A Lady's Tale - Part Twenty Nine
Analsiel did agree to Meranyn's idea, and the whole castle joined in the general uproar. The plan would be this. Two tents would be set up in the middle of the woods, in a glen that Crip had found a few weeks ago. They would be filled with cushions, carpets, and tables of warm food that would be kept fresh for the three days before the longest night of the year. During those days, all inhabitants of Lómaelin would celebrate with hunts, games and ice skating. It was a splendid idea, and Analsiel thought her people needed encouragement to get through the cold times ahead.
So everyone began to plan. The seamstresses worked hard preparing dresses, robes, cloaks, tunics, pants and gloves and hats. The cooks worked preparing the best food they had, and all the people worked hard setting up tents. The whole castle was in a frenzy by the week before the celebration was to begin.
Analsiel had thought long and hard about her gifts. For Nori, she had the cloak which had turned out brilliantly, and for Firnciliath she had a cloak pin made of a glass leaf edged in silver. For Meranyn she had found a set of coral hairpins in the chest of useless jewels she had from her suitors. For Lhunidil she had a hat of white fur that was finer than Meranyn's, and for Firndil, she had picked out a cloak pin similar to Firnciliath's, except that his was edged in gold. She did give Astianen a chess set of ivory and bronze that had been a gift from one her suitors, since she hadn't really seen much of her friend since they were in Mirkwood, and hoped to spend more time with her.
But when the party left to go to their tents, she had to figure out how to pack it all. Resisting the urge to get another horse to carry her things, she overloaded Carandae, and was severely reproached by her horse with evil glances and disgusted whickering.
"Now that's enough!" she cried in exasperation when her horse stopped dead in his tracks for the third time, this time almost throwing her off. They had been riding for an hour, and the tents were another half hour away, but Carandae had been acting like a colt since the ride began. Frustrated with his skittishness, she began to spur him forward again.
But suddenly, she sensed something moving in the brush ahead. She kept Carandae back and raised her hand up in her battle command for halt. Firndil, beside her, drew his sword slowly. Meranyn, Legolas, and some others had ridden right past them, and were just past the bush where she saw movement. Amazed that Legolas didn't notice, Analsiel almost called out to them. But then the bush moved again, and she returned her attention to it. It couldn't be one of the Mador-hai, for they had left already, and the thing moved too quietly for something built like them.
Then it stepped out of the woods and Analsiel caught her breath. A Warg, a wolf of Mordor, stood there, down on all four legs and almost level with Carandae's face. It had dark brown fur, but mostly what Analsiel saw of it was a rust red color, the color of dried blood. This creature had wounds running up and down its length, and its face was pinched, its ribs showing, and skin hugging every inch of its body. It looked so pitiful that Analsiel felt sorry for it before she remembered what it was.
"Firndil," she said softly, her eyes never leaving the Warg. "Lead them back along the Western track. It should bring you to the tents eventually."
Firndil shook his head slowly, not wanting to spark the creature into action. "I don't know-" he started.
Analsiel interrupted him. "Firnciliath knows the way. She'll lead."
"Good," said Firndil smoothly. "Then I'll stay with you."
"No," said Analsiel a little more firmly than she meant to. She almost wanted him to stay. But if he stayed, Firnciliath would worry, and might come, and then all the ladies would come...and it was too complicated to think about. Resisting the urge to shake her head to clear it, she only said again, "No."
And then the Warg jumped.
A few of the kitchen maids in the line screamed, and horses reacted to the loud noises. Everyone carrying a sword drew it, and the swinging of their blades added to the rising panic. Carandae sidestepped the Warg, pulling his mistress out of her imminent danger. But Analsiel pulled her sword out, and with a pleading glance at Firndil and a quick "Go!" she ran straight for the creature to battle for her life.
