Shattered Tales: 3. Of Courage And Long Hair

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3. Of Courage And Long Hair

- Of Courage And Long Hair -

They were going to break the doors. The wood cracked ominously under yet another impact of an improvised battering ram; it shook on its hinges, but held on. However, neither Caladwen or any of the other refugees huddling together in the small shack harbored any hope that it should last. Outside, the orcs' grunts and chanting surrounded the small house, as the monsters cheered on their comrades to give them access to their victims – at last.

Caladwen sobbed in horror when she understood what it meant: Father, Brethil and the other defenders had fallen. Her brother, whom she had admired and adored since her birth, the one who had played with her and soothed her childhood fears, was dead. And the orcs rejoiced, anticipating yet another feast. The village was lost…

The attack had come unexpected; no scout had warned them, no hunters' party sent by Lord Elrond from the valley nearby had come to protect them. They had been left to fend for themselves, and had failed, adults and children alike slain by orcs' blades as the attackers rampaged through the settlement. Those who had picked up a weapon had been killed, and those who had fled had found themselves herded back to the heart of the village – and the slaughter. Those who, like Caladwen, had frozen in blind fear upon hearing the cries of warning, had found a temporary refuge in a small house, barring the doors in an ultimate attempt for protection. Some time earlier they had still heard the screams of those left outside, screams that turned hoarse as their throats could not express their pain and horror anymore. Some had managed to reach the house, scraping their nails on the wood as the orcs slaughtered them on the doorstep. And then silence had fallen, punctuated by the crashes of the ram on the door.

Another blow, and one of the hinges gave in. Nails torn from the wood went flying across the room and Caladwen moaned in fear, her cry lost in the midst of the tears and wails of the other women. There were no men inside with her, no-one left to pick up a weapon for their defense. They were already dead, even though yet breathing – only time separated them from their sad fate.

Beside her Alassiel wept, her beautiful face marred with the blood of her beloved husband. Elenion had died defending her, the very last one to fall as he pushed them inside the shack and tried to close the doors on the orcs that followed them. An arrow had found him through the closing door, and he had crumbled. Now he lay in the middle of the house, arms and legs spread out at awkward angles – there was no pretending that he was asleep, no restful calm on his features twisted in pain. Only his blood oozed on the ground in crimson rivulets – a reminder of those whose bodies were left at the mercy of the orcs. How many red rivers ran through the village, now?

Caladwen did not want to think about them, but Brethil's smile as he had teased her earlier that day seemed stuck in her memory. He was gone now; they were all gone. The house delimited her little world of anguish and grief, and soon it would fall as well, reduced to a blade and a blow. Would she be the first to die? The third, the last? Would she see what was left of her friends slaughtered, her heart breaking at last before it was cut out from her chest?

She rose to her feet, oblivious to Alassiel's pleas and her desperate tugging on the hem of her dress, and went to pick up Elenion's sword from his cold, limp hand. Orcs slew those armed first; they killed them quickly, eliminating the threat – and though painful, her death would be fast. Caladwen smiled grimly. If her turn to go had come, she would go first, and not live to see the last of her loved ones killed off like animals, or worse – played with. She knew not how to fight; even to hold a weapon was a foreign sensation; but she had seen it done enough to pretend. Clutching the slippery handle with both hands, she raised it and waited.

The door gave in with a deafening crack and slammed on the ground. Orcs poured through the opening, yelping and grunting; their blades were raised in expectation of a resistance. Caladwen felt her knees give way beneath her but managed to stand, shaking, as they circled her. Their breath smelled of blood, their weapons were crude and enormous compared to her slender blade. A huge orc smiled as he raised his weapon above her head.

Caladwen closed her eyes.

The blow never came. Instead of the pain and the darkness, she heard the hiss of another blade cutting the air, and the clash of steel against steel somewhere above her head, so very near. Then someone shoved her out of the way, and she yelped in pain as she landed on her stomach in the middle of something warm and sticky.

Blood! Its sickening smell filled her nostrils and Caladwen scrambled away, slipping and sobbing. Her back touched the corner of the house, and she could finally see what was happening. The orcs were falling one by one, pressed by grey-cloaked elves, their blades no match to the skill of the warriors of Imladris. Slaughtered, just as they had slaughtered the villagers they died, piled one on another like animals. And in the midst of the carnage shone the sun itself.

His golden hair flying as he spun and blocked and slashed, his armor shining with blood, stood a warrior Caladwen had never seen. A step, another, a lethal blow – he danced with his blades, eyes half-closed as his body executed the long-practiced routine of killing. With a triumphant cry he lowered his sword, tricking the orc as it curved and slashed him open.

Victory was theirs. The refugees cheered and cried in joy, rising to their feet to thank their saviors, but Caladwen stood frozen in her corner. Indeed it was over – the danger, and the world as she had known it. Beauty and death… She had seen them in one day, and lost everything she had in the span of an hour: her family, and her heart.

