8. A Thing That Should Not Be Forgotten
"Soon after, the winter broke.Then Fréaláf, son of Hild, Helm's sister, came down out of Dunharrow, to which many had fled; and with a small company of desperate men he surprised Wulf in Meduseld and slew him, and regained Edoras. There were great floods after the snows, and the vale of Entwash became a vast fen. The Eastern invaders perished or withdrew; and there came at last help from Gondor, by the roads both east and west of the mountains. Before the year was ended the Dunlendings were driven out, even from Isengard; and then Fréaláf became King."
The children grew restless, he could feel it- could see it in their eyes. This was no day for any child to be cooped up, let alone a child of the Mark. The early summer sun shone brightly, and a cool wind blew across the plains, whispering adventure to those ears eager to ear it.
The loremaster closed his book, gazed out across the children with rheum-encrusted eyes.
"All children of the Mark must know this story. Do you know why?"
Not a one of them spoke, a little fearful of the old man. His temper with those who answered him incorrectly was legendary- their fathers had known his wrath, and probably even their grandfathers. He seemed truly ancient to the children, almost a living ancestor- snow-white hair tumbling down to his waist in waves, his beard too.
"Anyone? Does anyone know why all must know this story?"
Still not a single child spoke. The loremaster nodded to himself, affirming something to himself.
"All must know this story, as all must know that Eorl was first King, and that Helm was the Hammer-Hand, and that Léod was slain by Felaróf, the Mansbane. All must know it, as it is a thing that should not be forgotten."
By the looks in their eyes, the children did not understand- they never did, the loremaster thought to himself, a little ruefully. For a moment he considered telling the rest of the story, the true reason it should not have been forgotten, but he did not. The day was bright and beautiful- it did not need spoiling with dark, ugly memories. He smiled to himself and rose slowly to his feet.
"Remember this story, children, and remember it well. You are dismissed."
They seemed shocked at first- they had thought he would storm at them, roar at them in fury for their silence- but then seemed relieved. Almost as one they rose and surged for the exit, a babbling, laughing tide. The loremaster watched them go, and then turned away. The pain in his chest reminded him that he would never be as they again.
There was a cough from behind him.
That was unexpected.
The old man turned, and saw a little girl, a little girl with long blonde hair. For a second, he-
It was not her. It was just a girl, one of the children he had been telling the Stories to. He raised one massive, bushy eyebrow.
She shifted from foot to foot, nervous. Something glittered behind her eyes, something strange and wondrous.
She faltered, turned to go. This was interesting.
"Go on, child."
She turned back, looked straight into his eyes, a cornflower-blue gaze that pierced him from long years ago.
"Why should it never be forgotten?"
The loremaster smiled to himself. There was always one.
"Why should it not be forgotten? Wulf was defeated, and we won. Why should he not be forgotten?"
The loremaster sat back into his chair again, and motioned fr the girl to sit. She did so, and he cleared his throat. Would he still remember, after all these years? Would he still remember the smells, the sounds, the...
Of course he would.
He always did.
"We had the Dunlendings on the run, of that there could be no doubt..."
It seemed as if the story told itsself.
It always did.
The soldiers rode in silence, plumes of breath rising into the cold night air like ghosts. The Dunlendings were broken, fleeing before them, but this was no glorious victory. Too many good men lay dead and too many lives had been destroyed for that.
Meduseld itsself, the great golden hall of legend, had burned. Hundreds of years of history...
The barbarian princeling had burned it himself, had thrown the torch that destroyed it. Oh, it would be rebuilt, and be as glorious as before, but...
Rumour had it that when Fréaláf and his men had arrived at Meduseld they had found the barbarian sitting on the great throne there, sitting in the ruins, snow in his hair, maddened eyes staring dully at nothing, surrounded by the corpses of his own lieutenants, slain by his own hand as they tried to get him to flee. Rumour had it that Wulf had merely sat as meekly as a kitten as Fréaláf had strode towards him, sword in hand, and that he had not flinched as the sword struck his head from his body.
Rumours abounded in these days. Rumours as dark and-
The soldiers drew to a halt as they saw the fire. Was this one of their men, or one of the foe?
As silent as spirits haunting ancient tombs, they moved as one to surround the fire. Only when they were sure the man sitting by it was of the enemy did they move into the circle of light, spears ready.
