Storm Front - Chapter 11
Five days had passed. In that short amount of time, Faye had settled into life with Ancalima. Headstrong, tough, and completely capable of life in the forest, the woman was unlike anything Faye had ever known. She lived in an area of the forest cleared of such animals as spiders. For the protection of her small herd of goats and her beloved mule Jent, she had explained.
"It was very rough for a while," Ancalima had said one night. "I was on guard night and day, fighting off all manner of creatures. But the Elves helped me, as they have always done. When the Lord and Lady came to cleanse the forest, they secured my lands first."
For the first day or two, Faye had simply relished the feeling of true freedom. The predatory instincts that had driven her since the escape from the plantation were wearing away, leaving behind a feeling of blissful calm that was almost terrifyingly unfamiliar. To her, the knowledge that she was not expected to rise at daybreak to toil in fields until well after sundown was the greatest relief she had yet felt. By nightfall of the second day, Faye had uttered her first laugh in years.
The past days had an even greater effect on Faye's subconscious. The dreams of peace and happiness had arisen again, and the details were remaining when she awoke. Now she could picture the silver-haired maiden's beautiful face whenever she wanted to. Faye still did not know what the maiden meant to her, but somehow that knowledge seemed less important. Her lack of memories beyond her years of torture no longer induced madness. And with the alleviation of that turmoil, she had experienced a complete change in personality. Her humanity had returned, her will to care and understand. By the third day, Faye had found herself wanting to help Ancalima with her daily chores, though in some ways that work was more toiling than plowing fields.
"Why didn't you find your way here sooner?" Ancalima had said in obvious delight after finding Faye stacking the month's worth of firewood she had just chopped.
However, not all the time spent had been blissful. Faye had still not fully adjusted to the aftereffects of the spider bite. Her right leg, which had once been the better of the two, had become numb and stiff. She could not bend her right knee at all. Her left leg, withered from an injury she could no longer remember, half the foot taken by a Warg, offered little compensation. Finally, Ancalima had come to her rescue, carving a walking stick for her out of a sturdy oak branch. Faye was grateful to her, for with the stick to lean on she could hobble around at a decent pace.
Also there to lend Faye assistance and support was the creature that had tirelessly followed her. The pony had kept close to her whenever possible, and seemed to enjoy the thorough grooming she and Ancalima had given him.
"He's a sturdy little fellow," Ancalima had said. "What is his name?"
Faye did not know the pony's true name, so she had answered with the first one that came to mind.
"Endis," she had said. "His name is Endis."
Midafternoon of the fifth day found her and Ancalima sitting in the cottage, listening to the rain falling outside. Faye was diligently plucking the feathers of the wild fowl she had captured earlier that morning, so intent on her work that she did not notice Ancalima withdrawing something from a drawer until she caught the glint of metal in the light of the oil lamp sitting next to her. She turned from the half-plucked bird, brushing bits of downy feathers from her hands.
"What is that?" she asked curiously.
It was a trinket of some kind. Faye could see the fine silver chain dangling between the woman's fingers as she held it in her hands. Ancalima covered it with her palm, smiling slightly.
"Just something I found when I was a child," she replied. "My first mule Jak unearthed it while he was grazing." Ancalima walked over to the table and sat down, the trinket still covered by her hands. "I don't even know why I pulled it out. I haven't shown it to anyone, not even the Elves."
"What is it?" Faye asked again.
"My little luck charm," Ancalima replied with a slight chuckle. She was silent for a moment, lost in her thoughts.
"It must be nice to remember your childhood," Faye commented, smiling to show that she meant the words lightly.
Ancalima looked up at her, returning the smile. She laughed, and suddenly extended the hand that held the trinket.
"Here, then," she said. "Maybe it will bring you luck. You need it more than I do."
Faye took the trinket and examined it. It was an amulet, a blue stone carved into the shape of a leaf. Bands of slightly tarnished silver decorated the surface. She gazed at it, letting the chain flow through her fingers. It seemed odd that the silver on the amulet was tarnished, and yet the chain was still sparkling. Faye examined the chain, jerking it slightly, and was astonished at its strength. She knew she had seen something like it before, but she couldn't remember. . .
