In the camp beyond the Bridge, Freiga was having a bad time of it. In the short time Logi had been with the Tribe, he had made himself universally hated, as much for his arrogance as for his treachery. While he was with her, Freiga had been too wrapped up in him to notice, but now, with the camp reduced to women and those males too young or too old to fight, she found folk she had known all her life grown cold to her.
Besides that, she was ill. With both men and horses gone, the women spent their days foraging for food. They hunted berries and edible roots, and set snares for small animals; they fished in the river and dug up turtle eggs. They left the camp as soon as it was light, the old women rousting everyone out of the tents, making certain that no one shirked. When Logi had been gone a week, the woman who came to get Freiga found her throwing up outside her tent.
"What's wrong, girl, get the wrong mushroom, did you? You'd better take some purging medicine."
"No," Freiga gasped. "I haven't had any mushrooms. I'm all right." She rinsed her mouth with water and spat it out. "I'm coming." She followed the older woman, but all day long her stomach churned and she could not bear the thought of food.
In the days that followed, she felt no better. She ate sparingly, trying to avoid the nausea, and then one day her aunt, who was bosom friend to the chieftain's woman, came to her while she was digging cattail roots.
"You're white as a fishbelly, girl, and getting skinny. How long since you had your moon-sickness?"
Freiga sat back on her heels, counting on her fingers. Her aunt watched and nodded.
"You're breeding. Take my advice; get rid of it."
"No! Why? Logi will be glad of it, as I am!" Freiga was disturbed that she had not realized on her own what was wrong with her. But it's my first, she reasoned. Next time I'll know.
"The greyskin will have no chance of being glad." Her aunt's voice broke harshly on her thoughts. "We've seen the last of him, and no other man is going to raise his whelp. Come, I'll help you find the herbs you need."
Freiga jumped up. "What are you saying? Logi is a strong warrior; there's no one quicker with the sword! Why should he not come back?"
The woman grunted in disgust. "He is no part of the Tribe, girl! He has no clan, he has no brothers here, however many of his own he burns. The Chief has passed the word: he will not return." Her hand closed like a trap on Freiga's wrist.
"What were you thinking of, to give yourself to such? You're my dead sister's only child, or I'd have naught to do with you. Now show some sense; we're rid of the father, let's be rid of the brat."
"No!" Freiga tore herself free, not looking where she was going, the soft mud sucking at her feet. Her aunt's voice rang behind her, pitiless.
"Bring that babe to birth, and no true man will have you! And don't think you'll be allowed to keep it – the Tribe won't suffer that misbegotten cur to run with our own pups! Take warning, Freiga; the child will be exposed and your life ruined. You'd better let me help you."
"No – no – "
She blundered away, her aunt ranting behind her until she was past hearing. Blindly she found her way back to the camp, to the empty tent that she had shared with Logi, and rolled up some dried meat and her spare garment in a cloak, tying it to her back.
They would not let her leave; she belonged to them, as they belonged to her – but now no longer. The Chief had passed the word – that was Logi's death sentence, unless she could find and warn him. And the babe's death sentence as well, the child that an hour ago she had not known existed.
The baby would love her, as she had loved her mother –
Her mother, who died in Freiga's childhood, complaining of bellyache in the morning and dead by night. Freiga had been bereft, child of a father who took small count of females. When she began to blossom into womanhood, young warriors had watched her from the corners of their eyes, and come to pass the evenings at her father's fire. Her father was a man with influence. A young man of ambition could do worse for himself than courting Gwanuc's daughter.
Her father had encouraged them all and made promises to none, and many gifts of precious furs and black obsidian arrowheads had found their way to his tent. At last he settled on a tall blond named Marog, with ice blue eyes that ran over Freiga appraisingly before he shifted his attention back to her father. With flattering respect he hung on the old man's words and laughed at all his jokes, and Freiga hugged herself in the shadows, feeling violated without understanding why. Marog would have been her husband, if Logi had not come.
The Orc's ugly countenance had lighted when he saw her, reminding Freiga strangely of her mother, whose gentle face had worn the same tender expression. Even now – since Haldar's burning Logi had turned brutal, but whether he used her well or ill, she mattered to him; he was not indifferent. Logi's eyes were never cold.
Sometimes he frightened her. He handled her roughly, until she suspected half his pleasure came from hurting her. Once he grabbed the Jewel she still wore round her neck, twisting the chain so tight around her throat that it bit into her flesh and she began to choke.
"I should take it back," he growled, but then he let go. "No, keep it. Perhaps it will bring you peace, as Adah promised. It never brought me any." And then he'd kissed her, long and deep, and for a moment she felt loved again, in spite of his ferocity.
