2. Whispers From the Past
Chapter Written by Angmar and Elfhild
Osgiliath, June 17, year 3019 of the Third Age under the Sun
As Goldwyn sucked in heavy breaths of air, she felt her legs trembling beneath her. She had to rest before her limbs gave way, and so she leaned against a broken wall and peered through the unremitting darkness. Though she had veered away from the Anduin, she still found herself surrounded by the silent ruins. Looking to the deep, velvety heavens, she took her direction from the stars. After resting a while, she ran onward upon shaking, stumbling limbs, her hand still clenching the jagged piece of marble like a protective talisman.
Though the silent hulks of long abandoned buildings still loomed about her, now they were fewer in number. She hoped that soon she would pass beyond the periphery of the ruined city and thus lead her pursuers far from her sons. Judging from the stars, she knew she must be going in a northerly direction.
Glancing over her shoulder, Goldwyn could not hear the sounds of pursuing feet or see the telltale flickering glow of torches. She ran on until her shuddering legs betrayed her, toppling her to the ground like a fallen tree. She lay on her stomach for a while, still clasping the marble fragment. The sweat streamed down her face, between her breasts, down her back and under her arms, washing away the benefits of the bath earlier that evening and adding to the stale, reeking stench that permeated her old garments.
Save for her own heavy breathing, all was silent about her. Still now were the frogs and the cries of the night birds, and not even the scuffling noises of small creatures could be heard in the quiet night. Could her pursuers have given up the chase? Could her scent have become so diffused with that of others that the trackers had lost hers in the confused mixture of trails? Was she safe for the time?
Then - by all that was holy! - she heard them - heavy guttural grunts coming from behind her! At the ebb of her strength, she lurched to her feet and staggered forward, her terror giving impetus to her flight. Gritting her teeth in fierce determination, she vowed she would give them a merry chase until they at last dragged her to the ground.
Before her, rising up out of the darkness, she saw the outline of trees, their graceful forms stark, barren and leafless. The trees seemed embarrassed by the unnatural nakedness imposed upon them in this land of perpetual spring unfulfilled and promises broken - the land cursed by a mad god bent upon conquest. Pressing between their boles, she saw a small stream impeding her path. Scurrying down the bank, Goldwyn waded into the cool, ankle-deep water. She felt the current nudging against her as the stream dashed on towards its appointment with the Anduin. Perhaps she could delay the orcs in their pursuit by losing her scent in the flow. She waded downstream where the water was deeper, until at last she came out on the opposite side of the stream.
Taking another look behind her, Goldwyn allowed herself a small hope that she might have evaded the orcs and given her sons sufficient time to achieve their escape. She was almost certain that three young boys would be of so little value to the slavers that they would ignore them and instead concentrate their efforts upon finding a much more valuable prize. As she topped the rim of the bank, she found that the woods continued and the ground rose steadily before her.
Her weary legs plodded onward until she reached the crest of the hill, and there, frowning down at her, loomed the great, sprawling hulk of a massive structure. A light, sighing wind blew about the pillars that supported the long, rectangular marble building and, as the breeze touched her forehead, its caresses cooled her heated brow.
As she placed each heavy foot after the other, she felt a stabbing pain reverberating through her aching calves and up her thighs. Her back was sore, and a fierce, sharp, stabbing pain slammed her behind the eyes. She could travel no further until she had rested and allowed her body to regain strength. But she could not rest here, not in the open where any could see her. Glancing to the building, she decided to take shelter within its ruined halls.
Whimpering softly, she trudged up the short flight of ancient stairs, the steps worn low in places by the impress of the many feet which had traversed them over the centuries. At the top of the flight lay a wide portico, the roof supported by great marble columns. As she walked beneath it, she beheld before her a heavier darkness against the darkness, a portal leading to the interior. The entrance gaped open and wide, and the door that had once been set upon the frame was no longer there, its carvings and artistry along with the hinges forgotten in the mists of time.
