7. 7 - The Truth
- Chapter 7 / The Truth -
"By order of the king, the city must empty! We make for the refuge of Helm's Deep. Do not burden yourself with treasures, take only what provisions you need!" Háma had yelled out, riding through the streets to warn the inhabitants of Edoras about the imminent attack. The people had listened, clutching their children and then started giving out brisk orders to gather their meager possessions. I, too, packed for the journey, though the preparations were quick: I possessed almost nothing, save for a dress or two and an old shawl that used to be pretty, but that now was torn in places. There was nothing that I would mind losing, nothing that I would cling to. The fire that had claimed both my parents and our home had left me with nothing but memories, and even those had become confused over the years.
No, it was Edoras itself that I would miss: the narrow, cobble stoned streets, the small houses with their thatched roofs that glinted in the sun like gold, the walks from the palace to the wooden watchtower to look into the plain below and marvel at the view. And of course the splendor of Medulseld, the Hall of Kings. Who would walk beneath the carved beams, if we lost this war? Who would sit on the throne? Saruman? Gríma?
Shaking my head free of such gloomy images, I went to the small room I once shared with Aelflaed and opened the old trunk in the corner. Aelflaed's possessions had long since been removed to be restored to her sister, and my meagre possessions lay sadly at the bottom, dwarfed by all the remaining free space. Bittersweet memories rose within my mind: her and I, sitting on that trunk in front of the fire, braiding each other's hair and dreaming of the love we would find someday; but Aelflaed had found little romance here, only humiliation and a desperate end.
I pulled out the dresses and folded them carefully, noticing how the fabric had become worn over the years. The green one's hem needed repairing, I noted absently before reaching for the shawl. As I started pulling it out, something clattered on the bottom on the trunk. Intrigued, I peered inside.
A comb laid there, one or two of its teeth broken from years of use, the small simbelmynë engraved in the wood still visible. I reached for it with a trembling hand, remembering that it once belonged to my friend. Aelflaed, ever present in my mind, never forgotten, forever loved. Still I missed her, wondering when the pain would cease, and whether it would at all.
I ran my fingers down the polished surface, remembering the feeling of the comb in my hand. The memory was so alive that a lump formed in my throat, painful and smothering. It felt so unfair, so heartbreakingly sad that she should have been the one to go first. We used to speak of growing old together, and suddenly I had been left alone in a world much harsher than I ever realized it to be…
Pushing down the tears, I put the comb on top of the dresses and wrapped my belongings into the shawl. I hadn't shed a tear when Aelflaed had died, for there was no time to: I had to think about myself. Time, I lacked it now as well. Someday, I would allow myself to cry for my Aelflaed, for all the years that had been stolen from us and all those that I had aged during the last few months. But not now.
The grey skies seemed to loom above us, watching our exile, as the people of Edoras trickled out of the city and into the plain, down the road that wound through the mountains and to the valley of Helm's Deep. Clutching my bundle, I walked out of the city gates, trudging behind the overloaded cart of one of the families who had refused to leave their possessions behind, taking everything save the house itself. The cart rocked precariously on its wheels, its contents swaying with every pothole, and soon we were being distanced by the people ahead.
I saw Háma halt his horse beside the family.
"Hengist!" he called out to the elder, "the King said provisions only!"
The old man scowled at the rider from his place on the cart, crossing his arms obstinately. "Took me a life to gather all this!" he screeched. "I won't leave it to the Dunlendings to take!" He pointed his cane at Háma. "You can't force me to leave my possessions!"
Háma shrugged, unimpressed. "Indeed, and I have more pressing matters to do. But hear this: your cart will not go into the Hornburg; there is not enough space. So either you leave it now, or remain before the walls to guard it from the orcs!" And he turned his horse around, making his way back to Théoden.
Hengist blanched. "You insolent boy!" he shrieked after him, clenching his scrawny fists in helpless rage and looking around for support. His family, gathered beside the cart, placidly stared back.
"Get me down, you lot!" he yelled finally, waving his cane around. "Move!" His children hurried to obey, ducking to avoid the cane.
Someone chuckled beside me. "No doubt that orcs would flee in terror before his wrath," said Legolas' melodic voice.
I turned around and smiled. "Hengist was a ferocious warrior, in his time…"
"…And ferocious he remained!" Legolas agreed.
We walked past the cart. I noticed that he was carrying his bow in his hands, ready to use it, and shivered. Did he expect an attack?