For ten years, I hunted you. I dreamed of the day I would finally bring you down. In the name of the Valar, I avenge my family.
Faye gave a start, her hands clutching the amulet as an image erupted in her mind. She remembered now. She remembered the hunt, the fight. . .Thuringwethil. . .she gasped, shutting her eyes, but the images just kept coming.
What is the meaning of that?! Do you care so little for me that you leave without telling me yourself?
Faye, promise me that when the time comes to take the final journey over the Sea, you will guide Arwen to Valinor. Promise that you will make sure she comes to the Undying Lands.
They need a warrior, someone who has stared death in the eye and conquered it. They need the creature that lives within you.
I am lost. Please, friend eagle. Show me the way. Guide me home.
Don't worry. I won't tell anybody. And neither will Maida. You saved me, so I trust you.
I love you, Faye.
Faye jerked her head up. Ancalima was staring at her, her eyes wide with concern and confusion.
"Why are you crying?" Ancalima continued. "It's just an old necklace."
Sure enough, thick tears were flowing from her eyes, but Faye did nothing to stop them. Her heart had been filled with an overwhelming joy. Letting out a cry of pure happiness, she leapt to her feet and grasped Ancalima's wrists, dancing with her around the small room.
"I remember!" Faye declared, still sobbing joyfully. "I remember!"
"What do you remember?" Ancalima asked, her voice high-pitched with a mix of amusement and confusion.
"Everything!" Faye pulled her into a fierce hug, leaving the poor woman breathless when she finally released her. "I know who I am, I know where I came from! This amulet was once mine, long ago. It was taken from me after I was captured by the Nazgul. Celebrían gave it to me."
Ancalima was clearly bewildered, and could only stare speechlessly. Faye continued, oblivious to the expression on the woman's face.
"Celebrían, my dear friend," she said, closing her eyes and drawing a deep breath. "How I've missed you. And Arwen, my beloved Arwen. . ." Faye froze, suddenly remembering the women in the spider's clearing. The pregnant woman, the one that had shouted her name. . .she did know her! "Arwen! Arwen is here! I saw her!"
"Arwen?" Ancalima repeated, waving her hands in exasperation. "Queen Arwen, of Gondor, here?"
"Queen?!" Faye's heart gave a great leap. "My child is a queen?!"
"Queen Arwen is your daughter?!"
Faye was not listening. She was stumbling out the door, the blue stone of Aqualondë still clutched in her hand, and whistling for the pony. Ancalima was right behind her.
"Faye, where are you going?" she shouted.
"I have to find Arwen!" Faye shouted back, whistling again and finally spotted the pony trotting towards her. "She's in the forest!"
Faye paused only long enough to tie a rope around the pony's head, then she leapt onto his back. The pony snorted in surprise. Before she could tell him to start running, though, Ancalima had reappeared, dragging the mule along behind her.
"You're not going anywhere without me," she declared, pulling herself into Jent's saddle.
Faye smiled broadly at her, and turned back around just in time to see a large golden-brown eagle swoop down at her from the trees. She did not startle, however. Faye well remembered this noble creature.
"Friend eagle!" she cried, reaching out to it as it circled above their heads. "Lend me your aid. Lead us to Arwen!"
Faye had dimly heard Ancalima utter a surprised cry when the eagle appeared, and then an astonished gasped as the bird immediately turned and soared off. Faye kicked at the pony's sides, and he broke into a fast canter.
"Come on!" Faye called back, the blood streaks on her face slowly being washed away by the rain. "Arwen cannot be far from here."
The pace rapidly quickened as Faye and Ancalima raced through the forest, following the eagle that soared just above the treetops, guiding them straight and true. As they ran, Faye managed to slip the amulet's chain around her neck.
"I am coming back, my beloved," she whispered hoarsely. "I am coming back."
* * * * * *
If Arwen had ever thought herself miserable before, it was nothing compared to how she felt now. Five long, sorrowful days had passed since her arrival in Mirkwood. Her physical discomfort and weariness had reached a breaking point, and she was prone to sudden fits of tears every time she saw one of Lord Celeborn's scouts. To her complete horror and disappointment, none had been able to locate Faye. She seemed to have just disappeared.
