yet - in his worn-out clothing and dirtied skin.
At the dark, piercing glare of the elf, the man closed his eyes as his chest rose and fell in a deep sigh. Then his features briefly softened, and he bit his bottom lip. Sadness flickered almost imperceptibly through the clear silver of his strange elven eyes. But then he turned away, reassuming his way across the place directing the work to prepare for the fight.
The man and the elf passed by the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, who still stood rooted to the spot, disbelief and defeat darkening the profile of her fair face.
The ranger nodded at her with respect. And the elf shortly paused in his tracks, standing before her, his gaze showing deep understanding. "This is beyond my comprehension, my Lady."
Actually, the girl thought, she was not close enough to hear what he spoke in a soft tone, but she was observing the elf so very intently, that on his lips she was sure she had read those words. He then brought his hand to his chest bending his head in an acclaiming gesture, before he moved away from the Lady, following the ranger. Only now she noticed the dwarf at the elf's side. The sturdy, short being patted his tall friend comfortingly on his back, and she thought she had heard how he had called him 'lad'. It was an affectionate gesture meant to soothe.
The Lady of Rohan looked silently resigned. But soon after she stirred, determined in her new purpose. She gathered them, women and children, guiding them towards the safety of the caves.
Her mother had bent to the crying woman beside them, trying to calm her, trying to help her rise. Although carrying her sister, and having the girl clutched at her skirts, her mother sustained the despairing woman as they moved along.
The girl stared around, at the boys and men being supplied with weapons and armour; those were no soldiers! Their gazes were wavering, insecure, and so many afeared.
The stronghold that had appeared to her a saving haven when they arrived, now had turned hard and cold and set before looming doom. - What place was this, where children had to fight, prying bitter tears from usually strong mothers?
She managed to get a last glimpse of the elf in the crowd. Her heart eased only that small little bit, to find a tiny thread of hope in his unnaturally fair image. She thought of his eyes, how they had seemed unreadable when first she had seen him. But then tonight she had read in them grief and doubt, anger even - but never fear… she had seen no fear in the elf's eyes! And she clung to his formidable image.
The tension in the caves hung thick like a wet blanket, the lingering fear peaked to the point of choking them. Every scream, every sob tore the unbearable heaviness like lighting, as though cutting through flesh and bone, constantly accompanied by the terrible thundering from the battle outside getting ever closer.
She did not know where to look. She did not want to see the devastated faces of the people around them. She snuggled into the warm protection of her mother. But her strong mother trembled. Glancing upwards the girl tried to catch sight of her face, but when a tear fell onto her cheek from above she dropped her gaze; she did not want to see her mother weep.
In her mother's other arm lay her little sister. To her great relief, she was deeply asleep. She wondered how the cute little bundle could sleep so completely unaware and untouched by all the terrible noise around her; if the exhaustion from her injuries had brought her to that point, or if the healer's ministrations had worked wonders on her body and mind, that in all the tumult she was now the only one peacefully slumbering. She did not know what it was, but she knew that she was so very grateful, that at least her baby sister did not have to suffer this fear, and the girl wished that she too could just close her eyes and escape into a dream, anything, any place but this.
She tried to recall the image of the elf. She saw him standing on a wall nocking and releasing arrows with his great bow. His eyes gleaming, clear blue and lethal. And then the same eyes became clouded and grey like a storm, as he fought surrounded by dark, blurred beasts she could not - would not – properly discern. He moved with speed, almost unnaturally, wielding white knives flashing bright in between the darkness. She saw blood, bodies falling, broken on the ground. She saw a tumult of men and crude steel, rushes of blurred beasts too hideous to recognize.
But there was no sound. She heard nothing but muffled, nearly deaf, thickness. - Where was the elf? - She had lost sight of him in the maelstrom of battle. She opened her eyes but kept them glued to the ground, and she noticed that she was holding the palms of her hands pressed to her ears. She heard only the soft dulled murmurs of the people around her.
And it was good to not hear it all. The most terrible noises were the soft, yet constant, keening sobs of the woman who had had no choice but to let her boy go to battle. She had stayed close to them ever since the soldiers had separated her from her child, ever since her mother helped her to rise and stumble along with them to find shelter in the cave, while her boy would fight unprotected out there. And like her, there were so many others crying for their sons, their brothers, their husbands, their fathers out there, where the thunder hailed from.
