17. The Kiss of Icy Darkness
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
"You play games with us, sir," Elfhild proclaimed in sullen rejoinder. "I suppose you are deriving some sort of pleasure in doing this before you take us prisoner."
"Aye, sir, indeed you do play games, and play them most outrageously," Elffled ventured, attempting a winsome smile. Though her sister would be shocked by the idea, perhaps if she flirted with the warrior, he might be more disposed to treat them kindly. She squinted through the darkness, suddenly having the fancy that she would like to see the face of this intriguing stranger, to touch him... to have him touch her. She knew that he was incredibly tall, with broad shoulders and a deep voice which sent delightful shivers racing down her spine. But was he handsome? She wiped her clammy palms on her skirt. Oh, why was she having these thoughts? If she were not careful, she could almost forget her past experiences with the men of the enemy... Of course, was that such a bad thing? She smiled wistfully to herself.
"From the king upon his gilded throne to the lowest swineherd in a filthy sty, we all play games," the tall stranger replied. "Even the daughters of Eadbald play games."
Eadbald! He spoke her father's name! Gasping in astonishment, Elfhild took a step backwards. "How - how do you know our father's name?" she demanded, fear raising endless questions.
"Quite simply, my dear. The name of your father has been inscribed upon your collars."
"Oh." Elfhild looked down, blushing at her own foolishness. Then, raising her head, she cocked a suspicious eyebrow. "Wait - you mean you can see in this darkness?"
"Darkness?" the man asked, as though pondering some great complexity. "Can you truly fathom what darkness is? Do objects disappear when they are covered by its mantle? No, they are there just the same as they are when the light is shining upon them." A cloud passed over the moon, casting the landscape into total darkness. He paused, and when he spoke again, they both started at his voice. "Being of the Rohirrim, you both should know that there are some who have exceptionally good vision when there is no light. I am one of them," he laughed dryly. Though they could not see his face, the sisters sensed that he was grinning at them.
Elffled was not certain what the strange man meant exactly, but his voice was seductive, hypnotic even, and so unbearably captivating that it did not matter what he said. She hoped that he would ignore her ragged clothing and the grime and stench of her filthy body and find her, if not beautiful, then at least pretty. Attempting to win his favor, she smiled and giggled, attempting an imitation of the flirtatious mannerisms that she had observed in other girls. "You have amazing eyes, sir. 'Tis a pity we cannot see them."
"What charming sweetness lies in the merry laughter of innocent maids! I have had daughters of my own." He paused, and his next words were bitter. "Alas! They are no more!"
The deep sadness in his voice reminded Elffled of her own sorrows, and her heart went out in pity for the man. "Oh, sir, I am sorry to know that," she murmured sympathetically. "Have they been gone from you long?"
"Almost eight decades... but since neither of you can read, write, or cipher, perhaps such a number is incomprehensible to you. Nearly four generations - seventy-seven long years have come and gone - each year falling with grim finality and striking the death bell in my soul. And, to answer your question before you can find the courage to ask it... How old am I? How old, you ask?" Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed, and the wolf in Elfhild's mind bayed with sorrow unending, and the owl spoke to Elffled, reiterating its protest against some unutterable sacrilege. "You do not want to know the answer to that question, and even should I tell you, you would not believe me. Not yet, anyway."
"This man is mad!" Elfhild's terrified mind screamed, and she fought to control her rising panic. She must keep her head at all costs! "Who are you?" she choked out, her throat constricting with fear and anger. "Or what are you? What do you want from us? Are you friend or foe?" Oh, they had to escape from this fiend! But how?
"The question of who I am is inconsequential to our discussion. Neither is the question of what I am. Such small matters fade to insignificance after a while." His words were precise, flat, mere dry declarations of immutable fact. "What is more important is what do you want from me?" He chuckled mirthlessly, icicles crackling and falling to break into nothingness.
"What do I want from you?" Elfhild gasped, almost panting with fear. "I want nothing! Why do you ask such a strange question?"
