2. Seeing Red
It was a beautiful day and the road before them was fair. The company rode, laughing and conversing, beneath green foliage pierced here and there with slanting sunbeams. Nevhithien alone was silent as she rode, content to look about her and to feel joy at the prospect of Rivendell. Rivendell, Rivendell! The word was like the refrain in a song and she was sure that she might compose one with quiet and with a little effort. She could think of any number of rhymes but wanted nothing that was trite or that did not have the same loveliness as Rivendell, Rivendell! Her lips moved with her thoughts.
"You see? I do not believe she has said a word since she bid her sisters farewell." Riding behind her daughter, Thalawen spoke in a low voice tinged with chagrin.
"And yet what would you have us do?" asked practical Fírhador as he walking beside his wife's dappled palfrey. "It is early yet in the trip. She will grow bored and look for speaking companions soon enough." Looking ahead again he blinked and began to smile. "Or one shall look for her."
'And would I ever there might dwell, In Rivendell! In Rivendell!' Nay, trite is the only word fit to describe such drivel…Nevhithien shook her head in irritation before a low laugh made her turn it abruptly.
A young Elf, one of their escort, was riding alongside her. "Forgive me, I did not mean to startle you. It is only that you looked so consumed in thought—it piqued my interest. Afrted."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Afrted. It is my name."
He waited, then inquired delicately, "And you are…?"
"Oh. I am Nevhithien, daughter of Fírhador and of Thalawen." This was the appropriate response to such a question since she was juvenile and not yet of age.
"Nevhithien." He spoke her name as if he savored it deeply, much as she had savored 'Rivendell.' "It is a lovely name."
"It is sufficient unto its purpose, I suppose."
He blinked. "'Sufficient unto its purpose'—what an odd way to speak of one's name."
She shrugged. "How else may one speak of it? Is there anything more mundane than one's own name? I am afraid I have not been in a position to see it otherwise for a very long time."
"Then I will be the judge and tell you it is lovely," said Afrted with firmness.
"That is good of you," she said. "I wish that I could say the same of yours."
"Oh! Stung!" he cried, clapping a hand to his cheek, and his horse whinnied as if it were amused. "You do have a tongue in you," he said.
She blinked at him, puzzled. Why was he talking to her? He looked barely more than her age but must have been older to be a scout. Perhaps he was trying to be polite by talking to the one girl who was so quiet. Yet…he looked at her as if he were truly interested in her. His hair was ashen blond and clung in tight curls to his head; his eyes were gray and forthright and, to Nevhithien, wholly disconcerting. He might have ridden with any of the other young ladies in this company and they would have been thrilled by his attention. Nevhithien, however, was confused.
Not too confused for a comeback, though. "You hear that I have a tongue, which means that you have ears," she said with mild sarcasm. "Remarkable that two such as we exist, with ears and tongues! Truly there are strange things in this world."
"And in the same company no less," he answered her right back. "I say! How fortuitous it is that we should meet thus—you with your tongue and I with my ears."
Nevhithien gave a sharp laugh. "This conversation is foolish."
"If it is then it can only be applauded, for I am enjoying it immensely.
"I—" The Elf maiden blushed all the way to her slender ear tips. It was an unfamiliar feeling but not unpleasant. Outgoing enough with those she knew, she was rarely at her ease with strangers. She found those unknown to her difficult to read; she was also not around many males aside from her father, yet it had become obvious, even to her, that Afrted was flirting with her. She couldn't think why. She was adolescent, coltish and too absorbed in her own private thoughts to interest persons of the opposite sex. What could possibly have drawn his attention?
Nevhithien did not realize that the idea she had of herself bore little resemblance to the maiden currently riding sidesaddle. Her old coltishness had given way to the curves and unconscious grace of womanhood—she had not the great beauty of her mother or older sisters, but she was pretty and looked older than her years. Introspective as she was, her seeming gravity lent an impression of maturity, even mystery, that Afrted had found alluring. Now, as they conversed, he found her discourse more delightful than the looks that had drawn him.
Behind the two, Fírhador's eyes flashed up at his wife merrily. "You see how these things work out? And you were worried. Well! Now you have nothing with which to concern yourself."
He had, at first, no reply. Then…
:He is too old for her,: Thalawen thought-sent grimly.