"Are you injured?"

The voice was soft, cautious, and Caladwen blinked away from the corpses to face the speaker.

"No… No, my Lord." She attempted a curtsy, remembering what respect was due to those of his rank, but her legs gave way beneath her, and she would have crumbled piteously had he not caught her.

He nodded as he steadied her, relinquishing his hold of her waist. His eyes searched hers, and Caladwen felt deft fingers pry Elenion's sword from her numb fingers – she had not realized she had been holding it still.

"Give it back to Alassiel," she whispered. "It belongs – belonged – to her husband."

With those words came pain, the agony of survivor's solitude and guilt. And through the tears that flowed down her cheeks, she thought she saw an echo of that ache in his old, old eyes.

oOoOo

They had called it courage. Selflessness, even. Said that her bravery had drawn the attackers' attention, and gained precious seconds that had allowed the warriors to intervene.

Those words made her sick.

Those precious seconds had not saved Brethil or Father or Elenion, but spared her life instead when she had been calling for death. They had prolonged those instants she had been dreading, where she saw everyone she ever held dear killed and herself alone in the cold, wide world. Now she had a lifetime to dwell in that solitude, and question endlessly why she should be the one to survive.

Cheers and thanks rang false to her ears, hands that shook hers scorched her skin, and soon she learned to shy away from the other survivors and their thankful families.

They had called it modesty.

oOoOo

The pool was deep, the water icy – Caladwen could imagine the sensation of that biting cold on her skin and in her lungs, if only she found that courage… The wind that blew over the cliff seemed to nudge her forward, as though it understood her fear. Soaked clothes would weigh her down, and the silence would drown her last gasp. The pool would welcome her into her arms, drawing her deep into oblivion and calm.

"The pain will be excruciating," said a conversational voice behind her.

Caladwen spun around to see Glorfindel propped against a tree, watching the depths below with interest. She knew who he was now, her golden-haired dancer: the renowned Balrog Slayer, reborn after his glorious fall in Gondolin, and whose courage and selflessness were legendary. He looked up, and Caladwen found herself pinned down by his eyes.

"What? I… I was not…"

"I know you were," he said quietly. "I know."

His careless façade slipped from his face, leaving bare a solemn, dark man. He walked over to the edge of the cliff, and small rocks rolled down into the abyss from under his boots. The wind whipped his hair into his face, but he did not seem to care.

"Death will stop the pain," he agreed, but his smile was bitter. "But death is not forever. Believe me. You could be reborn to this same agony you are fleeing from."

"I am not you," Caladwen muttered darkly. "I am no hero."

Glorfindel scoffed. "A hero? Tell me, what do you know of my tale?"

She scowled. "That you fought a Balrog above Gondolin in flames, to allow the last refugees to escape through a pass in the mountains."

"…And lost." Glorfindel completed.

"And lost," she agreed. And, feeling slighted in her right to deny any pretense at selflessness and sacrifice, added: "And died a glorious death."

His eyes turned cold. "There is no such thing," he snapped. "Courage, nobility, all this is play pretend as death grips us. All hearts bleed, Caladwen. All men fear." He sighed, his features softening once more. "And I, of all people, am no hero, for grief was what caused my end."

He spoke quietly, the howling wind carrying his words to Caladwen though she stood but a step away.

"I saw Ecthelion fall as he dragged Gothmog along into the fountain. My friend was dead… My brother. And I fought to find that death as well, hoping it would claim its due once again, as it had many a time that day. But it evaded me, and I lived. And as I fled the city, I knew that I would find no rest again, and no home to welcome me. That I could not overcome that grief. And then came the Balrog; a foe, a cause – and a means to reach my goal." Glorfindel smiled sadly. "Do you know I almost survived?" he said. "Almost… If not for my hair."

He reached to twirl a golden lock between his fingers. "I have not cut it since."

Caladwen swallowed the lump in her throat. "Then I will find no rest?" she whispered.

Glorfindel turned to face her. Despite the cold wind, she could feel his body heat through her dress. He was there with her, alive – and she found she was glad for it.

"No." He reached out to push a lock out of her eyes, then looked away, to the distant horizon draped in clouds of rain. "No… But you will learn to delay the desire to go. And maybe…" His voice dropped, lower still so that Caladwen had to strain her ears to hear it. "Maybe you will find something worth living for."

And in that instant, wrapped in his warmth and his presence, Caladwen saw a glimpse of hope for her future. It was but a spark, a possibility of a life not without suffering, but with a distraction from her grief that would make it more bearable – almost happy. Caladwen smiled. Yes, she would be content with 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.

Story Information

Author: WindSurfBabe

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/26/11

Original Post: 06/26/11

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