He moved to stand toe to toe with Elfhild, so close that she could feel his cloak brush against her arms. His head towering above her, he gazed down into her frightened eyes and reached a hand forward to brush over her cheek. Even though she felt like fleeing far away, still she held her ground, gritting her teeth to keep them from chattering. Swallowing hard and clenching her fists, she tried to bolster up her courage. She would not let this impertinent riddler turn her into a coward! The chase might excite him, and, besides, she could not leave her silly sister at his mercy.
"I knew you would be bold," he whispered softly, "but you are far bolder than I had ever expected. Your coquettish younger sister, however, comes as an unexpected - and thoroughly delightful - surprise."
Elffled giggled again, far more nervously this time. "I am glad you think so, sir. I must say that you come as quite a surprise yourself..." Flushing in embarrassment, she tittered and brought a hand to her mouth. "Oh! How impertinent of me! Please do not take offense! I am terribly sorry!"
"Sorry that I am such an unexpected surprise... or sorry that you have flirted like the silly little girl that you are and not like the beguiling woman you want to be?" His hand crawled slowly, agonizingly away from Elfhild's hot, burning cheek and then shot out like a serpent, capturing her sister's chin in a firm grasp.
Looking up at him uncertainly, Elffled searched for his eyes, but she could not find them in the darkness of his hood. "Oh, sir, I hardly know any more what I am saying, or even what I mean! The things you say confuse me terribly," she stammered, a flush coloring her cheeks. "But a child, sir?" Her voice sounded hurt and her lower lip quivered in a pout. "Surely you do not consider me that! Though I am young, some girls my age are already married." The flush on her face deepened, and she tried to turn away, but his hand held her secure.
"Laurelissë, my pretty little maid, there is such a demure coyness in your words! Lá, but I do not think you are quite so innocent as you would wish to make yourself appear. Do you understand the implications of what you have just said?" His hand forced her head higher. He was so close to her that she could smell a familiar scent about him, one which she had come to learn was the essence of lust. Her whole body shivered, her flesh tingling with anticipation... for what? She felt confused, uncertain, struggling to understand the meaning of these new feelings which raced through her body.
"Sir, the implications?" Elffled asked innocently in the complete and unaffected candor of inexperience. Then in a dawning flash of painful realization she understood exactly what he meant! "What an absolute dolt I am!" she condemned herself, greatly abashed at her scandalous behavior. "Have I encouraged this strange man? Yes, I have! But who could blame me? I have known nothing except the village boys who were so dull and lackwit that I never even bothered to flirt with them! This man is nothing like them. He is not like the enemy soldiers either, who grab a girl and force themselves upon her!"
Elffled's thoughts swirled through her mind like hapless leaves driven before the storm, twisting and turning before fluttering to the ground. "It is hopeless ever to think that I will marry a man whom I truly love and who truly loves me. Why not a harmless flirtation with this exciting stranger?" The very thought thrilled her in a delightfully naughty way. "Who will ever know except the three of us? Why not a little frivolity before I am sold to some man who is probably fat, ugly and cruel! Oh, this stranger is like no one whom I have ever met before, and he scares me so! But... but he excites me even more!"
"Yes, the implications," the mysterious rogue chuckled, and in the next instant caught Elffled up in his strong arms. Any word of protest was smothered by his hard, cool mouth which pressed demanding kisses upon her soft lips. She struggled against him, her small fists hammering frantically against the impervious wall of his chest. As he kissed her more passionately, her blows slowed, weakening, until at last her fingers could only cling to the material of his tunic as she tried to push her body closer to his. The wolf renewed its keening, shrieking out a long, forlorn, agonizing wail that dwindled off into a gargled groan, and the owl only nodded its head, hinting at some arcane secret that it was unwilling to divulge.
A reluctant voyeur, Elfhild gawked at this scene of torrid passion, her eyes transfixed by the gentle, swaying motions of her sister's hips, her ears filled with the sounds of Elffled's desperate whimpers and moans of pleasure. Oh, this was horrible! She should protect her sister from this dangerous, eccentric man! But, oh, merely watching them kiss was doing strange things to her! Her cheeks burned with a flush which seemed to spread like wildfire through the rest of her body, and she felt a yearning ache in her most intimate of places!