She studied the ground, the stone beneath them, of a delicate light green colour. She lifted her eyes, only to let them drift a bit further away, avoiding the people but following the intricate shape of the stone, curious and sleek, and in a way steadfast and comforting. And then, when her gaze returned to look down at her own feet, she saw it; a tiny stone, oval and light green as its surroundings, with a thin white line running all around it.
And she dared uncover her ears and reach for it. It felt comfortably smooth between her fingers.
Without hesitation, she placed it into the hand of the crying mother beside them.
"This is for your boy," she said, eyes still to the ground, "What is his name?" she then asked shyly, lifting her eyes to seek those of the woman.
The woman had stopped crying, surprised. Staring at the gem in her hand her lips formed the name of her child, "Gram," she said with emotion in her voice, "His name is Gram."
The girl glanced at the woman with the wide, expectant eyes of a child as the woman's gaze swept from the stone to her.
"Then give this to Gram, when he returns." She simply said and saw how the mother's fingers closed around the pale green gem.
"Thank you," the woman said, her voice slightly shaking, the stone firm in her hand, "Thank you, my girl!"
"His name means 'fierce', does it not?" the girl continued.
"Yes, it does," the mother said, lost in thought, "And fierce he is, my boy. His dream is to join the Éored when he is grown. He is good with the horses, and he just started sword training. I pray that it might be enough to keep him alive."
It was a small hopeful moment, soothing and quiet between the sobs and the crying. And the girl decided that she would no more listen to the heartbreaking and fearful wails around her. Her eyes searched for more beautiful, quiet stones, and there she spotted another one just a little bit farther away. This one differed in shape and colour; more flat and jagged at the edges and its green was slightly darker than the one she gifted to Gram's mother, and it was lovely speckled with white in between.
She needed to get it, but as she slipped out from under the protecting arm, her mother reached out to hold her back, her grasp almost frantic.
"Please Mother," she called out, too loud, "I wish to do something at least, I want to help as I can." Her mother looked scared to free her from her hold, and the girl felt regret for shouting at her. She felt like she might have hurt her. So she said softly "Forgive me, mother. But please let me do something for them!"
Her mother released her, hesitantly, and the girl took a few steps to reach for the little stone. She turned, holding it out and stumbling towards her mother, "look how beautiful, mother!" she said eagerly. "There are more, you see, let me find them! They are for the brave men and boys fighting outside, for when they return. I will give one to each of them, please let me do this!"
Her mother glanced at the stone and then into her daughter's eyes fondly, "It is beautiful indeed, darling."
She hugged her child tightly, struggling to appear strong while unable to hold back the tears. She seemed to not want to release her again from her embrace.
But then the girl felt a hand on her shoulder, and her mother slowly let go. They both looked up to the young woman in surprise. It was the Lady of Rohan, gazing at them, her eyes bright and comforting. She gave a curt nod and spoke to her mother.
"If you permit, I would take her just around the corner there. There is something I would like to show her. I know this place well, I used to play here with my brother. We will not go far and I promise to return her safely to you."
While she spoke, she smiled softly, yet it was a sad smile the girl thought. The Lady of Rohan looked sad, but oh so beautiful, and the girl could not believe it was real that she was so close, speaking to them, gifting them with her attention.
Her mother seemed similarly in awe because all she did was to nod without uttering a word, eyes wide and staring at the lady.
"What is your name, little one?" the Lady Éowyn asked.
"Sorwyn." She answered.
"Well, Sorwyn, I will show you something you might cherish. Would you like to come with me and see?"
Sorwyn nodded excitedly, glancing shyly towards her mother, and her heart eased even further as her mother nodded quietly and reassuringly at her.
And so she went with the princess, her tiny hand firmly held within the slender and strangely strong one. On their way, the Lady Éowyn whispered conspicuously to her.
"You know, I understand very well, that you wish to do something to help them. I will show you a secret. My brother and I used to collect gems as a game when we were children. There are beautiful ones in these caves, like the ones you found. We used to venture far, where the colours are rich in variety. We cannot go there now, because your mother would worry. But I know there are more of these stones scattered there where we used to play. They are lying there, since then, waiting for you to find them."
Sorwyn glanced at the Lady, wide-eyed and as she then stood still and released her hand, the child went off to search the cave floor. Tirelessly she bent and collected the gems which looked special and lovely to her. As if the more she would find the more of their people would return from battle. Every stone she found had its own beauty and hope, as she thought at how she would place it in their hands; the calloused hand of a soldier, the shaking frail hand of an elderly man, or the soft, slender hand of a boy. The gems were patiently waiting for them.