"Are you cold?" he asked quietly and reached for the clasp of his cloak.
"No." I shook my head, regretting a little that my conscience hadn't allowed me to lie. It would have been pleasant to wear something that belonged to him, even for a short while, to feel his warmth on the fabric... I shook my head, chiding myself for such a silly desire. "I was wondering whether we were to expect an attack during our journey." I nodded towards his bow.
He followed my gaze and shrugged. "I learned that one is never too cautious," he replied, his expression guarded. "It is a long road, and troubled times."
I looked at him attentively, wondering how old he was. Elves did not wear their age on their face as we humans did; despite his youthful appearance, I had the feeling that Legolas had fought many a battle, and seen darkness beyond my strangest nightmares. Many years of wariness lurked in those blue eyes of his.
However, I also asked myself whether he was telling me the whole truth: dangerous times or not, his demeanour was too stiff to be simply wary. He reminded me of one of my father's stallions: teeth not yet bared but the whole body poised in expectancy, all muscle and speed. I was certain that his arrow would be notched before the sound of danger even reached our ranks.
"Are you sparing me, Master elf?" I asked wryly. "I am not naïve enough to believe that Saruman would let such a chance to strike pass; here, in the open, with nowhere for us to hide..."
Legolas looked at me in surprise. "Indeed," he nodded, "I should know that you are not a woman to be caught unawares."
I shrugged, looking away; Osred's attack had caught me off-guard, and it stung. I had been brutally reminded that I was not, after all, as cautious as I liked to believe myself to be. "I don't like surprises," I said eventually.
He smiled and raised his bow. "Neither do I."
"And you didn't answer my question. What do you fear?" I shot him a sharp glance, but my determination faltered as he stared back. Maybe I had overstepped the borders of what was allowed between us? I bit my tongue, cursing it for its brutality. Truth was, I feared to lose Legolas' friendship, if our young relationship could be called thus. He had only to quicken his step, and leave me behind. I would not dare follow.
Instead, Legolas smirked. "Right now,: orcs. Saruman breeds them by thousands for such occasions. Wargs, if we are unlucky." His eyes met mine, slightly mocking; he was challenging me to remain as fearless and bold now that I knew what could come.
I shuddered, regretting my question. Now, I felt as if the smallest point on the horizon threatened to jump closer and grow into something dreadful. "Wargs?" I repeated out of some morbid curiosity.
Legolas nodded grimly. "Aye. Foul beasts, cruel by nature and probably kept hungry for days."
I gulped and, noticing my unease, he laid a light hand on my shoulder. "If this should happen," he said quietly, all trace of laughter gone from his eyes, "run. Run, and do not look back. It would be a waste of precious time."
I nodded. How I wished now I had not asked...
"Where is your family?" asked Legolas, dropping his hand from my shoulder; I felt cold again, but not because of the grief his question evoked. I hoped for the warmth of his touch to linger, but the careless wind swept it away.
"They died when I was five winters old," I replied. "A fire."
"I am sorry." Legolas studied my face. "Forgive my question."
I shrugged his apology away. "There is naught to forgive, Legolas," I said, relishing the feeling of his name on my tongue. "It happened years ago. I miss them no longer." I glanced at his handsome face, grave despite his apologetic smile. "And yours? They must await your return with great impatience?"
He chuckled. "Ada – father – will be furious with me when I return. He never meant for me to join this quest. I will not hear the end of it for years, I am certain."
I nodded, thinking about the many, many things that we had not meant to be, and that had happened anyway. How often had I wanted to freeze time, to live over and over again the happiest of my days! But ready or not, we had all fallen into darkness. Now we had to play with what cards fate had dealt.
We walked in companionable silence for a while, and I was grateful for Legolas' presence. All of my friends walked or rode with their husbands or families, and I had no desire to intrude. All felt now that the respite would not last, and tried to enjoy the time left with their beloved ones. All save me.
Our men prepared for war. I had seen Alfreda bid her husband farewell, tears in her eyes as he rode away with Théoden King's guard. I knew not the fear she felt for him, for the only person I had loved so was now dead, and I needn't worry about her fate anymore. Did this make me privileged? Should I feel grateful, in such dangerous times, for being alone, my heart safe from grief within my chest?
I glanced at Legolas. No, my heart was safe no longer. I would tremble now, along with the others, and pray for his return, even if it was to watch him go and forget me once the war was over.
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.