But it was wrong to watch this obscene display, this wanton defilement of her sister by an enemy soldier. She forced her eyes to look away, but she was not strong enough to fight her morbid curiosity. When she again gazed in horror at the scene, he was still holding Elffled, whose hips were thrusting and wiggling against his body in a most provocative rhythm. Though Elfhild could not see everything in total detail, she could hear the man's heavy, laboring breathing and her sister's desperate gasps. "By Béma! This beast must be draining the air from her lungs and the life from her body!" Elfhild's heart throbbed beat by beat in time with his heavy, rasping breaths. With a satisfied growl, he released Elffled and slowly her limp form slipped to the ground.
Elfhild gasped in horror, her hands flying to her mouth. Her gaze darted from her sister's slumped form and then back to the man. "You - you - have killed my sister!"
"Faandrûk, you misjudge me," he murmured quietly, gently. "She is merely asleep, deeply, in calm, sedate tranquility, knowing more peace than you do at this present moment. Why would you deny her that comfort?"
"You monster!" Screaming, Elfhild lunged at him, but he moved quickly and caught her by the wrists. Holding both of them together in one of his large hands, he pulled her arms painfully high above her head, his fingers digging into her tender flesh like the cold clench of steel. His hood obscured his features as he bent his head down to hers. Upon her face, she felt his cool, slow breaths coming in such long intervals that she wondered whether he was breathing at all.
He lifted her higher, his strong hands raising her until her toes no longer touched the ground. Her arms ached from the strain. A ghastly thought possessed her mind. As he had done so cruelly to her sister, he would do to her. He would steal her breath away, draining it from her lungs and sucking her life out like a leech, forcing her into a preternatural slumber! He was incredibly strong and there was no way she could fight against him! "Please, please, do not hurt me!" Elfhild begged, sobbing hysterically. "Have mercy!"
"You are mine, mine to do with as I please," he hissed into her face. "I have waited far too long for you, Faandrûk, far too long! Is it so dreadful for a man to want a maiden? An innocent, lovely creature to bring some semblance of light to his darkened world? And after knowing that he desires her - to think about her, aye, and to lust for her? And to set his will and power into devising ways to obtain her? Faandrûk, I did not come here to play trivial games! Lá! No... there is much more involved here than that!"
Elfhild could barely believe what was happening. It was like some sort of nightmare. Yes, that was it. She was sleeping. She would awake soon. Dreams were the opposite of reality. If one fell asleep in a dream, he would often wake. And that was what she would be doing soon. Just as soon as unconsciousness claimed her, for she was fainting. The trees tilted from side to side and finally darkened altogether as she slipped into blessed oblivion.
A kiss brought Elfhild to sudden wakefulness. She found herself held in the grip of strong, powerful arms. Her head was spinning as she looked up into a soft ruddy glow that faded quickly, as though its presence was out of place. A gentle breeze played over her throat, cooling but not refreshing the moist skin. And - oh Gods - his head was bent over her neck, his lips probing, licking over her throat! Whimpering, she attempted to push him away, to escape, but she discovered that instead her arms went up to clutch him about his neck. The nightmare continued - but now it had exploded into a coruscating phantasmagoria of seething, throbbing desires which both tempted and repelled her with their terrifying implications. She clung to the passionate incubus who had become both her lover and her tormentor, holding onto him desperately, while everything inside her commanded her to flee from this unholy abomination.
"The blood of an innocent... so pure... so untainted... how it calls to me! How I desire it!" the dark being sighed. "And how I despise such heady wine!" he groaned. "Ahh, sweet maiden..."
