Storm Front - Chapter 1
The voice was icy, and filled with a deep loathing. Steam filled the dimly lit chamber, and over the grinding noise of the many torture instruments strewn about, a loud defiant shriek rang out, echoed by the distinctive howls of Orcs in pain. Whips cracked, chains creaked as if under massive strain, and the stench of blood filled the air as one howl abruptly silenced. The icy voice came again, its source being a tall cloaked figure standing motionless nearby.
"Sacrifice yourselves if you must. I will see her transform tonight."
Another shriek, and a large thick chain suddenly snapped free of the stone wall. Its wielder did not hesitate, swinging the chain around and bringing down three of her tormentors. The other chain, which held her right arm, creaked again, and several Orcs came forward and grasped the weakening chain. The prisoner immediately turned and lunged for the Orcs, cutting several down and soaking the floor in foul Orc blood. Screaming, she finally pulled the other chain free of the wall.
"Bring her back under control!!"
Several Orcs tried to obey the threatening command, but by then the prisoner had ceased to show any sign of cooperation. The chains were now deadly weapons, and any Orc that came within range faced lethal injury. In the hands of this particular prisoner, the chains could deliver deadly blows.
The way was clear. The prisoner turned her wild gaze to the cloaked figure. She too wore a cloak, but it was in slightly worse shape. It also held a great power, one the icy-voiced speaker had been trying for centuries to force her to use. If she ever succumbed to the power of the cloak, she would be under his full control. But she had resisted far longer than any could have guessed, and now it was starting to become clear that she may never give in. This was the last chance. If she did not give in, she would be discarded.
The figure's decision came fast. After staring for several long moments, the prisoner gave a wild cry and charged, swinging the chains to either side. She was not going to give in. She was willing to suffer instead of submitting. She was useless, and there was no longer any time and patience left for her.
The figure swung an armored hand, striking the charging prisoner viciously and sending her sprawling to the floor. She did not move to stand. The blow had in all probability cracked her skull. She would heal--she always did--but by the time she woke up again, she would be in a far worse place.
"She is useless," the figure hissed at the few Orcs that remained alive. "Dispose of her."
Arwen awoke abruptly, and she only just managed to keep herself from crying out. Sunlight filtered through the many windows in the spacious bedchamber, but for the moment, she did not notice. The nightmare had been frightening, the most vivid she had experienced in years. Cold sweat was drying on her forehead, and she slowly lifted her hand to wipe it away. She wasn't completely sure, but on the other hand, she was very sure. . .the prisoner had been Faye. Yes, now that she focused on the dream, she became quite convinced. Faye had been there, chained by the wrists, facing down a towering Nazgul. The details were quickly fading from her forethoughts, though Arwen fought to remember them, and soon she gave up trying to recall just how mangled Faye had looked.
Things were very different in her life now. She was no longer Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Elrond. She was Lady Arwen Evenstar, Queen of Gondor, and wife of King Elessar. Gently, she placed a hand on her large, rounded belly. The birth of her second child was approaching, and as it had been the previous time, her husband was starting to act far more tenderly than normal. There was no other explanation for why she was still in bed so late in the morning.
With some difficulty, she sat up, groaning softly as her back protested. She heard rapidly approaching footsteps, and rolled her eyes. Obviously, Aragorn had not wandered far.
"Are you alright, Arwen?" Aragorn appeared in the doorway, slowing to a stop as he gazed at her. Arwen met his eyes, scowling at him.
"What time is it?" she asked grumpily.
"Mid-morning," Aragorn replied, then seemed to realize the mistake. He became very still. "I. . .I felt you needed a little more sleep."
"The baby is not arriving for another few weeks," Arwen snapped, grasping the poster of the bed and heaving herself to her feet with another groan. "Though it feels as if I'm carrying a foal."
Aragorn smiled, and after a moment, Arwen smiled back. He was used to her temper swings by now, and in reality she was grateful for the extra few hours of rest. She had seen several differences in this pregnancy from what she had experienced with Eldarion, her first child. Somehow, this babe seemed heavier, and she was slowing down a lot more. Aragorn was by her side instantly, helping her walk off the stiffness. She grasped his steady, strong arm, sighing. The effects of the dream were starting to fade, but seeing Faye's pain still disturbed her. She hadn't heard from Faye in centuries, and although she had often dreamed of her, nothing had been as vivid as this.
"Is something wrong?" Aragorn asked, gazing at her in concern as she sat down before her vanity.
"I will be fine, Aragorn," Arwen replied gently, running a soft brush through her hair. "When I feel the time is right, I will allow myself to remain in bed." She set the brush down and turned a firm gaze to her husband. "But until that time, I wish to be treated normally."
