3. Part Three
I did not remember, at first, any use for an axe other than chopping wood-- because I could not remember doing anything other than just that. I did not know what else one would use the steel edge to cut. It would not break the iron collar about my neck, I know that.
But when I stopped to breathe, when I withdrew the axe with the heel of my hand and a sliver of blood cut through my palm, then I remembered.
Dark faces surrounding me, some the grotesque nightmare images of Orcs, others with the frighteningly human features of Easterlings. Two, three at a time they lunge toward me, black scimitars and broad, blood-stained swords jabbing near my gut, swinging at my head. My hands, tight around the rough firmness of a wooden handle, moving of their own accord-- sweeping in short, fierce strokes. A startling jolt when the blade embeds in the chest of a goblin-- I stumble, struggle to wrench it out. Blinding sparks of pain when a steel edge gashes my forearm. A spray of rank blood as I throw my weight aside and swing the axe into the attacker's skull . . .
My throat constricts in gasps of breath and my fingers fly open, dropping the axe to the grass. Furiously I glance around the clearing, darting over the fallen tree trunks-- and there are two guards, leather-clad and armed with whips and swords, one to my far right and another behind me. They will see me, they will see I have an axe, they will take it and use it on me . . .
"Pick it up," sounds a wheeze to my left. It is a man-- I think. It could be a boy. He has no hair, I could not tell you if it has fallen out or been shaved. His limbs are long, lanky, his eyes pitted into his head like stones gouged into a face of earth. He stands over a log, chopping branches from the trunk. "Pick it up and work, or they will beat you. Have you learned nothing here?"
I crouch and pick up the axe, because he told me to. And I stand, stretching and bending my arms as though I intend to strike though there is no tree in front of me. "What is your name?" I ask. I wonder how old he is . . . I wonder how long he has been here . . . I wonder if he lived with his mother and father, and how many brothers and sisters he had, and if he loved to hunt or fish, and if he was in love . . .
He spares me only a brief, nervous glance. "Work," he breathes again. I stare at him in wonder, for his voice is like music-- it pitches high and low in rapid succession, punctuated by short, heavy breath, and a rattle in the back of his throat.
"Please-- please tell me your name." Tell me your name and your father's name and your mother's name, tell me the name of your favourite hound or of a bird or a river or a mountain, only please do not stop speaking to me . . .
He shakes his head, coughs, bending over the log. "Work, you fool! They will hurt me if they hear you speak to me-- you will kill me."
And I chop, frantically, because I am afraid they will kill him, and I love him, so dearly, so dearly. I shift the axe handle in my grasp, feeling the familiar firmness beneath my hands, and I remember! I had forgotten that I remember. I remember what one can do with an axe.
"I remember," I say it aloud, for he will be glad, he will be glad that I remember, for I am going to save his life. He does not hear me though-- he does not look up. "I am going to kill them-- I am going to escape," I add, a little louder so that he will hear me. He turns on me, his mouth slack, and I am glad, so glad.
"Fool boy! You will not get ten paces before they kill you!" His eyes dart behind us to one of the guards. I watch the spit fly from his mouth as he speaks.
"I will kill them," I repeat-- perhaps he did not hear it. "Help me-- we will slay them both and escape."
"They will kill us," he grates, and his eyes are wet with fear as he grips my arm. "They will kill us all."
"Help me," I say.
"You have no chance with two-- with one, maybe, but there are two. They will kill you."
I stare at him in frustration, feeling his grip curling tighter into my arm. "Help me," I say again, for I only want him to come with me, I only want him to live.
"They will catch you!" he hisses, and he yanks on my arm.
He is trying to stop me, I realize in sudden fear. He may alert the guards-- he may call out-- he may stop me from escaping.
I should kill him.
I bend my arms, raising the axe as I look at him. It will take but a second-- he is weak and can offer no resistance. Then I will turn to the guard at my back and slay him as he runs toward me, and then I will wait for the other guard to come to me and kill him too. And then I will run, and I will not stop running.
"Stay," he wheezes, patting my arm. "Stay."
Annael looking down at me, his grey eyes wide and bright with emotion. "Stay," he whispers sharply. "Tuor! Stay!"
Could I kill Annael?
No. I could not.
But he taught me to flee, and that I can do.
"Work," I say to the slave, shoving him away from me. It is agony-- I feel like he pulls out something from inside of me as he steps back. It is agony to move away from him. But I must, I will, I will run from here, I will run before reason deserts me and I kill the slave.
I look to the guard behind me-- he does not return my gaze, for he is barking orders to another thrall. Now is the time. Can I leave the slave, can I leave him behind? I do not want to. I am tired, so tired, of doing things that I do not want to.
I hear a whisper.
I wish I had told Annael goodbye. Perhaps it would have made his agony less.
The breath leaves his lungs in one heavy whoosh as I smack the axe into his back. A thrill trembles up my arms at the impact-- but he is not dead, not yet. I dislodge the axe and the guard turns, his face contorted in pain, his hand flying to the sword hanging at his belt. I bury the axe in his chest.
Instinct . . .
He falls. Manic joy pumps through my veins, and I feel my muscles trembling, my eyes twitching. He is dead. I am almost free. He is dead. I can run.
Wisdom . . .
One left. There is still one left. I must kill him before I am free, before I can run. I must defeat him. I must think.
I whirl around, tearing my eyes from the blood dripping off the steel head of the axe in my hands. The other guard is charging toward me, faster than his bulk should have allowed. He does not reach for his sword, as I had hoped-- his hand has uncoiled his whip, and it twists the air, reaching for me.
I cannot stay.
I throw myself to the side, rolling onto my knees as the whip cracks atop my head. I lunge for him, my axe forward-- I am not close enough.
He turns. The whip snaps around my middle, driving out my breath, burning my skin. The force propels me, I fall on my face.
I am close enough.
I rear up and throw the axe into his belly.
Freedom . . .
Branches slap my face but it seems a welcome, the warmest caresses from rough green fingers, urging me onward. The ground climbs and falls beneath me, rocks jutting into my feet, stumps throwing me to the ground in spite. But I get up, I run. I must run. I must go, I must find--
Annael! I squeeze my eyes shut briefly, but open them with a gasp for air. If I could but hear his voice, I would remember his words. What did he tell me of? I would find it, I said. No, not it-- him, I would find him. And a gate-- and Elven-gate we sought. The Gate of the Noldor.
I hear shouting. Were there other guards nearby? Of course there were-- there were other labourers, other slaves, they would not be without guard. They will send hounds.
Something crashes through the underbrush behind me-- and then something runs at my heels. Something snags fast the back of my breeches and I lurch to a halt, looking back in fear.
It is Haldad. I hold down my palm and his teeth release my pants, his tail beginning to wag. His wet nose presses into my hand and he licks it, and I think I could stand and let him lick forever, except that I know I must run.
"Home," I command, loudly so he does not mistake my tone, and I point in the direction of Lorgan's home. He looks at me-- one long, last look of perfect love-- and then he turns and runs from me.
"Goodbye, Haldad," I murmur. It will be easier for him.
What might I say to make it easier for me?
Annael . . .
My throat burns, my chest aching as I pump my legs once more, leaping over log and dodging tree. I know not where I go-- I am driven by so many forces my head spins in thoughtless impulses. But there is one that I would obey--
I will find the Gate of the Noldor, that we sought so long ago.
But first I will find water.
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.