The whole time, the Lady Éowyn watched her, while also keeping watch on the other people as was her duty.
When her small leather pouch was filled, and also all of her pockets, the girl was finally satisfied and with a soft smile reached the Lady Éowyn, who escorted her back to her mother.
She paid no more heed to the thunder shaking both stone and air, and even now she forced herself to ignore it completely.
"Look what I found!" She blurted out.
She opened her pouch and plenty of small stones tumbled out, of different shapes and colours; some were grey streaked with white, others greenish, some jagged, some sleek, bigger and smaller, from rose to purple, to blue, to green, they shimmered slightly, not one looked like the other. And in the midst of them was a crystal, slightly larger than the other stones and neatly chiselled in shape, gleaming, transparent and clear between them.
"This one is for the elf!" She said determinedly with a serious mien. She carefully reached for the crystal and held it up so that it reflected the light in bright beams upon her cheeks.
"The elf, have you seen him...?" Her gaze searched her mother's, and then that of the woman, the mother of Gram, "He is a being like the ones in the tales, in the legends. He will not fall! I know that!"
"And this one," she pointed her finger, her tiny face beaming, "This one is for him; two beautiful stones for Gram. He will return to receive them!"
Godliss, Gram's mother - because that was her name – smiled between tears, as she gently cupped the child's face. "Gratitude, my little Sorwyn, from the depths of my heart! You bring such hope."
The time they waited in those caves seemed unending, but now Sorwyn had her stones weighing in her pouch at her belt, and in her pockets, and it balanced the weight from the fear and the sorrow filling the cave. Those stones even muted the thunder and the screams, when her fingers ventured to feel the different shapes, while her other hand firmly clutched the crystal.
It was morning when the terrible thunder ceased. She was tired and she would have wished to sleep. Her eyelids were heavy as she stumbled along close to her mother and out of the cave, driven by the crowd. She blinked into the crisp morning light. The sun was shining brightly. They had won, she heard the people say. But then the Lady Éowyn's voice cut through the calls and the murmurs.
"Do not bring the children further down!" she warned, "Our losses are high, and there are bodies all over the ground of both friend and foe. My brother and his men have returned," she said, voice shaking with emotion, "they are working, but do not make the children see…"
Sorwyn was confused and frightened by the tumult unfolding around her, soldiers carried the injured into the burg, some of them were hurt themselves, and most looked starkly strained. Healers materialized out of the crowd, and hurried about, taking up their work.
Godliss had almost turned mad with unrest, now that she was so close to knowing if her boy was among the living or the dead, she could barely breathe, and it took Sorwyn's mother much effort to calm her.
Boys rejoined their mothers, husbands their wives, and fathers hugged their children tight. There were reunions and tears of joy, and at times desolate screams when a long-dreaded message of certainty reached its destination.
Godliss was crying again and would not cease, watching out for a sign of her boy, on every side, with each new arrival.
And then, in between the people standing or hurrying about, kneeling or lying on the ground, Sorwyn spotted the elf. He looked slightly dishevelled. His pale skin was dirtied and sprayed with dark blood, but still, he starkly stood out, tall and fair, moving towards them in long strides, carrying in his arms a slight, still form.
She heard Godliss cry out beside them. The woman stumbled and fell to her knees, holding out her arms towards the elf and his burden.
The elf lowered the boy to the ground with great care, cradling his head into the lap of his mother.
"He is alive, my Lady," he spoke softly, his voice warm and soothing, "He will live. He has taken a blow to the head, but he is conscious. Talk to him, he can hear you!"
And Godliss kissed Gram's face, wetting his cheeks with her tears, sobbing incessantly.
"Mother…" the boy whispered.
Godliss could hardly speak between the sobs, "I'm here… my son… I am here!"
She looked at the elf through her tears, and she shook her head very slowly as the words would not come, her eyes filled with emotion.
"From deep in my heart I understand; you do not have to speak." The elf's velvety voice reached her, "I have to go back to help where I can. My friend promised he would come to see him. His hands will help heal him." He added reassuringly. - He meant the ranger with the elf-eyes. Sorwyn had heard that he was also a healer.
But before the elf could turn and leave, the girl stood already behind him, pulling slightly and insecurely at the dip of his tunic, calling for his attention.
She gathered all her courage and timidly lifted her gaze to meet his.