It was now the morning of the sixth day since her arrival, and Arwen was sitting on an exposed root of the tree that supported her grandfather's talan, thoroughly ignoring the rain that continued to fall from the storm-gray sky. Next to her, Atego grazed on the sparse undergrowth, also unaware of the rain. Canassa and Bregan, as well as several other horses, rested nearby. She looked at the wet-backed animals, sighing deeply and clutching her swollen belly. At last, she was starting to feel pain. The baby would be coming very soon, and she wouldn't be surprised if it was tonight. The Valar had clearly answered the desperate prayer she had made, and she was immensely grateful for that. Arwen only wished that she had something to show for the great risks she had taken.
The messengers from Aragorn and Lord Celeborn had seemingly met halfway, passing on their messages and quickly returning. Her husband would be arriving any day, and she was dreading that moment. Lord Celeborn's messenger had made it quite clear that Aragorn was furious over her disobedience.
"Arwen, how are you feeling?"
Arwen turned, and saw Maida approaching. She had quickly recovered from the blow the spider had dealt her, but that did not stop Arwen from feeling yet another pang of guilt every time she looked at her. She had not only risked her baby in this fruitless quest, but also her best friends.
"Terrible," Arwen replied. "I am starting to feel pain."
Maida smiled slightly and sat down next to her, settling an arm around her. Arwen leaned into her friend's embrace.
"That is to be expected," Maida said soothingly. "Your daughter will come at any hour. And the faster she comes, the better you will feel."
So Maida was still predicting a daughter. Arwen smiled slightly, amused at her friend's continued beliefs that a baby girl was to be born. She glanced over to where the horses stood and saw, with another slight twinge of amusement, that Maida's new shadow had also arrived, though he was clearly trying to make himself inconspicuous among the horses. Eowyn, who had been sitting with Arwen before and was now walking among the horses, was quietly talking to him over the back of Bregan.
The story of Arwen's quest had spread quickly through Mirkwood, and the instant it had reached Thranduil's court, Maida's son Enarion had set off to join them. Arwen was positive that the young Elf was under strict orders from Thranduil to keep a sharp watch on his mother, for he had rarely strayed from her side since his arrival. Maida did not seem to mind this, claiming that she did not remember the last time she spent so long in her son's company.
"It is refreshing," she had stated. "We have finally been able to catch up on all the things Thranduil is putting him through."
Arwen watched Eowyn and Enarion converse demurely, brushing a lock of damp hair off her forehead. She felt Maida take off her cloak and move to drape it over her shoulders, but before she could, one of Lord Celeborn's scouts appeared. He walked towards them, a grim expression on his fair face. Arwen didn't have to ask to know what he had come to say.
"Still nothing," she said flatly before he could speak.
The scout merely nodded, his eyes not quite meeting hers. Enarion and Eowyn had noticed the scout's arrival, and were approaching. Arwen didn't look at Eowyn, though she felt her rest a hand on her shoulder.
"I do not think there is anywhere left to look," the scout said gravely, directing his comment to Enarion.
"Surely there must be something left to be done," Enarion replied, clearly trying to say something to lighten spirits.
The scout appeared thoughtful for a moment. Arwen hardly noticed his pause until he gave a gasp of realization.
"I do not remember anyone ever saying that they asked Ancalima," he said, a sparkle in his eyes.
"The old wandering woman?" Maida asked.
Arwen sat up, confused. She had never heard of Ancalima before.
"They say she knows these woods as well as we do," Enarion commented.
"Who is Ancalima?" Arwen asked.
"A human woman a hunting party found in the forests around Dol Guldur when she was a child," the scout explained. "Her family had been slaughtered by wolves. She was sent to live in a border settlement, but when she grew older she returned to the forest. Lord Celeborn has us look in on her every week or so."
"Would she know where Faye is?" Maida asked.
"She is the last one I can think to ask," the scout replied.
Arwen stood and opened her mouth to speak. However, before she could utter a word, she was cut off by a dim sound that nevertheless penetrated through the trees. All the horses instantly lifted their heads, gazing about nervously. Arwen tensed. There was no mistaking that sound. It had clearly been a roar.
"What was that?" she heard Eowyn ask. "A spider?"
"Spiders do not make sounds like that," Enarion replied.