She and her inhuman opponent circled each other, the Warg on the ground and Analsiel mounted on Carandae. This brought them to almost equal height, with Analsiel only a few inches above the creature. For both of them, it was as if the others were not running pell-mell from the clearing, and all the screaming was shut out. Only they existed in the entire world.
It hissed at her, yowling in anger as she turned Carandae out of the reach of its claws. She was guiding her horse with pressure applied by her knees, since her hands were busy with her sword and dagger. The short knife had been a gift from Arwen before she had left for Mirkwood, but Analsiel had never used it. She had taken it with her now because it was good for cutting firewood, but it also had a razor sharp edge, and Analsiel was ready to use it now on this thing.
And that was well, for it turned out that she would need it.
The Warg lunged, and Analsiel swung her sword in a crescent that cut the creature's underbelly. It howled in surprise and pain, but a fire came into its eyes, and it lunged again. Analsiel wanted to hurl her dagger into its heart, but she knew of she missed she wouldn't have enough weapons to hold off a creature with claws. So she whirled Carandae around and grazed the top of the Warg's head with her knife. This time it only rolled its head in the snow to clean off the blood so it wouldn't fall into its eyes. Analsiel took advantage of its momentary stillness and hacked at its leg, not caring what her sword connected with.
It connected with the creature's tail, and cut it off. Analsiel bit back her own revulsion at the sight of it, and backed away. The Warg stood up on its hind feet and began to yowl at her again. She screamed at it, tired of its wailing and it came for her. She raised her sword as the thing leaped into the air, but she wasn't quick enough. Its claws raked the top of her head as it sailed over her. Blood flowed into her eyes as she screamed, but she wiped it away and began to attack without mercy. Again she had the creature surprised by the ferocity of her attack.
She cried as she fought, partly from the pain tearing through her scalp, and partly from the savagery of her attack. But when a tear clouded her vision, and the warg raked Carandae's unprotected side, she brushed all sorrow and surprise away and let her old battle fever take control. Everything gained a gleam of red, though that might have been the light of Ruthruin reflecting off the snow.
Her sword parried the warg's attacks as if the creature were just a sword being wielded by an invisible foe. The technique worked, but it was the most brutal Analsiel had ever used. In focusing on the warg being just a blade, she parried its body as if it were made of steel. Ruthruin chopped into thin fur and soft flesh and ripped open old wounds. It cut ligaments and tendons as if it did no more than block a length of steel.
And then the attack ceased. The creature collapsed to the ground, all of its ferocity gone in the final blow Analsiel had struck. It fell with a last wailing howl and then blood gurgled out of its mouth...and it was dead.
Analsiel slid off Carandae, who was stumbling with exhaustion and fell to her knees beside the body of the dead creature. Or what remained of the body. She had hacked off its tail and one of its ears, and every stretch of skin she could see either had its own wound on it or the blood the come from another close by. The snow she knelt on was no longer white. In fact, none of the snow in all the clearing was clean. It had all been turned a brownish-red color by the blood of horse, woman, and warg and mud had been thrown by Carandae's pounding hooves.
And looking at the true murder she had done here, Analsiel began to shake. Her body was getting panicky, she reacted hysterically. She started to quiver and her muscles twitched, not obeying her. She had killed a creature, and creature that only tried to survive through a harsh winter. She had murdered it and done it well, and with more cruelty than she could have imagined. Three blows would have caught it off guard and she could have mercifully delivered the killing blow. But no, she had to cut it to pieces, had to make it suffer in unbearable agony to the last, and now she was done, and the creature was dead, her horse was nearly unconscious and she was having a panic attack.
Then her throat came back into her own power. She could open her mouth when she wanted to. She did, and then she heard someone screaming, screaming and sobbing all the same time. Then she noticed that it was her own voice.
I've gone mad, she thought. I've gone mad and I'm going to die here. Good. I don't deserve to live.
And then Carandae came over to her, and nudged her face. That was all it took. Analsiel lost consciousness and lay beside her bleeding horse in the red snow.