"Understood," Aragorn said with a nod.
Arwen frowned, her gaze becoming even more severe. Never had her husband agreed to anything so readily. Her suspicion kindled, she stood and turned, meeting Aragorn's eyes.
"What is going on?" she demanded, placing her hands firmly on her hips and staring down her now guilty-faced husband.
For a moment, Aragorn hesitated. Then, he sighed and smiled.
"Legolas arrived this morning," he admitted. "He felt that you would need the extra rest."
Arwen decided not to waste any further effort forcing Aragorn to explain. Instead, she turned on her heel and walked to the wardrobe, throwing a robe around her shoulders before heading out into the corridor. Aragorn was trying to hide something, and somehow Legolas was involved. She knew from years of experience that Legolas was considerably easier to interrogate. As she expected, Legolas was sitting in the main parlor, entertaining young Eldarion with a story of earlier exploits. However, Arwen had expected Legolas to be the only one. Had she realized he had come with others, she would have dressed in something more appropriate.
The first person she noticed was Gimli, another friend of the family and a member of the Fellowship. Arwen had known few Dwarves in her life, but of the ones she had known, Gimli proved to be the one she could most relate to. Despite this, she was not too pleased to have appeared before him in her nightdress and a robe. However, the Dwarf seemed oblivious to her inappropriate clothing, and smiled warmly at her, nodding his bushy head in greeting.
The second person in the room stood immediately, and when Arwen turned, she felt her heart soar. Her old and dear friend Maida stood before her, smiling radiantly. She appeared as Arwen remembered, save that her hair had lightened considerably. She seemed also to remain oblivious to Arwen's clothing, instead approaching and gazing at her in admiration.
"Oh, Arwen," she said, her voice slightly shaky. She seemed on the verge of joyful tears. "Arwen, you. . ." She trailed off, now gazing at Arwen's belly. She shook her head. "Arwen, you should have chewed that pumpkin before you swallowed it."
Arwen laughed, leaning on Maida's shoulder. Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn also chuckled. Eldarion turned, a look of confusion on his youthful face.
"A pumpkin?" he asked. "I thought there was a baby in your tummy, Mother."
Eldarion's innocent comment only made Arwen laugh harder. She stopped when she saw the confusion growing on her son's face.
"It was a joke, my son," she said, smiling. "Are you behaving for Legolas?"
"I am," Eldarion replied.
Arwen turned to Aragorn, who had moved around her, and narrowed her eyes again.
"Was this what you were trying to hide from me?" she asked suspiciously, gesturing to Maida.
"Perhaps now you understand why I felt you needed more sleep," Legolas said, placing a hand on Eldarion's shoulder.
Maida scowled, and Gimli laughed. All eyes were now upon the Dwarf.
"Anyone who is faced with Lady Maida's company needs rest beforehand, and much more afterward," he said teasingly. "Of all the Elves left in this world. . ."
"What do you expect from a Dwarf?" Maida snapped, scowling more deeply. "Even one who has gained the friendship of Prince Legolas." She waved imperiously, gesturing to Arwen. "Look now, friend Dwarf, at the miracle of Elf-kind."
"I've seen that before, Maida," Gimli growled, the tone of his voice causing Eldarion to stifle a laugh. "Dwarves do have babes."
"They do?" Maida asked, sounding slightly surprised.
Gimli jumped to his feet, looking exasperated. Arwen sank down onto a nearby chair with a quiet groan, momentarily distracted. Her feet had started becoming sore from standing so long.
"So much for the wisdom of Elves," Gimli declared. "Where do you think Dwarves come from?"
Maida didn't answer, but Arwen could see her cheeks turning pink with the effort to keep from bursting out laughing at the expression on Gimli's face. She glanced around, and saw Legolas looking at her, concern on his fair face. She smiled reassuringly, settling her hand on her belly.
"No matter, Gimli," Maida said, ending the brewing argument between them. "Nevertheless, I can say that the gift of foresight is a trait that makes Elves unique."
"Foresight?" Arwen gave Maida a curious look. "You have foresight? Why have I remained unaware of this?"
"Of course I have foresight, my friend," Maida said. "And to prove it. . ." She approached, sinking to her knees before Arwen and placing her hands on her belly. "I see a daughter, a young lady with beauty rivaling that of Luthien. She will be legendary, and she will draw suitors from all corners of Middle-earth." She glanced at Aragorn. "Be ready for that."
Eldarion winced, clearly losing interest in the subject of conversation. Maida smiled at him before turning back, ignoring the contemptuous scowl on Gimli's face.
