6. The Unquiet Field
Chapter Written by Elfhild
The other members of Elfhild and Elffled's troop were scattered about the pen, each seeking out the company of old friends and relatives. Though their hearts were heavy with sorrow, the captives were glad for this rare time when all of them were assembled together and not divided into troops of ten. None knew how long they would stay near the sad city of Minas Tirith or what would befall them after they left. It might be many long days ere they would be reunited again with their kindred in other troops, or perhaps after this night they would be separated forever.
Waerburh mourned with her sisters, cursing all the folk of the Dark Lands in one breath and sobbing in the next. Breguswith, who had been led away by her relatives, now proudly showed the women the dirty bundle of rags which she thought was her dead baby. Shocked by her descent into madness, her family was torn between telling her the truth and not having the heart to do so. They decided among themselves that it was kinder simply to pat her on the back and murmur sympathetically.
If an opportunity presented itself before breakfast the next morning, Elfhild and Elffled planned to find some of their old friends from the village and inquire of them as to how they had fared upon this miserable journey. Tonight, however, they had spent with their aunt and cousin, suffering and grieving with one another. Leofgifu and Hunig were asleep now, but slumber had retreated far from the twins, and they were left to toss and turn upon the straw.
Goldwyn was talking quietly with her own kinswomen, and together they were trying to comfort her three sons. Fritha, the youngest, cried in his mother's arms, and tears streamed down the face of Frumgár. The two younger boys were glad for the attention from the women, but Fródwine, the eldest, felt he was far too old to be fussed over by females. The boy just wanted to be left alone to contemplate the doleful sights that he had seen on the ghastly fields. Not holding much hope that his father had survived, he wondered if his sire had been reduced now to only a skeleton, condemned to ignoble anonymity as all the rest. Perhaps he and the other captives had passed the pile of bones which contained his remains, scattered randomly after being picked over by carrion-birds and other scavengers. And what of his grandfather? Did he and the bones of his old gray horse lie upon the field as well?
The boy had seen terrible sights before but nothing which would compare to the silent horrors of the old battlefield. He remembered the time that a stray dog had attacked a litter of kittens on the family farm. Before his father was able to drive away the dog, the mongrel had killed one of the kittens. Another had fled to the nearby woods. Two days later, Fródwine found the missing kitten. The wounds upon its frail, quivering body had become infested by sickening white maggots which squirmed and writhed. Metallic blue and green flies buzzed about the kitten, feeding from the gashes and laying eggs in the lacerated flesh. The stench of decay had been nauseating, and mercifully, Fródwine's father had ended the small creature's suffering.
Fródwine tried to drive the memories of that unpleasant day from his mind, but still he could smell that horrible stench. Mingling with the recollection of those ghastly, maggot-infested wounds were the gruesome sights he had seen upon the battlefield. Had his father suffered the same way with vile insects swarming about his injuries? Fródwine's stomach lurched at the grim thought and a tortured look crossed his pale face. That was hardly the glorious warrior's death spoken of in lore and legend. No, it was something from some hell-spawned nightmare, a fever dream gendered by illness and delirium.
He felt his mother's eyes upon him, and he felt uncomfortable under her scrutiny. "Son, even at this moment, your father drinks mead in the hallowed halls of heroes, surrounded by other brave men who died defending their country." She spoke in that too-brave voice that he abhorred. "He died as an honorable man, a warrior. We can all think upon the memory of his unswerving valor with pride." He knew that his beautiful mother was only trying to bolster their spirits, but somehow he found her comment irritating.
"Mother, he is still dead, and we are left here." Goldwyn gave him a look which he could not quite fathom, but he could see the hurt in her eyes. The other women gasped in shocked surprise and then went back to a low, buzzing murmur among themselves, much like the maggot flies, he thought. Why could they not leave him in peace?
Before that terrible spring, war had only been a dramatic adventure in songs and tales told by fathers and grandfathers to audiences of wide-eyed children. Though the East Emnet had been raided many times by orcs from across the Anduin and the Westfold by Dunlendings and goblin-men from Isengard, the years prior to 3019 were filled with an uneasy peace in central and southern Rohan. Over a hundred years had passed since the Rohirrim had gone forth with swords, shields and spears against an invading force in their land or in that of their ally Gondor.
There was no threat in the homeland, save for political unrest during the reign of King Fengel, and the disquiet stirred up by the machinations of Gríma Wormtongue. It had been over a hundred and fifty years since any orcs had been seen lurking in the White Mountains, for they had all been killed or driven away during the reign of King Folca. In the sheltered fields and hills of the Eastfold the folk of Grenefeld had dwelt, protected to the east and south by the realm of Gondor; in the north by the swamps of the Entwash.