They would slay him, him and the babe alike. But this was her child, and Logi was her mate – they were all she had, and she would not suffer the Tribe to take them from her. She peered out cautiously from behind the tent-flap, but no one was watching. Softly she crept away into the forest, and it never crossed her mind that she was doing what Logi had asked of her in the beginning. If she had gone with him then, there had been no call for him to burn his friend.
She stayed off the path in case anyone came along. When she came to the blackened hulk of Bridge Fort she did not look inside, but among the trees she nearly fell over what remained of a man, an arrow in his back. The scavengers had been busy, and she pressed her hand to her mouth and hurried past; a few yards farther she was sick again.
The broken bridge was a setback. She slipped and skidded down the bank to the water, hoping to find that she could swim across, but the current was too swift, swirling around the footings of the bridge, and when she tried the depth with a branch, she could not touch the bottom. She climbed the bank again and walked along it, watching for a place where she could cross.
Something moved among the trees off to her left, and she dropped to the ground, motionless but for her eyes darting back and forth. A stick cracked and there was a blowing sound. She stared into the woods, and then she pushed up slowly to her knees.
"Don't be afraid." She made her voice clear and winsome, and kissed the back of her hand noisily. "Come, pretty one, it's only me. Freiga wouldn't hurt you." She got to her feet carefully and moved toward the place where she had heard the sounds, slow, fluid steps, nothing quick or sudden. "Come on, then, petty; I'll take care of you."
She waited, and after several minutes a long head pushed out between the bushes; the neck and body followed, and the horse came to her outstretched hand. It was so caked with mud and – something else – that she could hardly tell its color.
"Poor thing, did you lose your master?" Freiga ran her hand along the animal's neck, and it shuddered. "You can be my horse, then, for I need one badly. What shall I call you?" The mare still wore a leather bridle trimmed with bronze. Freiga slid her hand under it and stroked the long face, crooning endearments and soothing nonsense. Gradually the animal calmed, until she would accept a handful of grass from Freiga's palm.
"I'll call you Hrasfa. You need a bath, and I need to cross the river. Come." She tugged gently at the harness, and after a slight hesitation the mare let her lead the way to a place where the riverbank was low. Freiga waited till the animal drank her fill, then she gave a running jump onto the horse's back. She kicked and chirruped encouragement, and they waded into the river.
All her life she had listened to warrior tales. From a distance (for women were not permitted round the war-fires) she had heard the drumming, men boasting of their deeds in battle – blood and burning, the shrieks of the dying. It was nothing to her; it was what men did when they were absent from the camp, when they were not out hunting. Her work was finding food and herding horses, scraping the hair from skins to make their clothes, hers and her father's. She had never seen a burning until Logi paid her bride-price, and that had been quickly over – too quickly for some of the Tribe, who grumbled afterward.
But once she came out on the Shire side of the river, she learned the truth of war. All along the way the dead sprawled where they'd fallen, unburied, ravaged by weather and scavengers. Most of them were not her people, but by the time she reached the Road she'd seen more than enough of death, and her pity had grown to encompass every corpse she saw. More than once she had to dismount and go aside to vomit.
She had wondered how she would know which way to go, but the trail was ghastly clear. A day's journey from the river, reluctantly she entered a village to look for water, reasoning that they must have had a well. The place still stank of fire, but to her relief there were no bodies – the inhabitants must have run away in time.
The gardens were trampled mud, but outside the village the fields stretched green and golden, the early wheat rippling under a gentle breeze. The sky was startling blue, spacious and deep, and she held the reins loosely, letting Hrasfa choose her own way along the road. But her hurrying thoughts would not leave her long in peace.
What will we do when I find him? We'll have to flee, but where? She gazed around the sunny countryside, a row of trees standing tall along the horizon, a sparkling brook meandering across a field. This is so peaceful – I wish that we could stay. But this was the land the Tribe had come to take; there would be no peace here for her and Logi, or for their child.
She slept in the open, a stone's throw from the road; it was warm enough not to need a fire, and she kindled none. The dried meat needed no cooking, and she had helped herself from berry patches when she passed them. But on the third day she felt more than heard a troop of horses coming, and seized with panic she dashed toward a grove of trees on the far side of the field. There she hid trembling, waiting in dread to see who came and ready to fly again if they had seen her.
The army that presently appeared was not her own. The men rode in ordered ranks, their polished shields white-flashing in the sun, their raiment so shining they seemed to be clothed in light. Like Logi's metal shirt, she thought in wonder; the warriors of the Tribe did not have chainmail.
They did not see her. Along the road they passed, a numerous company, but not so many as the Tribe, not near so many. These were the Guardians, and they were going to die; they would lie unburied in field and forest, like the others she had seen. Tears filled her eyes. They were so beautiful, as the Shining One had been, and riding to their slaughter.
They passed and the road was empty, but she did not return to it. It seemed too open to be safe, and she could follow its course from a distance, watching for the smoke of burning villages. That would be sign enough that she had found the Tribe.
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.