He was young, this man, barely old enough to grow more than a scattering of reddish hairs upon his chin, barely old enough to have been summoned to war, barely as old as some of the soldiers' firstborn sons.
Young, yes, but coward, no. As the soldiers surrounded him he rose to his feet, his sword ready despite the sling on his other arm, despite the barely-healed gash across his forehead. He glared defiance at them in the firelight, glared defiance at them and all their people.
He would have been slain by the soldiers there and then, but their captain stopped them. Why, they did not know.
"You know you are beaten. Put down your sword, boy."
The Dunlending's sword did not waver, even as the captain of the Mark removed her helmet and stared into his eyes.
"Put down your sword. Enough blood is shed in these lands already to drown them for eternity- put down your sword."
A signal from her was all it took for the soldiers to raise their spears. They didn't like it, but they did it. When Feanwen daughter of Helm the Hammer-Hand spoke, all listened. All remembered her father, and something of him lingered in her that cleaved like burning iron to their souls.
Still the Dunlending's sword did not waver. Feanwen shook her head.
"In another world, we could have been friends. In another world, I could have been your Queen. Put down your sword."
The young man sighed, as if something deep inside him was broken, and his sword fell to his side. Feanwen nodded, and stepped forward.
"What is your name, boy?"
The Dunlending stiffened at this.
"I am no boy. I am Reth, son of Bryn, cousin of Wulf himself, and I am a lord among my people, as you are a princess of yours."
Feanwen shrugged, a smile upon her lips.
"My apologies. One so young will always be a boy to me."
"So young? I am not so much younger than you, princess."
At this Feanwen chuckled.
"I am far older than I was when my father began this terrible war between our peoples. I forget it is only five years have passed since."
Reth's fury seemed to sag here, seemed to falter, and the boy he must have been before the war showed through in his eyes, which glistened with tears. Feanwen strode to him and brushed them away with one gloved hand, brushed away them and the grime of war away forever. Their eyes locked.
"Only five years since and only one since your people invaded my lands."
Reth's eyes widened at this, and he gasped out, but she continued.
"Only one year since your people invaded my lands, and burned my city. Only scant months since your people drove my father to a horrible, freezing death."
Blood began to bubble forth from the young Dunlending lord's lips, bright crimson where it fell upon the snow.
"Mere weeks since we slew your villainous Wulf and fixed his head upon his own sword. Scant days since I discovered that this war, this ugly, hateful plague upon my land, this blight..."
Feanwen laid the Dunlending to the ground, drawing her dagger from his side, not breaking his gaze for one second.
"...this foulness was all because of me."
Reth choked now, coughed up more blood. He lay now in a rapidly-spreading pool of his own blood, his skin greying rapidly. Feanwen still gazed into his eyes. Something terrible danced behind them, something that should never have had to be.
"Reth, I said that in another world we could have been friends. It is a shame that we were born in this one."
The soldiers watched in silence as she kissed the young man gently on his blueing lips, watched as she rose to her feet and drew her sword.
"It is a shame that we were born to hate each other."
With that, she drove the sword through his chest, drove it right through him and into the snow below.
Then she too began to cry.
The girl was enraptured, the loremaster could tell.
"And that, young one, is the truth."
He stood once more, wincing at the pain his chest. This would probably be the last child he ever told this tale to, the last-
"Why did she do it?"
His eyes widened. None of the children had ever-
"Why did she kill him? She didn't have to- he was beaten, the Dunlendings were beaten. She didn't have to kill him. She said enough blood had been shed to drown the lands already. Why spill more?"
The loremaster smiled. They always had so many questions, the children he told this tale to...
He stepped forwards, placed a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Enough blood had been spilled to drown the land, so what was the blood of one arrogant boy, eh?"
The girl looked confused. The loremaster would have said more, but realised enough was enough. Better to leave her with some questions unanswered, better to leave her with some truths to find out for herself.
"When you grown older, you will realise that sometimes, there are some hurts too great to be forgiven, some pains too great to ever be forgotten."
The girl frowned, and the loremaster continued.
"When you grow older, ask yourself this question- an entire country at war, a kingdom ablaze, thousands dead... and all because of you. What would you do?"
He left the girl there, and walked out of the hall.
She would be the last he would teach, the last he would tell the story to.
It did not matter.
She would tell others.
He was sure of that.
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.