Reaching out with her hand, she touched the doorway and then entering, followed along the wall with her fingertips. Standing just inside the antechamber, she looked back behind her and saw nothing but the darkness, for the moon had long since fled to the other side of Arda. At least there were no torches winding their way through the ruins, and so perhaps she could rest for a while in this sanctuary. Though it was musty and stale, the air in the chamber felt pleasantly cool against her heated, sweaty skin.
Walking deeper inside, she blundered into a large, smooth piece of stone. Her fingers moved over the cold surface and down the edge of the block. The object was a long slab of intact marble with only a few fissures to mar its surface. She dropped the piece of stone which she had carried with her, wincing as she heard the sound of its crash echoing throughout the chamber. Drifting along the edge of the block, her fingertips slid off when she came to the end of the smooth slab. She estimated that the huge bier of marble was more than seven feet long, possibly more, and stood higher than her waist.
Dropping to her knees, she traced along the intricate scrollwork of curious design. She could discern by touch the outlines of flowers and vines entwined, curved and winding around upright figures. The images made their way from the base to the top of the immense marble bed. Goldwyn touched the smooth surface again before rising to her feet. Looking back, she saw that only a few paces separated her from the column of gray light which shone dimly through the doorway. Perhaps she should turn back, but she felt so very exhausted. She would rest a while before venturing back outside.
Still, though, she knew that she must be very cautious, for, with no light to guide her, she could easily become lost in this dark and dreary labyrinth. As she slowly crept forward, she wondered whether the floor beneath her was solid, or if it might suddenly break off in an abrupt chasm. A shiver of fear coursed down her spine as she thought of lying injured and alone in this fearsome place where no one would ever find her. How very much like being buried alive such a fate would be! She began to feel as though the darkness were closing in all about her, like the dirt of an ignoble grave, suffocating her, crushing her ribcage, closing off her lungs with its great, heavy weight. She rubbed her hand across her forehead. What foolish thoughts! She must not think of such things, but instead regard her situation with calm reasoning!
Beyond the great stone bed, the chamber led into a hallway, and, putting out each hand, Goldwyn could touch both walls on either side. Guiding herself with the tips of her fingers, she edged farther ahead and felt a crack in the stone wall. As she moved her fingers along the rent, she could feel drops of moisture. She judged that, in times past, the roof above must have tilted and broken, allowing rainwater to seep into the interior. As though compelled by some force, she ventured deeper into the darkness until the musty damp odor almost overcame her. Her fingers traced over the walls and then suddenly her left hand plunged into nothingness. She was afraid to leave the safety of the right wall, fearing that if she did, she would lose all bearing and wander blindly through the darkness.
Goldwyn mused upon what great wonder of the architect's skills this structure must have been long ago. She let her imagination take flight, and she thought of the banqueting hall of some great lord where once had been mirth and revelry. She reflected with amusement how surprised the lords and ladies would be if they turned around and saw her, a woman not of noble birth, at their great party. "But the feast is long over, and the guests have gone."
The fingertips of her right hand tracing along the side of the chamber, her left touching nothing but the cool air, she felt her way forward until she once more touched something solid with her left hand. She kept her fingers upon the security of the right wall as her left explored the large stone. She discovered that it was as long as the first slab had been, but resting upon the top of this one was something firm and rough to the touch - a discarded goblet, a lamp?
Moving her fingers over its surface, she stroked its texture and found to her dismay that the object was neither goblet nor lamp. Groping with her fingers, she encircled the thing and picked it up. By its feel and weight, she could tell that the object was some kind of short sword. She grasped the hilt tightly, hoping that its blade would offer some protection, but the hilt broke from the blade and bled rust in her hand.
"The broken roof!" she thought as she returned the hilt to the slab. "The rain has turned the sword to ruin!"
Goldwyn used the hem of her skirt to wipe away the slivers of scaly iron which clung to her hand. Suddenly, everything became clear to her - this place was an ancient Gondorian tomb, the home of the dead. Those slabs in the first chamber were the biers upon which dead noblemen had been placed in their final slumber. Undoubtedly, the rusty sword had once rested upon the chest of some long dead lord as he slept in eternal repose. "But why the absence of skeletons in the first room and then this one?" she wondered, and then she knew: they had either turned to dust long ago or else they had been desecrated by the malice of the orcs.