"I-" she stammered, "I- want to thank you…" she managed. Her heart hammered wildly, and she felt her face become oddly warm. And then hurriedly she added, before the courage might leave her, "…for fighting for us, and bringing Gram back to his mother!"
The elf went down on one knee so that he could see her at eye level. But still, he was taller than her.
She fidgeted with her pouch until finally, she managed to untie the string.
"I have collected these for the men who fought so bravely out there." She opened the small leather satchel for him to peer inside.
His gaze was endlessly soft, the blue in his eyes deep and warm when he looked back at her.
"What is your name, my child?"
"Sorwyn," the girl said as she smiled.
"Sorwyn," he repeated thoughtfully, and she found that it sounded so different from his lips, so... important.
"What does it mean?" he asked.
"It means sorrow and joy." She knew the meaning of her name, but she had never really thought about it.
The elf looked into her eyes so deeply that she got the strange sensation that he saw her very soul, and she thought that never before had she felt such an intense gaze.
"Your name is beautiful. It could not suit you better. You bring joy into the midst of sorrow!"
She fidgeted again as her hands trembled with excitement, rummaging in the pouch.
She held out the crystal for him. "This one is for you, it is the clearest, and brightest, and so different from the others."
She saw him swallow and blink, as he accepted it into his long slender hand from her tiny, soft one. He stared at it and ran a finger over the smooth, limpid surface. And then he held the clear stone to his heart, taking a deep shuddering breath, gazing at her. She saw moisture welling in those almost transparent eyes. His lips slightly trembled.
"Do... elves cry?" she asked, staring at him in wonder, genuinely concerned.
His lips still quivered as he finally answered, "Yes, they do, my child... they do cry!" And he closed his eyes, allowing a clear rivulet to slide down his cheek, and leave a clean streak on his dirtied features.
"This-..." his voice faltered, "I- do not have words..."
She could not believe that the elf's voice stumbled.
He took a deep steadying breath before he spoke again. And this time he smiled, warming her heart.
"This is the most precious jewel I have ever received."
Feeling happy and encouraged Sorwyn then said: "Wait- I would ask you something," She reached into her pocket and revealed a perfectly smooth, dark-grey, almost black, gem cupped in her hand. It held a mild pearly shine.
"This is for the healer with the dark eyes. I saw you speaking to her... She soothed my sister's pain. Please, can you give it to her?"
The elf's lips parted in a silent gasp, and so, worriedly, she quickly added, "Did I do something wrong, my Lord?"
He slowly shook his head, frowning, "No, penneth. You have done everything right!"
He briefly closed his eyes, pressing the stone in his hand until his knuckles turned white, his soft breath slightly hitched.
"I will give it to her, my child. If ever I meet her again - I will give this gift to her."
"I thought the gem looks like her eyes." The girl said, relieved, and smiling shyly.
"It does, little girl, it truly does! - Go now, Sorwyn, go and share those great little gifts. They will bring joy and help your people heal."
The girl nodded, then watched the elf as he turned from her and moved away, lost in the crowd until he disappeared from her sight.
Éowyn wears not the title of princess, but in the little girl's mind she is princess.
Thanks for reading! I would LOVE to read your thoughts!
I wasn't sure whether to post this here because the OC who already made an appearance in the first two chapters takes up some more space here. But then today I felt like posting it, since I like Éowyn in here. I hope you also do. (I mentioned before that the OC is from another longer story I posted on ffnet and AO3, but you may read it just as any unknown OC here, maybe contrasting or emphasizing Éowyn's character.
Many thanks to Ruiniel for beta-reading; you are such a treasure!
The Glimpse of a Secret
Hisses and short, yet sharp shouts of effort soared from behind the rock. Then a pause and fast breathing, and then again swift footsteps dulled by grass and moss and blows cutting the air.
She dismounted and left her horse behind, her thoughts not very coherent as she circled cautiously around the rock to get a sight of the happening. She had left the forest to seek for something. But she had come far, not even knowing what it was that had made her leave.
As she approached it sounded louder and louder in her ears; the fierce breathing, the sharp hisses of a blade in the air, and a female voice bursting out strength.
The sounds of a battle?
Still, she heard no clash of blades nor their sickening plunge into flesh, and there was only one voice, one panting breath, always the same.
She slid past the edge of the rock and upon seeing the scenery, surprise moved her ever closer, one step after the other, slowly, unthinking, fearless - mesmerized even.