Her much put-upon husband groaned.
They had been speaking for some miles now and Nevhithien was beginning to relax and to enjoy herself. Afrted, as it turned out, really wasn't all that much older than her—he had reached his majority the year before and immediately joined with the border patrol. "I am not suited to an easy life indoors," he told her. "I have never been able to sit still for long. I do not think I have seen my family for two days together in the time since I joined."
"And you do not miss them terribly?"
"Not a bit. They cosset me so when I visit that I cannot wait to be away again," he said. "I suppose that sounds terrible to you."
"Oh, it does not," she assured him absently, but for the first time since leaving that morning she was thinking of her two young sisters and how they had waved to her as she left. She looked back and saw her father walking beside her mother, the two of them wrapped in conversation. "Is the border far?" she asked, feeling the approaching sadness of her father's departure. She was a little guilty not to have spoken with him since they had set out, especially since she would be gone for so long! But Afrted's unexpected banter had entertained her so, she had honestly not thought of anything else.
"Not at all," the Elf said cheerfully, unaware of the bent of her thoughts. "We shall be there in less than ten minutes." He straightened suddenly in the saddle. "Ah," he said, gazing ahead intently, "I must leave you now: I am summoned." He pressed his heels lightly to his horse's flanks and the animal snorted and broke into a brisk trot.
Nevhithien watched him ride on ahead, admiring his fine seat and easy command of his mount. He is fair to look upon, she thought, but better than that, he is good to converse with. He was prettier than she favored as a rule but she thought that Leni would have liked his looks well enough, and she thought that he was someone she herself would like for a friend. Afrted had told her that he planned to bide a time in Rivendell after their journey's end: that he knew Rivendell and had friends there. Perhaps, if she liked, he might show her around on their arrival…?
Nevhithien decided she would like that very much.
Suddenly she felt an eerie prickling at the back of her neck. She looked behind her but saw only her parents, and the rest of their little train: Elven folk astride their mounts, and pack animals piled with baggage. Her eyes narrowed. She looked ahead again and saw Afrted and the other scout riding very close together as though they conversed urgently. She wondered what it was that gave her such a strange feeling, as though someone far away had called her name.
Then something dark hissed past her ear and she gasped, and her horse shied, and she heard her mother cry out behind her. "Nevhithien!"
"Thalawen, stay calm!" barked Fírhador, breaking away from his wife's side and running forward.
Níthir was dancing in place, snorting anxiously and making little attempts to rear and to wheel—Nevhithien, confused and not really understanding what had happened, had her hands full just trying to get her mount under control. It was only when her father ran up and caught the bridle that the animal calmed enough for Nevhithien to look and see the tree beside her, and to see the black-fletched arrow that protruded from it.
Fírhador reached towards it but dropped his hand before he touched it, spitting out a single word: "Yrch!"
Nevhithien's eyes widened—behind her, she heard her mother moan and one of the other women shriek, amid other sounds of astonishment and dismay. Fírhador looked around them in a quick, grim manner, his eyes gone sharp and narrow. When they passed over Nevhithien she almost flinched: she had never seen her father look like this before.
Little wonder, for at that moment Fírhador stood, not beside his daughter, but beside old comrades: Elves and Warrior-Men with sword and bow, preparing to face the beasts of Gorthaur on the field of battle. Then the sounds of Nevhithien gasping in belated shock brought him back to himself. "Are you all right?" he asked curtly.
There was a pounding of hooves as the two scouts he had met the night before rode back to join them. "Sweet Valar," cried the one who had been speaking with Nevhithien as the other yanked the arrow from the tree with a cry of contempt.
Idiotic young pup, thought Fírhador, blaming Afrted for his daughter's close escape, knowing that he was unjust to do so and not caring a whit.
The two Elves who had been riding at the flank joined them: older than the scouts, of which Fírhador was grimly glad. "Which direction did it come from?" demanded Túchir, seeing the arrow in the scout's hand. He was of stocky build for an Elf, craggy featured and broad shouldered. He had been likened on more than one occasion to a Dwarf, but never within hearing distance. He was also known for a doughty fighter and for a level head in a tight spot.
There was laughter through the trees: not so much laughter as a kind of guttural rough sniggering—so spiteful, so vulgar, so banal that it could never have emerged from the throats of Elves or of Men. "That direction," said Fírhador with black gallows' humor.
