10. Chapter 9
- Chapter 9 -
Sveyn spun around, a dagger raised to strike. His hair was dishevelled, his clothes torn in places. He looked tired and hungry, and yet Aeve could not summon any compassion for him. The fact that he was now threatening her with a weapon – deep inside she knew he had no intention of hurting her, but the vexed part of her pointed out that since he was an intruder she should by all rights feel outraged – was an additional offense.
Aeve stared him down; she could feel her hands ball into fists and rage rise in her throat as acid as bile.
"I said, what are you doing here?" she hissed again, advancing upon him.
"Aeve." He smiled – a smile she used to find charming, one that used to set her heart aflutter; but it did not work anymore, she told herself firmly, ignoring the tickling in her chest. Now he was only trying to get her to lower her guard, to allow him take control of the situation.
"I… Well, it so happens that I am in dire need of your assistance – I seek refuge, as it were." He bowed with a flourish despite his apparent exhaustion, and Aeve scowled. Even now he was mocking her.
"You are not welcome here," she said coldly. "Get out of my house."
"I can't… Shit!" He glanced out the window and immediately sat down, pushing himself against the wall, dagger clutched to his chest and jaw set in resolution.
Aeve raised her eyes to the window to see a group of soldiers walk by her house. They did not seem to notice her; but still her heart jumped in her chest, and her knees felt the urge to send her to the floor as well. She saw Sveyn look up, craning his neck to hear the soldiers' steps fade away. For an instant his eyes flickered shut, his lips moved in some silent prayer as he held that dagger so close to his heart. He looked worn, desperate; his tricks could not save him from the war.
"You are on the run, aren't you?" she stated.
"As I told you, I need to hide for a few days. Just a little longer…" Sveyn's voice had lost its smoothness. He glanced hopefully towards the kitchen, licked his lips. "And some food, if you have any to spare."
"Of course, I… That is, no." Aeve shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. Her first reaction had been to give in to that feeling of empathy, to sympathize with his desperate-roguish-and-charming act. "No, come to think of it, I have no food to spare for you. Nor do you have a place in my house."
"Aeve, be reasonable. You know I can't go out there, don't you? You know they'll shackle me the minute they see me, and cart me off with the other poor sods they've drafted."
"Reasonable? I am being unreasonable?!"
The nerve of the man! She felt her own jaw clench in rage, but this time she was not as helpless. She had leverage, and would take great pleasure in using it. It was time he learnt his pranks and jabs came with a price.
"Shh!!" He reached out to her, motioning to keep her voice down, but out of pure spite she continued:
"I am being unreasonable in feeling threatened, in my own house, as you wave that blade around?" Her voice was rising into the higher notes, but she didn't care.
Sveyn seemed genuinely appalled by the accusation. He stashed the dagger away and raised his hands as if to prove he was unarmed again.
"You know I would never hurt you, right?"
She scoffed. "But you already have! You have, Sveyn, or don't you remember that sweet, sweet gift you gave me?" Aeve could taste the venom of that memory on her lips, hear its hiss in her voice. It gave her power, fed her righteous anger.
"Aeve please! Stop yelling, they'll hear you!!" he whispered urgently, casting fearful glances towards the window.
She was standing before him now, looking down and watching his face decompose as she raised her voice. It was cruel, Aeve realized, smothering the pang of shame; but so very rewarding. She had the power now, she could stop this whenever she wanted.
"So what? Let them hear, your fears are not my problem. If you hoped I'd forgive and forget your little amusement, you're very mistaken, Sveyn Innerney."
"Wha…" He frowned. "Wait, you'd let them take me only to get revenge for that?! How immature are you?"
He dared! He was insulting her now, expecting her to back away, perhaps, to mellow down like the young, impressionable thing he thought she was. Well, she would show him!
"Oh, what did you expect? I'm just a little girl, aren't I? Immature and unreasonable. Now consider this a temper tantrum, and get out of here!"
She shrieked out those last words as she slapped her hands against her thighs in a final sign of determination. He leapt to his feet and tried to grab them.
"Don't you understand? I'm a tavern owner's son, for the Powers' sake, I'm no soldier! If I set foot on that battlefield I'll die!"
"I don't care, you deserve it!"
"Aeve, stop! What is it that you want, you want me to beg? I'll beg, I swear, please, just calm down!" He scooped her up into his arms as she tried to hit him; her fists impacted with his chest but he trapped her against him, whispering feverishly into her ear: "Please. Please. Aeve, please, quiet."
Aeve felt him bury his face into her hair; from so close he smelled like sweat, but there was another scent underneath the acrid smell; warmer, fresher. Her anger started to fade and she struggled to maintain it; she would not yield, if only out of principle. Exhausted now, she ceased to fight him long enough to hear his next words:
"I am so sorry. Kilian – I swear he told me those buttercups were your favourite. I hoped so much you'd like them, and then things went so wrong… The idiot thought it'd be a good laugh. Aeve, I swear I never meant to hurt you." She could tell he was smiling against her hair when he continued:
"You're beautiful when you're mad."
