6. 6 - Payback
- Chapter 6 / Payback -
"Oh, the poor dears!" exclaimed Alfreda as she poured stew into two bowls. "How brave of them, to have ridden so far to warn us!" She shook her head sadly. "I hope they see their Mama soon…"
I exchanged a dismayed glance with Rowena. Neither of us was as soft-hearted as our friend, and we both knew that there was very little chance for Freda and Éothain to see their mother again after a Dunlending attack. Those men were savages, sparing no-one, burning, stealing and slaughtering the villagers for a piece of bread or an old shirt. Too long had our riders held them in respect beyond the Isen. Too long had we denied them our plains. The Dunlendings had bided their time, and now that we were weakened, they came to claim what they had been coveting for decades, nothing more than expendable pawns in Saruman's game. More would come, men and orcs, an alliance against nature that had one purpose: to bring the Mark to its knees.
I saw that Rowena had opened her mouth to tell all this to Alfreda, and shook my head. There was no need to crush her hopes, no matter how useless and childish they seemed to us. Maybe they brought her comfort, in the face of the impending war… And who were we to deny her that?
I took the two bowls and left for the Hall, leaving my friends to their discussion. The corridors were quiet and deserted, the previously unmatched cruelty of this attack having left the inhabitants of Meduseld shaken and confused. No-one knew what to think, anymore. I shook my head; had they really expected all our troubles to be over with Gandalf's arrival? The wizard, no matter how powerful, had not come to fight our battles, only to warn us that war was upon us.
As I walked into the Hall, I could not help but glance to where Legolas stood. He did not seem to notice me, absorbed in an argument between Aragorn and Théoden King and, pushing down the small pang of frustration, I headed for the table where the children sat under the dwarf's watchful eye. Setting the bowls in the table in front of them, I leaned to wipe a smudge of dirt off Freda's cheek. "Where's Mama?" the little girl asked, pouting. At a loss about what to say or do, I looked at Éowyn for help; but she was listening to her uncle's arguments, and did not meet my eyes.
"Open war is upon you, whether you would risk it or not" Aragorn was saying, and I could only agree with him. One had to be blind to not see the smokes of our country burning, as Saruman's minions marched upon Edoras. But I would never speak against our King, and Aragorn's reproachful tone made me feel out of place, an intruder.
Trying to ignore the heated discussion that was taking place, I crouched beside Freda. "Shh. You will see her soon!" I said, lying through my smile and thanking Béma as she nodded, apparently convinced. I looked up to meet the dwarf's dark eyes. He seemed to mock me for my false words.
"When last I looked, Théoden, not Aragorn, was king of Rohan."
I winced at the harsh words, silently praying for appeasement. Lord Aragorn was right, and war was now inevitable. But in these times of hardships and loss, we needed to stand united, and not argue over ranks and titles. But I was a mere servant, what did I know?
I silently stood up, noticing as Éothain shivered in a cold draft. He had lent his sister his cloak, and the rain had soaked his old, worn clothes. "I will bring you a blanket," I muttered, relieved for this excuse to slip away from the growing conflict.
I welcomed the silence of the halls and headed to the linen room for a blanket. Conflicted thoughts swirled in my mind. I felt a surge of loyalty towards Théoden, a desire to fight and defend my country, but the wiser part of me understood the horrors of a war, and sided with the King's arguments of safety. Absorbed into my musings, I did not notice the shadow that had stepped out to block my passage. "Excuse me," I mumbled, trying to get past it, and gasped as a hand shot out to grip my arm.
"We meet again!" hissed Osred into my ear as he pulled me against him, covering my mouth with his hand. His breath stank of ale, and I started to struggle. He ignored my efforts. "You thought I'd forgotten, hadn't you? Hag!" he laughed bitterly, shoving me hard against the wall. My chin collided with stone, and I cried out in pain into his palm. "I should've known… Stupid little whore, I should've discovered your little secret…"
Warm blood trickled down my neck. I wriggled, trying to get my arms free, but he was holding me trapped between himself and the wall; the stones scraped on the skin of my hands, and I felt tears of terror and frustration burn my eyes. Why did it have to be so easy for him? Why could I not break free, even for a second? His very presence in my back made me sick, and sicker yet was the realization of what he had in mind.
Osred cursed into my ear and grabbed a handful of my hair. No! I thought just before he slammed my head into the wall. "Stay still, whore!" I heard him growl through the blinding pain. Everything seemed to swim before my eyes, and I realized that it was me who was swaying on my feet, ready to fall. "You owe me," he hissed angrily. "You owe me money, you slut! And I think I'll just have you pay in kind."
No! I wanted to scream, but my mind was blurry. I felt vaguely, as though from a distance, that my skirts were being lifted, and Osred's calloused hand on my skin; I thought I would be sick. Was this how Aelflaed had felt, and Elswide, and all the others before and after them? I struggled on, hearing Osred's furious swearing. I refused to believe that all my efforts had been vain.