While others might have fled in terror from the crypt as soon as they had realized what it was, Goldwyn was not easily frightened, and she certainly was not superstitious. The dead were powerless to harm the living, and she need not have any fear of staying in the tomb whilst she recovered her strength. Perhaps the Southron slavers, being ignorant men, would be far too frightened to search the crypt. They might even conclude that none of the captives would dare chose such a grim location for their hiding place. How strange it was, she mused, to find refuge in a place that the superstitious would deem as one filled only with dread!
Continuing to explore the chamber, Goldwyn came to another doorway, partly blocked by rubble. Denied the light of day or torch, her fingers served as her eyes. Reaching out and down, they found a jumble of broken stone. She could go no further unless she climbed over the obstruction, but perhaps it was just as well that the way was barred. She was afraid even to guess where the passage ahead might lead. Perhaps only a labyrinth of corridors and broken chambers lay deeper inside the crypt, and she feared that she would become hopelessly lost if she dared climb over the wreckage to the room beyond.
"'Twould only be folly to venture farther than I have," Goldwyn reasoned. As it was, she hoped that she had not wandered so far from the main entrance that she could not see the light of dawn when it shone through that long, rectangular doorway. She sat down, resting her back against the wall, and realized how utterly exhausted and thirsty she was. She did not dare lap up the rank water that pooled here and there upon the broken marble floor. The structure was cold and silent, a place of little solace, save to bats and other creatures that accepted its grim refuge. Though she now trembled from the chill and her face and hands felt clammy, she resolved to wait until daylight to leave this dark sanctuary.
As Goldwyn rested, she began to ponder what should be her course upon the morrow. Perhaps she should go back and attempt to find her sons? There was little likelihood that she could locate them unless they had been recaptured by the slavers. The only way that could be determined with certainty was for her to give herself up to the slavers and beg them to return her to the chains. She would never accept slavery again unless she was convinced that her sons had been taken.
Goldwyn fought her doubts and despair, vacillating as she considered her next action. Her heart ached for her sons, and the tears began to trickle down her face. She only hoped that she had done the best thing by leaving them and attempting to lure the orcs away from their hiding place. She questioned whether her course of action had been the right one or not. Nothing made sense anymore in this world that had been shaken upon its foundations.
"Perhaps at least they will have a chance now," Goldwyn mused. "I pray that my sons have evaded the orcs and are now hiding along the riverbank." She was certain, though, that the orcs had overlooked her sons when she had dashed past. Intent upon pursuing the mother, they would forget about the sons. "Fródwine is a wise lad and will take care of his brothers. How like his father!"
Leaning forward, Goldwyn wrapped her arms around her knees and rested her chin atop them. How she wished that her husband had not answered the call and hastened off to war! How she wished so many things! Her troubled thoughts began to gather about her like black ravens flocking around a carcass. She even questioned whether her husband now dwelt in the halls of the fathers, or if he were a wandering spirit, doomed to know no peace. Could he see her? Could he see the boys? She hoped that, if his spirit could cross the barrier and pass beyond the veil that separated the living from the dead, he would be able to guide their sons, and strengthen their hearts.
"Do ghosts perceive people clearly while all we can do is sense them sometimes?" These thoughts were far too heavy and complicated, and she had begun to feel deplorably weary. She stared pensively into the gloom until her head nodded and a lethargy slowly stole over her.
Oft times sweet dreams and thoughts of what once had been are much to be preferred than the grim reality of cold dawn... The appeal of gentle slumber was a tantalizing one, lulling her senses into a soft tranquility. She would sleep for only a short while and allow her mind to dwell upon better times. A gentle smile upon her face, she felt a relaxing peace descend upon her, and remembered herself as a young girl.
Upon her shoulder she felt the gentle hand of her mother shaking her to wakefulness. "Do you forget what today is?" her mother asked her, mild disapproval in her voice. Even though it was her wedding day, Goldwyn would not be excused from all the many tasks that remained to be done, and she must be about them.