"She will have your hair, Arwen," Maida continued, moving her hands slightly. "And your fair skin. But she will have her father's eyes, and adorable lopsided grin." She glanced at Gimli, who looked particularly skeptical. She feigned a look of surprise. "Oh, dear. I am so sorry, Arwen. I sense a bit of stubbornness, and a great deal of courage. I fear she may start striving for independence at a very early age."
"I'll have to be careful, then," Arwen replied. "Valar forbid she has the adventures we did when we were young."
"Things were different back then," Maida remarked, standing. "We were never in any real danger. . ." She trailed off, for Arwen's good mood had evaporated almost immediately, and the expression on her face mirrored it. Maida chewed her lip nervously for a moment, then once again feigned surprise. "Hold on a moment." Looking scandalized, she turned towards the others. "How dare you all! Lady Arwen sits here in her robe and nightdress, which is by no means appropriate for taking company. . ." She huffed, turning and helping Arwen to her feet, putting forward a great performance to keep the attention off of the abrupt end to the previous conversation. "Away with you!"
Eldarion scampered out of the room first, clearly taking Maida's dismissal as an excuse to head outside. Aragorn and Gimli left next, the Dwarf muttering something about the witchery of females. Legolas hesitated, his gaze soft.
"If she was still alive, she would have returned by now," he said. "Dwelling on the past will not change that."
Then, Legolas was gone. Arwen sighed, feeling a tear starting to form at the corner of her eye. Maida gently placed a hand on her shoulder.
"What is it, Arwen?" she asked. "I thought you didn't dwell on Faye anymore."
Arwen stared at her friend, startled that she would think such a thing.
"How?" she asked. "How can I not think about her? How can I not live a day without wondering where she is? I loved her, Maida. She was just as much my mother as Naneth was. I will never forget her." She sighed deeply, but did not give in to tears. One thing time had done was make the subject less painful to discuss. "I dreamed of her last night. She was suffering, Maida. She was in a chamber, chained to a wall and surrounded by Orcs. I think. . ." She hesitated, shivering. "I think the Witch-king was there."
Maida did not reply, though Arwen could see that she was disturbed. In silence they returned to Arwen's bedchamber, where Maida helped her to a chair and opened the wardrobe.
"I've had those dreams before, too," she said suddenly, glancing back. "Especially after the rumors of Thuringwethil's demise surfaced. Every night, I saw her in pain, and I never slept well. Uncle finally told me to just forget, because Faye never meant as much to me as she did to you, and wasn't worth so much misery." She sighed, resting her forehead against the doorframe. "I've spent the last decades convincing myself of that, and I think I've succeeded, for the most part."
Arwen stared at Maida, unsure of whether to feel anger or pity. After studying the pained look on her face, she chose pity.
"Faye loved you, Maida," she said gently. "She would be very proud of what you've accomplished. Think of your son if you want an example."
Maida smiled slightly. Her son, Enarion, was one of the finest trackers in Thranduil's service, despite his relatively young age. His father, a former Marchwarden, had fallen protecting Lórien from Dol Guldur. Arwen had seen Enarion only a few times, but knew he more closely resembled his father, who had been one of the few dark-haired Elves in Lórien. Maida pulled a dark green dress from the wardrobe, draping it over an arm as she approached.
"And what of your son?" she asked. "What would Faye think of him?"
Arwen was about to say that she believed Faye would have adored Eldarion, but a sudden doubt silenced her. It wasn't Eldarion that caused the doubt. Faye had always loved children for as long as Arwen had known her. In the beginning, when she had been adjusting to civilized life, Arwen had been the anchor that kept her animal instincts under control. At first, Faye had been, as Glorfindel had commented, `little more than a wolf, half-tamed and unstable.' Now that she could look back, Arwen felt proud of what she had done for Faye, having helped her to transform herself from a jungle beast to a civilized woman. Being only a child, many had questioned how Arwen could have had such an effect, but Arwen had long decided that it was because she had been a child. Arwen knew Faye had lost her children not long after being turned into a vampire, and the lasting effects of the loss, combined with Arwen's youth and the events with the werewolf, had been the catalyst for her transformation. No, if Faye had ever been given a chance to meet Eldarion, Arwen was sure she would have fallen in love with him immediately.
What caused her doubt was everything that she had sacrificed over the years for her love for Aragorn. She had willingly given up her immortality for him, something that Arwen was sure would have infuriated Faye. Although she would never regret what she did, Arwen could not help but remember how Faye had often told her that Elves were lucky not to be as vulnerable to death as mortals were. In later years she had often mentioned the Undying Lands. Arwen had always listened to her lectures, though even to this day she did not understand why Faye spoke of death so grimly.
She could only guess it was one of the few weaknesses of Elves. How could immortal Elves see death the way mortals did?
And how could any creature see death the way Faye had?