Like so many other boys and young men, Fródwine had regarded battle as naught but an excuse for grand adventure and sport. In song and lay, small bands of brave knights and heroes fought in battles against great hordes of innumerable enemies. Though the fight often seemed hopeless, somehow the day was always saved and most of the victorious warriors would come back home to tell tales of their brave deeds. Alas, not always does the reality of war mimic the glorious perception that many have of it! A hint of this grim enlightenment was starting to dawn upon young Fródwine and his brother Frumgár. At the tender age of only five, Fritha was still too young to understand fully.
At last eyes sore and stinging from the salt of many tears grew heavy, and limbs weary from marching and hearts burdened with grief ached for rest. The muted buzzing of many conversations faded to a soft lull as many of the captives began to lay down their weary heads and lose themselves in slumber. Tired bodies nestled into the comfortable straw, the sweet scent bringing a slight sense of peace to troubled minds.
Elffled lay on her side facing away from her sister, her eyes staring into the somber gloom. Yet she did not see the dim forms of her sleeping aunt and cousin illuminated by the slanted stripes of light and shadow cast by the wooden slats of the slave pen. Instead she saw the stark plain of death where the Battle of Pelennor Fields had been fought. Had this been the final battle that had been waged between the noble West and the savage East, or had there been more? The Sergeant's words had been so painfully vague, but one thing was for certain: the forces of the Dark Land had been victorious that fateful day three months prior.
Elffled's hand clenched the straw. Angry tears dotted her eyes. She wondered why – why did there have to be wars and raids; why did the folk of the Dark Land hate the folk of Rohan and Gondor? There had always been fear, strife and hatred between West and East and she knew little of its roots. It was just there; a part of life that was never questioned. She wondered how this horrible enmity began. Why could there not be peace? Why did everything have to be settled by war and strife?
Angry and bitter, she cursed the Oath of Eorl, for if it had never been sworn, then her father and brother never would have ridden away to alien fields, only to die for a crumbling realm. True, Gondor had given her ancestors the land of Calenardhon, but the oath between Eorl and King Cirion had been sworn nearly five centuries before. Why did Rohan have to remain loyal to a land filled with arrogant fops who thought they were better than everyone else? Perhaps if her country had not been so quick to help Gondor, the Dark Lord would have left them alone. If she were the king, she would have made any compromise and paid any tribute to keep her people out of war. But she was only a peasant girl, and knew little about ruling a country.
The Riders of the Mark had given their all, fighting bravely and gallantly against a foe far greater than they. Ever loyal and true, they had fulfilled their oath once again and had come to the aid of their old ally. They had willingly sacrificed themselves in the hopes that the people of the West would continue to dwell in freedom in the lands that they loved. Alas, they had lost, and all fears had come to pass.
Elffled heard the words of the old song, as though her father were singing them in his deep, rich voice, though this time it was filled with an intense sadness...
The sun has gone down in the West in the hills over shadow.
Where now the horse and the rider?
Dead, all dead.
Where is the horn that was blowing?
Silenced forever, save in the ghostly echoes of time.
Where is the helm and the halberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Left to rust upon the field and rot in the ground.
No hand would pluck the harpstring, for fingers now were bone; no more crops would be planted in the spring nor would they be harvested in the autumn. All had passed like rain on the mountain, like wind in the meadow. Indeed the days had gone down in the West and now there was naught but the Shadow.
Elffled cried herself to sleep.
Later that night, her sister Elfhild awoke from a dark dream which had filled her heart with a great sense of melancholy. Her eyes staring into the darkness, her sluggish mind reflected upon the gloomy visions which she had imagined... Beneath the softly glowing moon, she walked upon the dew-soaked ground, her footfalls making only a soft patting in the stillness of the night. She wandered with little heed of her path, as though she were bewitched by some spell, enchanted by a mysterious lure which invited her to come ever nearer.
Weaving through the wild patterns of bones strewn upon the ground, her graceful, solemn steps carried her to the column of skulls. They looked down at her, their cavernous eyes friendly, their lips parted in everlasting grins. She felt completely at ease with them; no dark fear or dread did they impart to her. How strange it was that, she, one of the living, now communed with the dead in unspoken half-thoughts of contemplation!
The skulls glowed softly, the moonlight reflecting off polished ivory. A cloud fleeing away from the moon caused the field to be bathed in a radiant wash of silver. A gentle breeze stirred the grasses which had sprung up around the bones, causing the thin blades to dance and sway. The invisible current picked up tassels of golden hair, once worn proudly in braids or loose about the shoulders, and the tangled strands brushed softly against the poles upon which they now hung.
The breeze chilled her and she trembled slightly. She stood there for a moment, solemn and still as a barrow-marker. Slowly, gentle fingers reached up and stroked cool, porous bone where once a weathered cheek had been. She looked into the hollow caverns and imagined her father's kind blue eyes. Sighing wistfully, she gazed into those haunted, tortured pools of shadow and saw the eternity that someday she would know. The darkness of the grave, the oblivion of eternal slumber...