As if through a soundless warning that suddenly ringed through her mind, her feet stopped, and she stood perfectly still. A light, flying dress came swirling before her and the point of a sword was held firmly against the hollow at the base of her throat. A pair of grey, menacing eyes stared at her.
She stared back, unblinking.
Just one thrust and she would be killed. But strangely, she did not care in that moment. She only stared with dark, dazed eyes deprived of fear. Her thoughts slowly regaining meaning, she regarded the woman holding the sword to her throat intently.
The woman was very young. Her slender frame still heaved with her excited breathing, her nostrils flared, her long hair gleamed a light gold and blew fiercely behind her, sent astray by the wind.
She studied the storm in those eyes and recalled the motions that had surprised her, before, when she approached. The girl had been handling the sword with the smooth and skilled motions of a fine warrior. She had been training. Hidden behind the rock - and the intruder had glimpsed her secret.
The storm in the girl's eyes ebbed down, and she faltered. The stranger could see her slightly confused gaze wandering down over her body, scanning the unexpected presence. And when those eyes rose to meet hers again, she noticed the frown in the young woman's features, the slight crease between her delicate brows.
"You are unarmed," the girl uttered aghast.
The stranger slowly lifted her hands to provide the evidence, and breathed deeply, studying the young woman's pale visage.
"That I am, as you can see," her voice came out even more raucous than it usually was, since she had not spoken in a very long time and not even sung from the day she left the forest.
But the young woman seemed unimpressed by her appearance. She lifted her chin and her eyes flashed as she literally threw the words, "Do you always sneak up on others like that? I would take care next time, especially when they are armed. It could mean your death!"
She did not immediately react to the reproach, instead, taking another deep breath, for a moment she considered those words. She could not deny that the girl was probably right with her warning. But oddly, she found that it mattered not at all to her in that moment.
Indifference seeped through her voice and words as she retorted flatly, "You might call it sneaking, yet it was not. I am of another kind, our movements are different, and our ears are sharp, any of my people would have sensed my steps. I beg you pardon if I have startled you."
The young woman shot back immediately, "I have no fear of you, nor was I scared before. My sword was straight and my hand secure. A strike and you would have been dead. But I do not kill one that is unarmed. Yet, next time you should be more careful."
She did not reply to the fierce attack. This time it was her turn to frown. This young one seemed bold. And her gaze softened at the thought. She asked the question that still puzzled her.
"Why do you hide here with your sword?"
The other took a sharp breath, narrowed her large grey eyes glistening with suppressed sadness and anger.
"I hide because they do not want me to fight. But I will train even more, no matter what they say! The time will come when they cannot restrain me!"
And in the grey of her eyes, a silver gleam was lit. The longing to fight and the dream of glory and prowess, of honour and battle - all burned brightly in her.
"I will defend my people! I will fight for them! I am ready to die if it is necessary to save all I love and all I live for!"
Those words so fiercely spilt from young rosy lips, and the girl's eyes, so brightly alight, hit her. She was at the same time impressed and saddened. Because for her there was no adventure in this world, no heroes, no glory in battle. Only illusions.
And so she spoke low, pouring into her words all the darkness lingering in her soul.
"From war only misery emerges! Heroes die and only grief persists and grows evermore."
She felt all her years of struggle and suffering. All the lives she had failed to save weighed heavy on her spirit. She asked herself, regarding this young one before her; was it naivety or was it strength?
The young woman unexpectedly interrupted her musings with a direct question.
"You are certainly not a warrior! What are you doing here in the hills, in times of war all alone and unarmed as you are? - And you are not of the Rohirrim, you look … different. "
"I am not from here indeed. I came from the South. I am not a warrior but I have learned what war is with the passing of long years. You were so ready with your sword, but you did not pay attention to my words. I said I am of another kind. I might look young but I am not. If I speak of long years they are long indeed, longer than you could imagine."
The young woman regarded her questioningly, unbelieving even, her lips drifting slightly open as if she struggled to make sense of her words.
"Are you… of elven kind?" She finally gasped.
The stranger did not answer but her fingers reached for her thick raven hair falling over her shoulder, and she tucked it behind her ear, revealing the arched pointed tip.
The reaction came prompt, without any judgement, but with genuine surprise.
"I would never have guessed! I mean… Now I remember your words from before, they registered somewhere in my awareness, but I have not pursued them further… you look not the way I imagined them, nor as any tale I have heard described them to be."
