"And did the cries of children and women rise into the evil-thick air; a call for innocence lost and mercy ungiven..."
The loud splintering crack of stone seemed to shake the very earth itself; indeed the cobbled street trembled beneath her feet and surrounding buildings shuddered under the mighty assault. The countryside refuges that cluttered the third district froze, clutching at each other, and screamed in their terror. She clasped her parcel to her chest tightly as she was thrown to the stones by the panicking crowd, careful not to crush the precious package. It had taken much cajoling for the soldier to part with it, and to have it destroyed before she could even reach home would make her efforts wasted ones. The cool stone was damp beneath her cheek as she lay crushed under the weight of trembling others and her dark hair, having come unbound, veiled her vision.
The end of the world was nigh. Gone was the beauty and goodness she had once thought to be both as solid and immortal as the pale marble that housed and protected she and her family, for it was smothered under the weight of the rank and fetid darkness that rose out of the east. She could feel the taint of the shadow on her skin as it invaded her very being with oily phantom fingers that touched and prodded till she felt sick from its violation.
But still, she fought. The time would soon enough come when she must face the evils that called from beyond the walls. She, like the many other innocents of the city, would make her last stand against the flood of death and defend the last of which she loved with valor to match that of the men already passed. Rising to her feet, her precious burden in hand, she pushed away the darkness, eluding its touch with the renowned pride of her forefathers. She would not let it touch her this day.
Ignoring the hem of her dress that dragged in the dirt and muck, she quickly thrust her way through the frightened crowd till she came to the alleyway she knew would lead her home. As she maneuvered through the lane that lay crowded with workhouse crates and barrels, she glanced behind her for other travelers but, to her relief, none ventured this way with her. The bread she carried felt hard within the cloth she had wrapped about it, and she had no doubt it was stale; but her family had nothing of which to eat and stale bread would be a welcome addition to their empty plates indeed. She clutched it closer to her chest and hurried, desperate to reach the home of her parents. The sounds of terror were muted within the tight alley and her booted footsteps sounded loud to her ears as they echoed her flight against the tall marble walls. With the unnatural quiet surrounding her, it was almost possible to believe it all a dream.
It was a pleasant fantasy, and one too quickly slain as she exited the narrow lane.
Destruction reigned within the silent courtyard as the toppled remains of some unfortunate tower lay crumbled before her. The pale marble, looking grey in the endless muted dusk that covered the skies, was shattered upon the cobbled street and even had displaced many of the stones that lined the street, revealing the dark earth beneath. The shock of darkness against the ashen stone was harsh, and it felt as if a great hole had opened up beneath the fallen tower. Hot tears pricked her eyes as she sighted an arm, unnaturally bent. This war was costly. More costly than what her people could afford.
Clutching her parcel to her breast, she quickly skirted the dashed marble, intent on her path home but she stopped abruptly when a faint sound reached her ears. When another moan resonated through air that was already thick with the cries of those beyond the walls, she gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. Sweet Erebeth, a soul lived within the destruction. She quickly looked about her, but the square was empty of life save she. She knew it was likely that she would be unable to rescue the person trapped within the rubble, but she could not simply leave them without attempting to free them from their prison. In the very least, perhaps they would be comforted to know that another cared for them and had tried to help.
Setting the wrapped loaf of bread carefully atop a large nearby chunk of marble, she neared the destroyed tower tentatively, calling to those inside. "Hello? Can you hear me?" she said loudly, attempting with sheer determination to mask the tremble of her voice. Her only answer was one of another groan, but it was enough to know that they still lived.
She began to work slowly, the stone bitterly cold beneath her fingers. She removed the smaller chunks of rubble first, unsure how she would move the larger and heavier marble. As the small stones quickly passed into larger stones, she could feel the muscles in her back burn and cry out with disuse. It was hard work and the marble bit her fingers, forcing her to bite her bottom lip against the ache.
The moans within the rubble had lost their edge of incoherency; and to her ears the man inside seemed to be more lucid. She spoke softly to him as she worked, both for his comfort and hers, telling him her name and where she lived. She told him of her father and four brothers, all gone- lost to the darkness- and told him how she, her mother and her remaining sister had boarded themselves up into their small home in search of any sort of safety. It was soothing to speak aloud and she hoped it was just as comforting for he as well.