She froze in his arms, then looked up into his face. His smile faded slowly, grey eyes darkening. He was so close, so very… very close…
It was then that the door came crashing down.
Aeve jumped; Sveyn pulled her behind him, his dagger in his hand again, but it looked ridiculous in comparison to the soldiers' swords and armour.
"There, seize him!" ordered the one who seemed to be in command, and they all advanced upon Sveyn.
"Thought you'd escape your duties, huh?" the captain said, grinning. Aeve's heart constricted in her chest when she recognized him as the same man who had been leering at her from the tavern porch. "Thought you could hide from your lord's service?"
Sveyn snarled as he pushed himself away from her, lunging for the door. His way was blocked, the small room crowded by the bulky bodies. He fought without a word, trying to slash away at their hands and faces, but they were too many. The soldiers encircled him, gripped his arms from behind as one of the men tore the dagger from the fingers that convulsively held on to it.
"Well, here's news for you, boy."
Aeve shrieked as the captain's metal-encrusted gauntlet collided with Sveyn's ribs. Sveyn doubled over with a grunt, his eyes pressed shut in what she imagined to be agony. She lunged forward, reaching out madly to merely touch him, let him know she wished to alleviate the pain – she was not as foolish to believe she could fight off those men on her own.
The captain only extended his arm and she came crashing into it. It felt like running into a wooden beam; then he pushed her back. Aeve staggered and fell backwards, out of breath and slightly dizzy, landing on her arse and scraping her hands on the rough wooden floor.
"Don't hurt her!" Sveyn screamed before another blow sent his head flying to the side with a loud crack. The soldiers shoved him forward with a gloomy cheer, as though he had slumped backwards with the sole purpose of annoying them. Aeve felt tears well up in her eyes when she saw his bloody mouth.
"Now, what makes you think I don't mean to… thank her, instead?" the captain drawled, mock-sauntering up to Sveyn to stare him down. "After all, she helped us greatly in finding you – if not for your… lovers' quarrel, we'd never thought to search this house again. Now take him away," the captain added, his voice laced with satisfaction.
Aeve thought she heard a sob escape her lips – she could not know for sure, with the blood roaring in her ears. Her fault. She had allowed all of it to happen, through her pettiness and thirst for revenge against a stupid, childish prank. Where was that control she had prided herself with? Where was the joy of dominance? It had all fallen into ashes, and the horror of the situation dawned upon her.
There was no turning back time.
"Now you guys run ahead," the captain said quietly and turned to face her, "I'll have a moment with the girl."
Aeve knew that the look of horror on Sveyn's face reflected her own. She scuttled backwards until she hit the wall and then, out of sheer instinct, tried to push herself even further, as though she could fall through wood and stone.
"No!" Sveyn yelled. "Don't touch her!" He fought the soldiers restraining him with renewed vigour, grabbing the doorway beams and throwing punches whenever he could free an arm.
His screams died in the distance.
"Now, now." The man's voice was hoarse as he addressed her; he was taking his time, approaching her with cautious steps, smiling even, as though he thought she could be reassured by the low tone or the apparent benevolence. Aeve felt bile rise to her lips as he took another step towards her, his forehead sweaty, his hand sliding to caress the growing bulge beneath his codpiece.
"You did the right thing," he said, "you are a good girl, aren't you?" He crouched before her and his smell washed over her. He stank of sweat as well, but this time it was an utterly revolting and alien stench. Aeve caught a glimpse of coarse, black hairs on his chest as he ran a trembling hand across it.
She shook her head as though denying it all, refusing to be present in that room. She pressed herself against the wall, eyes darting around the room for an escape but not quite daring to move, for if he caught her… If he touched her…
If only she had listened to Sveyn…
"Get off my daughter!!"
"Mama!!" Aeve screamed, suddenly finding the courage to push herself away from the floor and past the man. He made no move to grab her; he only smiled, his eyes following her. "Mama!" And she flung herself into her mother's ready arms, shaking with dread and sobbing.
It was over, she was safe; but she felt little relief. Because of her, Sveyn would die - because he was not a soldier, not a warrior. He was just a boy.
If only she had listened…
Lindir watched the ant stroll across the stony surface, following it with his eyes until the insect disappeared into a crack. He looked up to survey the camp once again, aware of its overused literary resemblance to an ant hill. Men did indeed hurry about, criss-crossing the camp surface as they scurried from one station to another.
