10. 10 - Lost To The World
- Chapter 10 / Lost To The World -
The cold sand beneath my feet was shifting and unstable as I tried to find my way through the cave. The lights were dim and flickering, not reaching the ceilings that remained concealed in darkness, and I had to squint to distinguish my way through lest I wanted to run into the refugees that massed around me. There was little I knew about the Glittering Caves, save for the fact that they wound deep under the mountains; deeper than any now living man could know. They had been used in the past as a refuge and an escape route, but the road to the other side was long, and unprotected. Who knew what could lurk in the deepest caverns?
As I crossed the cave, I saw guards of the palace walking amongst the people, looking for arms able to carry a weapon. Sons were torn from their mothers, husbands and fathers who had thought never to face a foe again were called back to their duty. And the women's laments filled the immensity of the cavern. I watched them part with their loved ones and seek comfort in their friends' arms, and thought that it was the wrong people who were being picked to fight. Those men had families to take care of, duties beside their oath to their King. But I, and the likes of me, would not be missed. Without ties and responsibilities, we were free to face death and embrace it.
But then I saw the grim determination beneath the horror, the strength of their grasp on those rusty swords, and understood that perhaps it was better this way. For I had nothing to lose in this war save my life, and therefore nothing worth fighting for; unlike the soldiers of fortune who would lay down their lives for their families to survive.
The heavy iron hinges screamed in protest as the door closed behind me, the last rays of sunlight reaching out through the opening… And then they, too, vanished, to be replaced by the oppressing twilight of the Caves. I walked on, until I found an empty spot. There I set the bundle that contained my possessions on the ground and sat down.
All around me, people were comforting each other, offering their love and strength, and I felt like an intruder once again. Watching them felt wrong, as though I was spying on something that was forbidden to me, and neither did I like the sensation of their eyes on me, questioning my solitude. I wrapped my shawl around me and I buried my face into the thick wool. It was childish, and yet strangely comforting to pretend that people could not see me if I did not see them.
Soon I was chilled to the bone. The thin, old shawl did not suffice to ward off the cold that seeped through my clothing, and all I could do was curl up on my spot and try to ignore the chattering of my teeth. I knew my resolve would not last long; the cold was a treacherous enemy, warding off sleep and rest, weakening the mind. I only had to hold on long enough, until the battle started. Then, perhaps, the sounds of screaming and of immediate danger outside those doors would keep my mind off the numbness in my extremities.
But no echo of battle disturbed the cavern. The refugees around me settled down, and soon a heavy silence fell on the Caves; a silence full of waiting and silent prayers for mercy.
Béma, what are they waiting for?
Suddenly something heavy came to rest on my shoulders, wrapping me in warmth, and I looked up to see Elswide couching beside me. She seemed as surprised as I was, and I guessed she had not recognized me in the poor soul about to freeze to death. There was a moment of awkward silence between us; then I tried to speak.
"Th-thank y-you," I stammered.
She seemed to hesitate, and finally stood up. I expected her to leave; but she only went to retrieve her own possessions, and came back to sit beside me, wrapping herself in another blanket. I felt warmer now, the chattering in my teeth subsiding, and I huddled closer to her. Without a word she did the same, and as I unwrapped the blanket to re-wrap it around us both she imitated me. We sat in companionable silence, neither of us willing to remember what harsh words had been spoken during our last conversation. And I was happy to have a friend by my side. For words were only that – empty sounds, compared to the death looming above the heads of everyone in the hold.
Suddenly the silence of the cavern was shattered by a distant crash, like thousands and thousands of iron fists crashing against iron shields in challenge. The echo died, and then another impact rumbled down the caverns.
The enemy was finally here.
"I am scared."
Elswide's whisper had roused me from the light slumber I had begun to fall into. I blinked and huddled closer to her, offering what comfort I could provide by my presence.
I did not want to die. But as the clash of steel against steel drew closer to the doors and echoed in a more pressing way with each minute that passed, I mused that it may happen sooner than I had thought. For all my cunning and all my stealth, I was unable to evade a blade directed at me; and even if I managed to escape deeper into the caverns should the doors break, I would not last long in the cold darkness; being killed even seemed preferable to such a slow end.
I had heard that death offered a respite, a rest that many sought when they became weary of life or suffering. To fade into nothingness, to fall asleep forever… That did not frighten me. Whether I disappeared now or years later, the world would still go on without me. I only feared the pain, when the blade would cut through flesh and sinew, ripping organs apart, destroying, crushing…
"Me too," I whispered, pulling Elswide closer.