"Get off her!"
Osred yelped in surprise as he was torn away from me; through my shock and pain, I distinctly heard the sound of bone against stone, and Osred's yelp was replaced by a muffled scream. I tried to steady myself by propping myself against the wall, but my knees buckled beneath my weight, and I crumbled to the ground. Hastily wiping the tears than ran down my cheeks, I fumbled with my dress to make sure I was covered. It was over, I told myself. I was safe… But I seemed to be unable to stop crying and shaking in fright. I could still feel those careless fingers on my thighs, that vile breath on my neck… I crawled away from the commotion and, bending over, vomited on the ground.
As I was wiping my mouth on my sleeve, caring little for decency and hygiene, someone knelt beside me. "Are you unhurt?" inquired Legolas cautiously, reaching out to pull my hair out of my face. "You are not," he said immediately and touched my chin. I hissed in pain and flinched away from his hand.
"It must be stitched up," Legolas commented calmly as he cupped my face to get a better look at the wound.
I glared at him. "Don't touch it!" I hissed. "It hurts!" Despite my gratitude for his intervention, I felt humiliated that he should be the one to witness my moment of weakness.
He looked relieved, and pulled his hand away. My chin burned in pain, but the skin where he had touched me now felt cold.
"Better bring her to a healer, lad," grumbled a voice, and I looked up to see the dwarf looking at me in sympathy. Béma, had he witnessed it all as well? I felt mortified at the thought, and swatted Legolas' arm away as he tried to help me up.
"I am fine!" I snapped, immediately feeling guilty for being so harsh and ungrateful towards my saviours. "Thank you," I added softly. I was not certain that a healer was what I wanted to see, right then. I wished above all to cease feeling Osred's lecherous hands on me, and wash away his stench from my skin. I managed to stand, my legs still wobbly from the shock. Leaning against the wall for support, I saw the Osred's unconscious form sprawled out on the floor. By the looks of it, his nose had been broken, and Gimli stood guard beside him, swinging one of his axes with a blood-chilling nonchalance.
Hatred and disgust rose within me, and I lunged forward to kick the body. "Bastard!" I spat, enjoying the feeling of my foot colliding with his ribs. "Don't you dare touch me again!"
"Morwrei!" Legolas exclaimed. He caught my arm, and spun me around. "Don't," he said, and glanced towards the unconscious man. His eyes darkened in anger. "He deserves a harsher justice, but justice nevertheless." I nodded, suddenly feeling tired and worn, and vaguely ashamed of my behaviour. Had I not condemned the same treatment when it was inflicted to Gríma?
"Are you… Has he…" Legolas hesitated, his grip on my arm loosening as if he was suddenly afraid to touch me. His eyes met mine, and I understood his silent question.
"No… He hadn't had the time." But I realized how close it had been, and felt a surge of gratitude towards Legolas and the dwarf for stopping Osred. "I was lucky you were passing by."
The dwarf smirked and glanced at Legolas, who glared back. "You must see a healer," Legolas repeated, ignoring my thanks. "Come, I will accompany you."
"He broke his nose? Ha!" Alfreda raised her fist in a gesture of triumph. "Well done, Master elf, well done indeed!"
Rowena raised an eyebrow at her friend's enthusiasm as she tilted my head to the side to get a better look at what she was doing. She had volunteered to stitch up the gash, and despite Legolas' initial determination to remain by my side, she had glared him out of the kitchens. I had wanted Legolas to stay, and although I loved Rowena dearly, I could not help but resent her a little for sending him away. This resulted in my rather reluctant cooperation, as she started to dab the wound with a wet cloth.
"Ouch!" I flinched away as she prodded the tender flesh too forcefully, sending a particularly strong stab of pain down my jaw. "Are you not supposed to make it better?"
"Don't speak!" snapped Rowena sternly. "Unless you want it to scar…"
"Oh, it's so romantic!" Alfreda gushed on.
"What, being almost raped by a drunk bastard?" Rowena snapped. "Just go out there; there'll be plenty of romance for you."
"No!" Alfreda waved her hand. "Being saved by the handsome elf… How brave of him!"
I almost shook my head in dismay, but caught Rowena's warning glance and refrained. I wanted to tell her that Rowena was right, and that there had been little sentiment in Legolas' motives. I had heard that acts of intimacy equalled marriage for the elves, and were therefore sacred. Legolas would have done the same for any maiden, and with the same seething rage that had flashed in his eyes when he had glanced at Osred.
But how sweet would it be, to imagine for an instant that he had saved me because it was, well, me… I closed my eyes briefly, chasing the silly thought away. There was nothing to dream of; no romance between us. Only the sympathy and the wary respect from one survivor to another.
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.