Arwen gestured sharply, demanding silence. She listened as closely as possible, hoping that the sound would come again. It sounded so familiar, but she did not dare hope, not until she heard it again.
A few minutes later, the roar echoed again, more clearly and loudly than before. Others were starting to gather, murmuring amongst themselves. The horses were growing more nervous. Atego, who stood closest, pawed the ground, snorting loudly. Arwen bit her lip, her eyes wide. All discomfort was abruptly forgotten.
"Arwen, what. . .?"
Maida had begun to speak, but before she could, a third roar rang out, and in the midst of it, words.
"Arwen!" came the distant voice, barely audible, and yet undeniable. "Arwen, where are you?"
"By the Valar," Maida whispered hoarsely. "Faye. . ."
Arwen reacted immediately. Without thinking, without acknowledging the figures that were coming towards her, completely ignoring the acute pain rippling across her belly, she darted forward, hauling herself onto Atego's back. She dimly heard others shouting for her to stop, but only spared a passing glance backward. Enarion was restraining Maida, but Eowyn was rushing after her. Lord Celeborn had appeared, but an instant later the scene was blocked by trees as Atego galloped forward. She gripped the horse's flying mane, hearing her name being cried out by the voice on the wind once more. Arwen echoed the cry, shouting out Faye's name, Atego's strides jarring her mercilessly. Rain beat her face and shoulders. The world around her was a blur, her eyes clouding as the pain in her belly began to increase.
Atego leapt over a fallen log, and with his bone-shuttering landing Arwen felt a torrent of moisture flow down her legs, followed by an intense, fiery pain that spread from her belly and up her back. She screamed, her body slipping to one side, and she gripped Atego's neck for dear life as her heels hit the forest floor. The horse immediately slowed, halting just as Arwen lost her grip. Another wave of pain rippled through her, and she screamed again, rolling on her side. She was in labor, but something was going terribly wrong. Her legs, skirt, and Atego's back were not coated in birth-water, but in bright red blood.
"Arwen!!" Eowyn's frantic shriek echoed as she appeared, crying out in horror. Dismounting, Eowyn was by Arwen's side in an instant. "Arwen, where does it hurt?"
Arwen could not answer. The pain was far too great. She screamed through gritted teeth, clutching her belly as she felt blood continue to flow. Eowyn seemed to have noticed this, for she was suddenly on her feet again.
"Help!" she was shouting. "Somebody help us!"
Hoofbeats were sounding out in the still air, coming ever closer as Eowyn continued to shout. The world was falling in and out of focus. Arwen writhed, desperate for relief, her heart filling with fear for the unborn baby. The hoofbeats were louder, the snorts of the animals making them audible through the sounds of the rain. Something was coming towards her, but she could not see what they were. Her vision was too clouded by pain. The hoofbeats silenced, the new arrivals having dismounted their horses. No. . .horses don't have ears like that. . .at least one of them was a mule.
Arwen heard Eowyn issue a cry of surprise, and then felt powerful hands grip her arms, lifting her with amazing ease into a warm embrace. She felt her forehead touch a rough-fleshed cheek, a voice whispering desperately into her ear.
"I have come," the figure holding her said. "I have kept my promise." There was a harsh, choked sob. "My child, my beautiful child, you must stay awake."
Arwen forced herself to look up, and after several moments she focused on the shining golden eyes of the woman holding her. Eyes framed in a blood-streaked copper-fleshed face. Arwen gasped, reaching up with trembling hands and grasping the woman with all her might. For one moment, she feared it was only a hallucination, a mirage brought on by the ungodly pain. But, no. Even after those moments had passed, the woman was still there, holding her.
"Faye," she whispered.
"I'm here," Faye replied hoarsely. "I'm here."
Another jolt of pain ripped through her, and Arwen screamed again, her teeth clenched as she dug her nails into Faye's flesh. Her guardian did not even twitch. Blackness was engulfing her, now, threatening to overpower her despite her struggles to obey Faye.
"Stay awake," Faye demanded, eyes wide with fright. "You must stay awake!"
"Faye," Arwen whispered again, her head lolling backwards. "I. . ."
And then, the darkness took over, and Arwen knew no more.