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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.
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