Hours seemed to shuffle by with infinite slowness, like a mourner by the bed of a dying man; cloaked in darkness, all alike in face. I felt them pass us by, whispering words of defeat. Outside the battle raged, crashing against the walls of the cavern, as if the swords and the spears could wear the stone away and reveal us to our enemies.
I slumbered a little, Elswide sleeping with her head on my shoulder. I realized that not only did she fear for her own life, but also for that of her husband. Ceolwulf was somewhere out there, in the chaos of the battle; and she could only imagine what could be happening to him.
And Legolas… Where was he? Was he still standing, his bow drawn and the last arrow notched, choosing the best target before he was overcome? Or was he wounded, fighting the Uruks with the little strength he had left, feeling in horror as his muscles gave up before he could drag himself back to safety? Was he dead, empty eyes watching the night sky before other corpses piled up on him? My heart despaired at the thought, and yet reason denied me hope.
We would all die someday, but Legolas deserved better than a mass grave. Each time I thought of him, my mind conjured the picture of a being both ancient and young, wise and full of quick wit, almost too luminous and perfect for the world I had been accustomed to. He deserved to live out all of the years of his long life, not a nameless death; and so much more. I wanted him to be happy... Because I cared. There was no denying it. No mere fascination of a mortal for a First-born made my heart beat so, no simple curiosity made me hope he would find me once again. I loved him, all the while knowing that it could only lead to pain.
A crash against the doors made us jump in surprise; Elswide squeaked in fear, clutching the blanket, and I froze. Had the final hour come? I was not ready! Suddenly the prospect of death, even painless and quick, made me reel with horror. To disappear, leaving but a memory – and even this would fade quickly, given my choices – seemed too immense, too crushing a concept to grasp. I understood why Legolas had pressed me to keep the ring. More than a simple reminder, it was a part of him that would exist on after himself had passed away.
A shuffle on the other side triggered a wave of worried whispers through the caverns, refugees springing to their feet in indecision. Should we flee, taking the risk of a long and dark journey through the caverns to the other side? Or should we wait for a certain sign that all hope was lost? But then it would be too late, surely? I rose to my feet, pulling Elswide up.
"Come," I whispered. "Come on, we must leave."
"No!" she muttered, her eyes trained on the door. "Ceolwulf is out there, I must wait…"
"You must save yourself!" I hissed, gathering my things and thinking only of keeping my promise to Legolas. As much as I loved Elswide, his memory was more precious to my heart; I had given my word, and intended to keep it. But I had first to cross the mountains and reach the relative safety of the other side. And where one would certainly get lost and die, two could succeed. "If he… if he lives, you will meet him in Edoras again."
The doors slammed open, and silhouettes poured in; they were Rohan soldiers, but their golden hair was matted with blood, and their faces grim. Steel sang as they pushed the Uruks away from the doors, crushing them between the heavy panes as they closed them again.
"Run!" one of them yelled as he turned towards the crowd. "By order of the King, run for your lives! The hold is taken!"
And so we fled. The young led the old, and carried the babes and children too small to make their way safely down the treacherous path. Yet the journey beneath the mountains was surprisingly uneventful, considering the Uruks that could be tailing us through in the darkness. Each step echoed down the caverns, each whisper turned into a menacing hiss, and the torchlights transformed our shadows into monsters, creeping along the walls and waiting for a moment of inattention. Many a time did I feel my foot slip, many a time did I find myself facing a pool of black water; one more step, and I would disappear in the cold abyss, the slippery walls swallowing me forever.
I walked, examining the ground before each step to take my mind off the possibilities. If the Hornburg had been taken, then I and those with me were certainly kingless, and for many a woman, a widow. What future awaited us on the other side but poverty and danger? What land would offer refuge to a horde of dirty, famished refugees? Gondor? From what I had gathered, the land was not much better off; first in sight for the Eye of Sauron, it had been subjected to his attacks more even that Rohan. Surely it had its share of beggars and widows with no desire to welcome more.
As for me, I knew where my own road lay: towards Mirkwood and its throne, to bear a grieving father ill news of his son. My own heart bled at the thought of Legolas' death, but that the king would never know. For what comfort could another's pain be compared to the loss of a son?
Legolas, dead… It seemed as though the caves around me grew darker at the realization, and the world lost some of its light. Somehow, it had been changed by this one disappearance; but the people would never realize it. For many, the sun would still shine as bright as before, and the spring would blossom into summer regardless of this loss. But for me, the very air seemed to have acquired a taste of ash.
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.