Elfhild lay upon her side, peering out at her dim surroundings through the slats, her long, slender callused fingers resting atop the rough board nearest to her. Her body and spirit were weary and cried out for solace, but yet her mind clung tenaciously to wakefulness. She stared out into the night until her eyes glazed over and her vision was filled with the strange muted colors one sees in the darkness, shades for which the conscious mind can find no name. Dulled both by physical and emotional exhaustion, her mind wandered aimlessly and she had difficulty directing her thoughts. They kept flitting away from her like butterflies in a meadow filled with wildflowers. Yet she did not mind. Reality itself seemed to slow down to accommodate her lassitude. She blinked several times, her eyelids slowly creeping over her eyes like sodden sheets being dragged over rough ground.
A mist from the River had gathered and the night was gray and foggy. Elfhild's heart swelled with sorrow and a strange sudden yearning. So intense were these feelings that she feared that her chest would burst asunder if she did not find relief quickly. Her hands clenched the straw in addled frustration. How she longed to break free of this cage! Then she could walk among the white mounds, searching for her father's skeletal body so that she might join his head to the bony shoulders.
"I am going mad," she mused, "mad like poor Breguswith."
But though the dream was over, her morbid thoughts would not relent. What did she have to lose, save more tears? She let her wild fancies take her sleepy mind where they wished and soon she became lost in her own strange, disjointed imaginings. Images and thoughts - some elaborate and complex, others simple or absurd - passed lazily in and out of her consciousness like minnows in a stream. Then in a fleeting instant, they vanished, and she drifted back into lethargic wakefulness. Random snatches of imaginary dialogue flitted in and out of her mind, nonsensical words and phrases which soon faded into oblivion, never to be remembered again.
She gazed into the swirling fog, her mind caught in the strange realm between wakefulness and dream. The mists deepened upon the field, an ethereal smoke lingering over a fire which still smoldered. Though the battle had been fought three months before, there had been too much strife for there ever to be peace again. Malice and hatred bubbled up to the surface like the blood which once stained the grass red and lingered in murky sanguine puddles. The very ground had been tainted by war, the veil between the two worlds brutally tattered by sword, knife and arrow.
The east wind began to moan. The air became colder. Across the field, spots of light appeared just beneath the ground. Glimmering with a silvery radiance as though they were glowworms, the pieces edged closer together. Finally they joined, the metal becoming weapons and mail, an armory forged without a maker. Then borne upon a unspoken groan, pale whisps rose from the ground, taking form until they became visible. Rising from piles of bones, skeletal horses stood to their feet, their gaunt frames now covered with phosphorescent flesh. The phantom riders leapt to their horses' backs, and, raising their spears, they formed into a line and thundered away.
And Elfhild beheld her father riding upon Thunorlic, and her brother Eadfrid rode beside him. How fearsome they looked, riding with the spectral host! Their gleaming eyes turned towards her, but she was not afraid. She returned their smiles and watched in awe as they rode swiftly away.
Racing across the plain, the phantom cavalry, relentless and unyielding, galloped to meet their enemies. With a voice terrible and deadly, they cried out in fury as they drove into a foe as dead as they. Once again, the Battle of Pelennor Fields raged, with the spirits of the slain enacting their last brutal moments among the world of the living.
Forcing back the Southern cavalrymen, the wan shades found that a great mass of uruks lay beyond the enemy horsemen. Elfhild watched in cold horror as a halberd caught her father's shoulder and dragged him from his horse. Screaming out his rage, Eadfrid leapt from his horse and slashed at the brutes with his sword. Soon he, too, was forced to the ground. The uruks' bloodlust was high, but there was little time to torture their prey. Uttering curses and blasphemies, they bludgeoned their prisoners with the blunt ends of their weapons and then mutilated the wounded men's faces, arms and legs with the saw-like blades. Eager to finish the bloody work and win more laurels for themselves, their commander ordered them to strike the killing blow. With great glee, the fiends slowly sawed off both men's heads, taking delight in the slow, cruel execution.
The mist from the Anduin rose up, obscuring the gristly scene in a pallid shroud of swirling vapors. When the fog had cleared, everything was as it had been before: the rough wooden slats of the slave pen, the dark form of a passing guard, the dim light of the camp. Yet Elfhild continued to stare out into the darkness. She had seen both of her parents murdered before her eyes. One had been in the flesh, the other in a vision, but that did not make the pain any less. She had lost everything and everyone. What was left for her, daughter of the ruins?
There was a whisper in the wind, the faintest, softest sound, a gentle wail, perhaps, a rustle in the grass, and then nothing. Only emptiness and the night, cold and unrelenting...
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.