6. Death In The Dark
Creeping through Edoras, I cannot help but shiver despite myself.
This is not a daring raid- though history will doubtless call it so.
This is venturing into a tomb.
Bodies lie everywhere.
Some are picked clean by crows- they have obviously lain where they fell since the barbarian princeling stormed our gates all those years ago.
The shudder that runs down my spine has nothing to do with the cold as I see fresh Dunlending corpses face down in the snow.
Something has happened here, something evil and wrong.
The hulk of ruined Meduseld rears before me, crippled and black, and I motion for my men to remain as I head towards it- not through any notion of gallantry, mind, but more…
…it is not right.
It should be a glorious palace when they enter it- or at least there should be a ferocious battle to reclaim it.
This is wrong.
I utter a silent prayer to the Gods as I step through the doors of the now-blackened Golden Hall over a headless skeleton wearing the armour of a warrior of the Mark- may his death have been swift, and his soul swept up by Oromë before the Black Enemy even knew of his end.
The stench is the first thing that hits me.
I have known battle, and thus I know the stink of death.
The smell that assails my nostrils in this dark, dank place…
This is an entirely different stench altogether.
This is the reek of the slaughterhouse. Burnt wood mingles with ancient blood and fresh shit…
I retch despite myself, remembering the glory that was Meduseld in its pomp.
Of all the sins the barbarian princeling has committed- worse than all the carnage wreaked in his gore-soaked name, worse than all the murder done at his command- this is the worst.
I see my breath in front of my like an accusing ghost.
Bodies lie everywhere.
I stumble over the corpse of a young warrior, and the clatter is almost unbearably loud in the silence. I clutch my sword so tightly that my knuckles are white, ready for reprisal…
But nothing comes.
I am alone here, I am sure of it.
The barbarian princeling has abandoned this place, I am sure of it.
Not a man born of woman could stand such ruin without drowning in madness, I am sure of it.
Emboldened, I step from the shadows of the walls and into the main aisle of the hall, blinking against the chill light of the full Moon.
No-one living remains in this charnel-house, not a single living thing.
Instantly I am on my guard as I see the great black shape that lurks there- is it a man, or a warg, or-
It is but another corpse.
I relax as I stride towards it, fear's taloned grip on my heart loosening with each step. The barbarian princeling has fled, and we are victorious this night, and we shall drive him from these lands as surely as-
Oh, sweet Eru…
Ice runs through my veins as I realise exactly who the man sitting on the throne is.
Wulf, son of Freca, the Great Usurper, the man who brought us to the brink of doom… many names I could give him.
Frost rimes his beard, snow lines his long hair like silverleaf…
I permit myself a smile.
Dead by his own hand.
I knew him for a coward- I knew it.
Knew that when we struck back he would rather die than fight us.
I heft my sword in both hands, lift it to my shoulder like an executioner- his head shall be a fine trophy to take back to the Hornburg, oh yes it shall, and we shall-
I stop dead in my tracks.
He is not dead.
Sweet Eru, he is not dead.
Something old and wicked glitters behind the princeling's eyes- an ancient, insane evil.
His voice is the croak of ravens, of the gates of an ancient sepulchre. My grip tightens on the hilt of my blade, my knuckles white in the moonlight.
"Strike me down, and I shall become greater than you can ever imagine."
I should scoff at his hubris, but he speaks again, each word falling like the dread hammer Grond in ancient times, and I am transfixed.
"Slay me, but know that I curse you and yours until the Ending of the World."
I should strike his head from his shoulders, but I cannot- I cannot- I am a mouse in the shadow of a hawk.
"Destroy me, but know that you do not defeat me."
He starts to cackle, the sound harsh and hideous to my ears, and I can no longer bear it. My blade flickers in the moonlight-
-and it is done.
The barbarian princeling's head falls from his shoulders in a fountain of gore and lands at my feet.
I go to pick it up, but recoil as I realise that his eyes still live- still rage with that same hellish half-light.
By all the Valar, what vile sorcery is this?
His lips move one final time, and though they have no breath to speak his last words will burn in my brain years from now.
"We shall have our revenge."
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.