He could only agree with Glorfindel on the military-like organization of the camp: the tents were set on both sides, separated by an alley that allowed easy passage from one gate to another. The wooden walls were made of sharp spikes, and any beams of ropes that could have served as a hold had been reinforced with barbed wire. Sentries were well-armed, well-schooled and vigilant – Lindir could not blame them for not having spotted the two scouts. There were no whores in the camp, and the wastes were also dealt with so that no disease would erupt amongst the men. And, though the general level of weapon mastery was low, the new and the less skilled amongst the recruits were trained without any bullying or mockery, as was wont in many tribes and military organizations. If he deduced that the soldiers behaved in the way exemplified by their leader, he could only bow – metaphorically, of course – to the man.
"A pity," Glorfindel shook his head. "He is a good captain. He would make a good king, should his claims to the crown be successful."
"I can imagine your pain at such a waste of talent," Lindir said, trying to keep the sarcasm level at match with his companion's sense of humour. "And maybe they should be," he added. "We could adopt him too - maybe there is a compromise between saving the heiress to an illustrious bloodline and giving this land a good king."
His bright smile was rewarded with a pointed look. "Watch out, Lindir, your tongue went loose again."
Lindir rolled his eyes. "You are the most unimaginative man I ever met."
The day was nearing its end, the sky had darkened; the lights of the torches around the camp pointed out with greater precision the previously located sentry posts, and the crackling of the flames would make their infiltration easier still, as they could give a good idea of the carrier's trajectory.
Luck was on their side – the leader and most of his men had marched out the south-eastern gate at noon after a speech that had roused a loud cheering from the small army.
"Men," he had said, "Today may be the day when we make the first step towards restoring what was lost. It may be – for the men marching against us are greater in number, they are better armed, they are trained for war." He had paused, looking around to meet the eyes of his men – those who held his gaze as well as those who looked away, their faces sweaty with fear. "We are not men anymore - we are swords. We are tools of revolution. A blade does not fear nor does it grieve. You can break it, but not make it despair or hesitate. Let them wish that their swords were as sharp and merciless as we are. Let them try to stare us down and look away. Let them see and be afraid of what we have become. For the world as we know it must cease to be." He had smiled then and donned his helmet. "Come with me, my brothers. We will change history."
Lindir and Glorfindel had exchanged looks, remembering all too well another leader who had sought to end a world gone dark and resurrect the glory of the past. He had become King of his land, counting Elves amongst his allies. He had succeeded; but those who had remained after him had failed to protect his heritage.
"We must move now," Glorfindel whispered by his side. "It is as dark as it can get, and the sooner we are back the better."
They waited until the sentries circling the camp passed each other, the distance between the lights quickly falling into darkness. Then Lindir slid over the edge of the cliff that faced the wall of the camp and, finding a grip for both his hands, eased himself down. His boots scraped the stone as he searched the surface for a footing. Climbing down was trickier than going up, just like he remembered; once or twice, his knees collided with the cliff in his attempts to find the next ledge in the surrounding darkness and he had to bite back a curse.
His only consolation was that Glorfindel was experiencing as many difficulties as he did.
"Never again," the warrior growled above him, spitting out a lock of hair that had gotten into his mouth and that he had been unable to remove.
Only a short strip of vegetation-covered ground separated them from the camp wall; here the vines grew thick and treacherous to an inattentive walker - the men had not bothered to clear out the surface, as no attack was evidently expected from that cliff-protected side. Lindir and Glorfindel covered the distance in big leaps and leaned against the wooden logs so that the circles of light cast by the sentries' torches would not reveal their presence.
Lindir turned his head to examine the barbs that jutted out of the wall surface just beside his face. The wall was held together by thick rope that could offer grips and footholds; but it had been wrapped in that thick, crudely cut wire that would mercilessly shred any unprotected skin.
Once again he unbuckled his belt and lowered his sheathed sword to the ground.
"Unstrap yours," he muttered, "and give it to me. I will send both over once I am inside."
"I don't like this," Glorfindel grumbled. "Entering the camp unarmed is folly."
"Quickly in, quickly out," Lindir grinned.
He slid his own belt under the first strands of wire and wrapped the leather bands around his right wrist, tying himself to the wire braid. The belt was narrow enough to fit between the barbs and resistant enough to hold his weight – he gave it a tug to test it before taking a cautious step onto the lowest knot. It was slippery under his foot and he had to put his entire weight on his toes, but it was enough. Lindir pulled, hoisting himself up onto the wall and as close as he could to the wooden beams so that his weight would not pull him backwards . He held his breath as the sentries walked along the parapet, somewhere above.
The next braid of wires was just above his head. He slipped the second belt beneath it and, shifting his weight, hoisted his right foot onto the next knot. He pulled again and, as he moved higher, opened his right hand; the first belt easily slid from beneath the wire.
The crackling of the torches grew nearer and then faded; the sentries' steps thudded away and night enveloped him; Lindir leaped. He landed onto the parapet without a sound and, casting a quick glance to both sides to ensure that both soldiers were still marching in opposite directions, he edged jumped down into the protective darkness under the parapet.
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.