Túchir laughed a harsh laugh of his own. "Well then," he said, "if they have come looking for trouble they have found it." There were grim murmurs of assent among them, Fírhador included.
Nevhithien, hands white-knuckled on her horse's reins, shuddered. "Nevhithien, go to your mother," said Fírhador.
:Go with her, son of Fimornon.:
Fírhador looked up at Túchir sharply. :I will fight.:
:You have brought neither weapon nor mount. You are useless to us. Go with your daughter.:
:And leave you with these striplings?!:
:These striplings are grown Elves and armed! Go with your daughter. Go to your wife.: Túchir and the other three Elves wheeled and cantered into the woods. Fírhador was left staring after them, angry and helpless.
Nevhithien, unaware of the heated exchange behind her, was doing her father's bidding. Her mare was skittery and nervous and it did not help that Nevhithien was so as well, but with meaningless soothing sounds and a firm hand on the reins she was able to turn the animal, coaxing it around and into a trot to join with her mother and the rest of the travelers. Some of the others in their party—young ellith like Nevhithien for the most part, journeying to Rivendell to make their debuts in society—looked terrified. Her mother, in contrast, looked frightened but not panicky, mouth drawn but eyes resolute. She was no hapless maiden but Nevhithien's mother, self-contained even in her distress.
Seeing this, Nevhithien felt some of her own fear…well, not dissipate, really, but she did feel that she ought to put up a brave front. "Hah. I suppose this is adventure," she said with forced cheer. "I do not think I like it."
"Wise of you," purred an evil voice to her right—a bare instant before the head of an axe split her horse's side.
Níthir let out a scream such as Nevhithien would never forget and foundered, falling forward to her knees. Nevhithien lost her seat and fell, only to have her lower body crushed beneath a heavy flank as the mare fell sidelong, pinning her. She cried out in stunned agony, frantically pushing at the dying animal's writhing bulk and only vaguely aware of the shadowy form looming over her.
When Thalawen saw the hideous Orc attack Nevhithien's horse she reacted unthinkingly. Behind her Elves were screaming as other Orcs emerged from the trees and coarse undergrowth: brutish laughter filled the air but Thalawen did not hear it, surging forward on her steed. The gentle palfrey was no warhorse but when Thalawen shouted and drove her heels in it whinnied frantically and charged the figure menacing her daughter. Thalawen had time to see crimson eye-slits turn on her and widen suddenly: surprised windows on a fiery abyss. And then her horse barreled into it, knocking the vicious monster to the ground. The Orc crumpled in a heap, bloody battleaxe falling from its hands.
Caring naught for the brute that she had slain, Thalawen immediately dismounted, hastening to her daughter. "Nevhithien!"
"Mother, Mother, I am trapped," said her daughter through gritted teeth. They caught at each other's arms as Thalawen gasped and groaned and tried to pull her free. She was so single-minded in her efforts that she heard nothing behind her and did not know her danger until she saw Nevhithien's eyes widen at something over her mother's shoulder. At that moment something heavy clouted Thalawen's head: her world went dark….
Nevhithien stared up horror-stricken as the "dead" Orc smote her mother a terrible blow with its massive fist. Thalawen's eyes rolled in their sockets; it batted her aside, and she fell. Not satisfied with this, the Orc turned and kicked the unconscious Elf woman once, twice, three times, unmindful of Nevhithien's screams for it to stop. Only then did the Orc turn on her again, and her blood froze as it looked upon her and licked its lips with a rasping black tongue.
"Now then," said the Orc in its ugly brand of Common Speech, the blandness of the words obscene in the wake of that moment's violence, "now then…where were we before we were so rudely interrupted…?"
Nevhithien began to struggle with fresh urgency, scrabbling at the dead horse's lifeless body, clawing at the earth in a vain attempt to drag herself free. The Orc laughed and picked up its axe, testing the weapon's heft as it approached her. Nevhithien saw the trail of slaver running down the side of its jutting lower jaw, saw the bright spray of horse blood across its upper body. She was trapped and her mother downed, possibly dead, beneath the attack of the same Orc that now threatened her.