The elleth shrugged her shoulders, "I told you I come from the South…" and she added nothing more on the subject.
The young woman blinked several times as if running those words through her mind. The wind blew some stray strands of her pale, silken hair across her face, but she did not bother to brush it away. Instead, she spoke to the elleth. The fine strands of hair ghosted over her lips as they formed the words.
"The South is dark they say. The darkness creeps ever closer and into our lands. I want to fight against it! We are at war! – But why are you here? Where is your kin?"
"They are gone," the elleth answered.
"Gone?… I-... am sorry…" the girl uttered, her eyes widening. She took a deep sigh, and sorrow veiled the bright grey of her eyes. "I know of loss... my parents died, when I was but a child."
The revelation struck the elleth, and she found that she had no words to offer. She bowed her head in respect for the girl who stood before her; one more child sharply marked by the cruelty of life.
The girl answered with a soft smile. "My uncle cared well for me and my brother, he and my cousin are our beloved family."
But then her eyes turned earnest and questioning again. "But you? Why are you here, all alone?" she insisted, "Did you flee? Flee the darkness and the war?" The girl pressed on.
So many questions all at once asked by this young one… How could she give answers that she herself did not even have? She knew not why, but there was such a genuine honesty about this girl that she sincerely wished to share more with her.
She felt such sympathy for this young woman, who still dared to hope and dream and be fierce, despite the mark fate had left on her.
And she remembered that she had also once dreamt and hoped.
Deep down she felt that Arda needed that. Young ones with dreams and hope and determination. And she decided that it was worth supporting, for there was unbound strength in it.
"I am not a warrior, but I did fight. Healing is like battle. It is a fight. A hard fight against misery, against pain, against death. You can lose or you can win. And every time you lose, with the one dying, something dies within. But when you win, the life of the one you saved revives your soul. And you will carry on. - I will never flee the war."
Éowyn could see tears well in the elleth's eyes before she quickly blinked them away.
It felt so strange; here stood a being so old as she had never seen in her life, carrying a weight of years and knowledge she could not fathom.
And yet she looked so deceptively young in that moment. The sudden moisture in her dark eyes made Éowyn's heart constrict. Caught in her grief, fighting back tears, she looked like a girl barely older than herself, and Éowyn felt the urge to comfort her.
She stepped forward taking her hand and squeezed it gently.
The elleth allowed it, just briefly shutting her eyes, and then gazing back directly into hers with her deep black ones. Something about them looked lost, piercing, grieving and empty all at once and it made Éowyn shiver. She found it hard to stand that dark stare.
But despite herself, she smiled.
"My name is Éowyn, I am the niece of the King of Rohan," she offered.
The elleth nodded in acknowledgement. Her gaze softened, but she did not smile as she replied in a low voice, "I am Mîaddar, of the Sirith, the Elves of the South."
Éowyn knew not what to do with the information. She had never met an elf before, nor had she known until now that Elves dwelled in the South. But the maiden of Rohan found it of no importance where this one hailed from, or that she looked different.
"You say you are a healer… come with me, there will be purpose for you. My people are in need. We are at war already."
The elleth took a deep breath, still staring at her. And it was to Éowyn as though a flicker passed through her dark eyes.
Was it hope? Was it a flash of light?
But the sadness immediately reclaimed its place. And even as the elleth stood tall before her, her whole being seemed to slump with heavy uncertainty.
"But your people… will they accept me in their midst?" she whispered.
"As certain as the war lasts, with time, they will," Éowyn said confidently.
The elleth regarded her with an unreadable look, unblinking and steady. And then she nodded. "I will come," she said, "I promise."
Mîaddar felt her own breath quicken in a surge of hopeful excitement, but even as she strangely trusted that unknown girl, she was uncertain about revealing emotions to her. So, bowing her head, her hand to her heart, she then turned, concealing her face as she slightly blushed with a sudden surge of energy.
She walked away leaving the young woman behind, feeling her stare burning into her back as she went.
"Where are you going?... You said you will come…!" she heard her call out. It made her stop in her stride, and turn back again to meet those fierce, hopeful eyes.
"I will… but not now… The fenced city on the hill, is it not? - When it calls I will heed it."
And this time she turned and ran, without glancing back again. Only once the girl could see her no more she slowed and took off her boots to feel the grass under her feet. She breathed the breeze that was carried over the hills, and she was suddenly incredibly thankful to this young woman, Éowyn, for she had offered her the next stage in her journey, her next purpose.
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