Soon she was dressed and in the kitchen with her mother, sister and the servant girl. The other women had already mixed and kneaded the dough for the bread and set it aside to allow the dough to rise. Goldwyn's mother was beaming with pride and joy as she reminded her of what a propitious match that she had made with Fasthelm son of Fastred. The father of her betrothed was the owner of a prosperous carpentry business, passed down to him by his father before him. Though the years of old Fastred were great, he still thrived, but now he much preferred to spend his time telling stories to his many grandchildren rather than building houses or furniture.
Goldwyn blushed when her mother predicted that within the coming year, Fastred would be a grandfather once again, this time to the child of Fasthelm and Goldwyn. The family of her betrothed was a well-respected one, and, as her mother happily described them, "rather affluent." They were situated high in the class of ceorls. The strong young man who would become her husband that afternoon was highly respected, for his skill was well known throughout that section of the Eastfold. Many were pleased to commission him to construct houses, barns and sheds for them or craft their furniture or farm implements. Certainly, Goldwyn would be well-situated after the marriage.
One of Fasthelm's ancestors had been a guard in the thane's service. Honored for his commendable record, he had been given a goodly sized plot of land which spread out towards the north. In return for this great gift, every son who came after him would tend after the lord's fences, assist in the construction of new buildings, and do other such tasks. Though often the duties of the more wealthy peasants called for delivering messages for their lords, the men of Fasthelm's family were seldom called upon for that duty.
Goldwyn smiled in her sleep, but the sweet expression turned into a grimace when she awakened from the pleasant dream. She shivered with the chill, for it seemed that the chamber had grown colder. "That blissful dream was certainly not long enough," she thought as all the images of her wedding day fled before the cold reality of the dismal place where she now sat. Hunched forward, her back was aching, and with a groan, she straightened her spine and rested it against the smooth wall.
How many years had elapsed now since their wedding day? She touched her face and pondered the passage of time. Though she was only twenty-nine, there were a few faint lines tracing their way across her forehead, betwixt her brows, and at the corners of her eyes. There were other telltale lines faintly discernible about her lips. No, the years that had passed since she was a bride of sixteen had told. Still, though, Fasthelm had always assured her that she was comely and that the lines were too slight to be noticed and, besides, what could be seen only added to her beauty.
"The big oaf," she thought with fondness, "he always sought to flatter me."
Far better to think of those happy days that had passed into the realm of gentle memory than to dwell upon the dark desolation that lay about her. She closed her eyes again and the years rolled away into a gray mist that slowly began to come into sharp focus. The sun was bright and golden in the blue sky of that day in September when she and Fasthelm had stood together in the garden of her parents' home. Though the house was an ample one and spacious, there were far too many uncles and aunts, cousins and kinsmen than could comfortably be lodged in the confines of their modest hall. And so as the bride and groom clasped each other's hands and gazed into the eyes of the other, the ripe apples in the canopy of branches above them foretold the bounteous splendor of autumn.
As the family and guests beamed at them and nodded their approval, Fasthelm had clasped her face between his hands and bent down and tenderly kissed her lips. Standing back to behold her sweet beauty, he smiled into her face. Down the course of the years, she could still hear his voice, deep and husky with emotion - "My beloved, you make a splendid bride. I am a lucky man!" He was not satisfied with kissing only her lips, no, not Fasthelm! Pressing her bosom to his chest, his tongue found the prominent tan mole upon her upper cheek and the smaller, darker one to the left of her chin. "I have taken quite a fancy to those exquisite beauty marks, my lovely bride, and intend to buss them quite often."
The assemblage nodded and beamed and chuckled and fussed over the pair, congratulating Fasthelm on his choice of a bride. Her mother, becoming impatient and fearing that the food would grow cold, ordered them all to the wedding feast. Life was perfect on that September day almost thirteen years ago.
Goldwyn smiled in her slumbers as she heard his deep voice whispering into her ear, "You make a splendid bride." He would repeat these words again and again as his lips found the beauty marks on her face and caressed them with his tongue. "I have taken quite a fancy to these spots..." She could hear his beloved voice once again, but it seemed to be coming from a great distance, only half-recalled like the memory of the touch of a strong hand upon her face.
The sound of a sigh eased out of the peace of the shadowy abode of the dead and touched her mind like gentle fingers...
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.