As she straightened some minutes later to brush her unplaited hair wearily out of her eyes, a wave of footsteps echoed through the empty courtyard. Turning to the sound of the noise, she dimly was able to distinguish the shapes several people making their way through the alley she herself had traversed. Her hopes rose as they neared and clasping her hands to her breast, she rushed to meet them.
"Oh please," she said quickly when they were near, her tone pleading and desperate in the chilled air, "help me. There is a man trapped within the fallen tower, and I cannot rescue him alone. I am but one woman, and I fear not strong enough to move the heavy blocks of stone."
"We cannot help you," the eldest woman said, her grey eyes darting warily to the crumpled tower. "We have troubles of our own. We would be of little use to your undertaking."
"Please," she begged. "If we worked together, surely we could lift the heavy stone..." she broke off, her mind whirling as she endeavored to think of something, anything, to convince them. As they began to brush past her, continuing their way, she grabbed the eldest woman's robes. "I have bread!" she said urgently. "I'll share with you and yours if you stay and help this man with me."
Her words stopped them immediately. One of the women turned to look at her. "You have food?" she asked, disbelief in her voice.
"I do, and..." she hesitated, knowing her own family needed that food. "I'll give you half if you help." It pained her to offer such wealth, but she would not stand by and let another of her people fall if it was within her power to offer help. They seemed to debate among themselves silently- wanting the food, but unwilling to stop their journey. "Please," she said, repeating herself, "help us."
When they nodded wordlessly in assent, happy warmth spread through her being. Quickly, before they could retract their arrangement, she directed them to the largest rock that held the man down. If only they could remove this obstacle, then perhaps he would survive.
It took six women, herself included, to lift the boulder, and still its massive weight made them stumble and their muscles tremble. When at last it was free, she couched in the rubble while the other worked at removing other smaller, yet still large, stones- her eyes seeking life within the shadows. Her hard work and determination was rewarded when her gaze fell on the man inside. He looked wearier then she herself felt and his face was grey and ashen. Though the lower portion of his body was pinned by the heavy rock, she could see that his limbs were not crushed as she had feared and one arm lay completely unpinned by the stone. His eyes were on her and she smiled, reaching for the unhindered hand, sending a grateful prayer to the gods for his good fortune.
"We're going to get you out," she breathed excitedly, for the first time believing it possible. "You'll be free of this come nightfall-"
Her words were interrupted when the city shuddered violently beneath her, throwing her aside as it rocked beneath an assault. Those that helped her cried out in fear, dropping the stones they carried and running for shelter unknown. "Wait!" she cried, struggling to her feet, her dress catching on the sharp point of stone and slowing her scramble. "Do not flee! I still need your help!" Tears blurred her vision. "Please!" she called desperately, but it was too late for they had vanished as if they had never been.
She stared after them in despair. How could they leave when another so obviously needed their help? Did they not care? She knew they were afraid, but she too was scared, though she refused to flee. Her gaze fell on an empty boulder of marble. They had taken her bread! Tears fell freely upon her cheeks. Now not only would this man remain trapped beneath the marble, but her family would not eat, despite all the trouble she had undergone to obtain the small loaf of stale bread.
She wiped at her cheeks angrily. She would not leave this man; she would not be like them. Crouching amid the stern broken blocks of stone, she looked at him with tearstained eyes.
"Do not weep," he whispered, his voice harsh and strained. "The end will come soon."
She smiled at him through her tears and tenderly grasped the hand that lay free of the marble's clutch, both offering and taking comfort. "I will stay with you until that time then," she said, her voice trembling, but resolute.
He smiled and hissed with pain the action caused. "You are a brave woman. The world has fallen into shadow and yet you do not leave." He smiled at her painfully once more. "You are braver then some men."
She bit her lip as she watched his face transform into an expression of agony and squeezed his hand soothingly. She thought him to be handsome and despaired at fortune who would have them meet in the midst of tragedy. "Wait for me," she whispered fearfully. "Do not pass until death comes for me also." Fresh tears warmed her numb cheeks. "I do not think I could bear lingering in this world and face the terror that waits beyond alone."
He looked at her, his eyes bright with pain and something else. "I would not leave you to confront the darkness unaided milady."
She could only nod her thanks and hang on to his handclasp as emotion clutched at her throat and another rumble shook the city. The evil outside the walls cried out in pleasure.
Together, they waited for the end of the world.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.