Unseen visions written in a strange music, teardrops of crystallized blood hung like jewels from ghastly white branches, unknown words repeating, their sounds intermingling with the music, the melody fearful, then consoling, lowering, murmuring, then rising, until at last a sighing exaltation escaped his throat and caressed the pink shell of her ear. What was he whispering, his lips so close to her face? Instinctively, she knew that he was preparing her for something, and that this bizarre ritual was the intense preliminary to the realization of his designs. Elfhild sensed his unseen eyes upon her, holding her in their thrall. She heard the sound of cloth ripping as her bodice was torn in twain, the sudden chill draft flowing over her skin. A dagger was poised above her, gleaming like a shard of ice in the pale moonlight, and for a brief moment, she caught the reflection of her terrified eyes staring back at her from the silvery blade. Then the knife descended, slicing through the skin and leaving a thin rivulet of crimson across her exposed flesh. Whimpering, she closed her eyes tightly as the world began to fade away.
Relentless lips were against her throbbing bosom, suckling and searing her flesh. She felt the constant caressing of his tongue as a warm moisture oozed over her skin, spilling down the bodice of her dress and seeping onto her skirt. Was there to be no end of this outrage, of this abhorrent disgrace? But did she want it to stop? His tongue was soft and his grip upon her body was steady, comforting, protecting, somehow... loving in some bittersweet way. Fear was gradually being replaced by a warm sense of safety and security, something she had not felt for so long.
Moaning, Elfhild arched her back and nestled into his powerful chest. Her body yearned for his touch and craved his kisses like a dying person thirsting for water. Deep needs which she had never known that she possessed rose to the surface, compelling her to surrender to him. Perhaps this was what her sister had experienced. Had they both been bewitched by some spell? Yes, that was the only thing that could explain the wondrous sensations which converged deep within her secret places... But yet she did not care! Oh, she wanted this moment to last forever!
Her passion escalating unbelievably, almost out of control, Elfhild cried out in pain as his mouth at last left her bosom. Then, sighing, murmuring, she delighted when she felt his ardent lips possessing hers once again. Willingly she parted her lips to him, and her senses were met with a sudden jolt of shock as she tasted blood on his tongue. But her alarm soon turned to ecstasy as the titillating instrument of delightful torture probed deep within her mouth, and she melted into his arms, her body molding to his.
"Please, please, do not leave me!" she thought desperately, fretting in her mind that he would consider her only a passing fancy, some poor foolish peasant girl whom he would use quickly and just as quickly cast aside and forget. Oh, but could any other kiss be like this, piercing the soul, the mind - she blushed, panting - even the body? But yes, even that!
With a deep chuckle, he let her slide to the ground. "Little girls ought not venture into the woods alone. They should wait until they have ripened and are ready for the touch of the Reaper."
A piercing sorrow rent Elfhild's soul and she sank to her knees in agony. Clinging desperately to his strong, muscular thighs, she began to weep. "Please do not leave me," she sobbed, resting her cheek against the supple leather of his boot.
Gazing down at her, he placed his large hand upon her head and sighed. "To see through the eyes of a mortal is, in its way, a gift, but it is just as much a curse. I am a warrior and I cannot stay... not while battles rage... while death is all around me... while the dogs of war lick the blood from the faces of dying men... while the carrion birds tear the putrefying flesh from the bones of the noble... Can you not hear the wolves calling?" His words stilled and he lifted his head, listening for some sound above him, a sound which her ears could not catch, but which was perceived by her soul.
"I do not understand what you mean, my lord, only that you plan to leave me!" she answered, dazed and bewildered, both from his words and the fierceness of his passion.
"I must depart from you!" he exclaimed harshly. "But..." Did he hesitate? His fingers gently stroked her hair. From far away across the mountains, beyond the valleys, upon the red plains of death, the wolf begin to sing a song she knew was meant only for her. "No!" he shouted into the night, and the trees bent down their heads in despair. The sorrow in that one word would take lifetimes to comprehend, but was understood in just a moment. "Do not torment me with things that cannot be... that might never be! Join your sister in the cool sweetness of blessed slumber!"
"No, lord! Not sleep! Not that!" Elfhild grasped him desperately, clutching his legs, as dreaded sleep ripped her away from him and cast her back into the realm of mortals, into a world of desolate oblivion. She was dying, oh, Gods, she was dying!