He heard the scream of a dying horse, turned to see his daughter falling to be pinned by her mare. He uttered a fierce cry, running to her, only to find an Orc leaping up in his path with such suddenness as to be nonsensical, as if it had emerged from the very bowels of the earth. It grinned to see he was unarmed, but Fírhador himself had no time to think of that, plowing into the creature. The two fell to the ground—the Orc, taken off guard by the immediacy of his onslaught, snarled and snapped at him. He evaded its sharp teeth, grabbing the creature's neck and slamming its head hard against the packed sod of the road. Goblin skulls are thick, though, and the creature roared and flung him sidelong.
Fírhador did not look to reengage the Orc, all of his thoughts with his daughter. He leapt to his feet, thinking to see the worst; instead he saw his Thalawen riding down Nevhithien's attacker. At that instant he felt, even amid the tumult, a surge of fierce pride in the beautiful Elf woman he had married. And then instinct prompted him to dodge the blade that would have slashed his belly wide as he was engaged in deadly dance by the Orc, which had recovered its footing with the same speed he had.
They circled one another, the Elf with a grim look on his face, the Orc grinning but no longer amused. It would not underestimate him again, Fírhador realized, and he could not trust to further luck…yet nor could he afford to be delayed by the beast while his wife and daughter were in danger!
A flurry of thought in his head: Túchir and the others had realized the two Orc archers in the woods were decoys. Mindful of the ambush behind them, they were riding back with all speed. They will be too late, thought Fírhador with despair. He could hear the screams of Elven women. The Orc took a couple of swings at him. He evaded two but the third cut his arm open. He did not cry out—voicing his pain would only excite the Orc. The Orc was excited anyway, leering to have marked him. Its eyes gleamed and it came at him with redoubled fervor.
Sudden hoof beats, a flash of gray as a horse rode in close beside Fírhador, and the Orc's head left its shoulders in a fountain of black blood as the rider's sword cut a bright arc through the air. "Nevhithien!" cried Afrted. He did not even look at the dumbstruck older Elf he had just assisted, spurring his mount as he rode to aid Fírhador's daughter. "Do not touch her, beast!"
Nevhithien was shuddering with revulsion as the Orc with the red eyes caressed her cheek, its hot breath falling on her face. She knew that it was going to kill her, but it was drawing the matter out, taking pleasure in her fear. The horse that lay across her lower body made the worst impossible, at any rate. The Orc must have been thinking along these lines as well, for it chuckled and stood. "Too bad there isn't time for proper sport," it said with cheerful resignation as it raised its weapon.
Then it looked up suddenly, eyes narrowing. "Oh, not again," it spat and leapt aside, narrowly evading the horse's charge and narrowly evading the same fate that had befallen its comrade bare seconds before. Afrted's blade met only air as he swung. The same could not be said for the Orc's battleaxe, which bit deep into Afrted's thigh.
He gasped and wrenched his horse around: it whinnied and reared, very nearly throwing him off. The Orc stood its ground as Afrted rode at it again: this time it did not leap but took the most casual of steps out of the way, swinging its axe again to catch the Elf scout in his midriff.
Nevhithien saw the bright spray of blood. Saw Afrted's mouth open and close, his face gone white and slack. Saw him fall from the saddle just as she had done. His horse ran on, screaming with terror. Afrted lay where he had fallen, not so very far from her, a bubble of blood coming out of his mouth. He whimpered, this brave warrior, and then the red bubble burst on his lips, and his features went slack and still.
She stared blankly, robbed of sense by the sight of this violent death. She could hear the Orc laughing as it approached her again. And then suddenly there was the interposition of her father's body as Fírhador threw himself between her and the Orc.
"If you want her you will have to go through me," he said in the Common Speech.
The Orc grinned and began to raise its axe, but paused. Fírhador knew what it had heard. More than Túchir and his Elves were converging on the little clearing. The dramatic increase of masculine thought in his head provided all the explanation necessary: a nearby patrol had become aware of their plight and was bare moments from them.
"Yes, flee," he said in a cold voice, "for they are not children who come to fight you." His heart was bitter with grief for Afrted, whose sacrifice had redeemed the young Elf in Fírhador's eyes too late.
The Orc lowered its axe with a look of chagrin. "Dafrim mubaram, skutshokri! Fun's over, boys!" it yelled, turning to lope into the woods.
There was a chorus of jeers and curses at this, at once disappointed and gleeful. Their sport had been brief, but pleasant. They had enjoyed the opportunity to knock some Elven woman from their horses, to spoil and destroy, ransack and rob Elven belongings. They had also killed a few of the women and had badly hurt several more. Still, all good things must come to an end and they did not like the prospect of tangling with Golug warriors. The Orcs dispersed into the thicker woods, where the Elves would have a harder time following on their mounts.
There were few who followed. Some of the patrollers, arriving on the scene, gave chase, but most stayed to help the beleaguered convoy. The dead were quickly covered, the injured cared for. Nevhithien was extricated from beneath the body of her dead horse. Amazingly, aside from a badly wrenched hip and extensive bruising, she was little the worse for wear. She considered herself lucky. One young elleth had two broken arms and a sprained ankle. Another had received a cut to the face; a poultice was quickly applied and it was not thought that she would scar. There was another who had not been physically injured but whose clothes had been ripped from her body. Covering was secured for her but she continued to shudder and weep as her companions endeavored to console her. The Orcs had not had time to do all they might have liked: the maiden had suffered an outrage but had not been violated, of which there was grim gladness. Elves do not survive rape.
Thalawen's condition was the most urgent of the living victims: several of her ribs were broken, and her breathing was shallow and torturous. She was lucky not to have been killed outright by the heavy blow she had received to her head. She gripped her husband's hand painfully as a healer bound her damaged body. Fírhador spoke words of encouragement to her in a low rough voice, caressing her slender fingers with infinite tenderness:
"…my love…my own true one, you were so brave—you preserved our daughter's life. You saved our Nevhithien…."
She did not say anything to him. Her face was drawn with pain, her knuckles white as her fingers pressed into his hand while the bands of cloth were pulled taut over her broken ribs. Only when it was over and she rose painfully, leaning on both Fírhador and the healer for support, did she turn to her husband, looking at him with grave eyes. "Is this the world you fought for?" she asked him quietly.
The healer chose this moment to make a discreet departure. Fírhador looked at his wife. "Thalawen…?"
"You said there would be no trouble, Fírhador."
"I did not think there would be," he said, taken aback. He already felt guilty for not having gone armed that morning, breaking the long habit of a veteran warrior. Fírhador already blamed himself; he had not thought to face recrimination from this quarter!
"Mother, no one was expecting this," Nevhithien spoke up. "There is no one to find fault with, save the Orcs…." She trailed off, seeing again in her mind Afrted's face as he bled and died. She felt sorrow for the death of a young ellon, of one who might have been a friend to her. Who had been a friend to her for all that they had known each other so briefly: Afrted had given his life for hers. She sorrowed but would not reproach herself for his death, for doing so would avail her nothing and would be to disdain the gift he had given her. Rather she would live her life to its fullest and in so doing honor his memory.
She looked to where four bodies were being lifted up a-horseback, to be carried back to their families. Some of the maidens were touching the shrouded figures and weeping. Nevhithien shuddered and thought unhappily that she had done a lot of shuddering this day.
A horse snorted. Túchir rode up beside them, his face grave. "I commend you, brave Lady," he said to Thalawen. "Your horse has been apprehended, but you will not be able to ride this day. A conveyance is being prepared for yourself and for your daughter."
"I thank you," said Thalawen, lowering her eyes.
"I can walk," said Nevhithien.
"But shall not," Fírhador told her flatly. "You will jar your hip as little as possible. Túchir, I thank you…but tell me, what is being done about these Yrch?"
"They will be dealt with, Fírhador, as we have the resources to devote to the task. They are outside of our borders now and will not be allowed to reenter." :Let not thoughts of vengeance lead you astray, son of Fimornon. The Orcs will receive their due. It is your wife and your daughter who need you now.:
Thalawen was watching him with her dark eyes. Fírhador, about to reply bitterly, looked into them. He paused and for a moment hurt was writ large upon his features. But, Look to your family, Fírhador, came his own voice in his mind, and his shoulders sagged. He closed his eyes and nodded.
My Orkish is of the Svartiska brand. Svartiska is a fan-made conlang. Tolkien's own corpus for the Black Speech is very small—sneeze and you'll miss it. Svartiska is a good way to go if you're not particular about correct BS. According to Tolkien most Orcs aren't.
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.