Storm Front - Chapter 4
Arwen had long since calmed down, resigned to defeat. She didn't think she had enough strength to argue with Maida another minute let alone throughout the next day. Sighing heavily, she glanced at the armchair next to her, where Maida sat fast asleep, her half-closed eyelids twitching slightly. In the light of the fire, the two locks of pure white above her brow were much more visible against the only slightly darker shade of her hair. Maida had explained long ago that the white locks were from her father's bloodline, apparent only in the women, and had not appeared before her since the time of her great-grandmother. She was very proud of them, and had seemingly ignored the curious stares she had received as a child.
Maida twitched slightly, shifting her position in her sleep. Arwen watched wearily, wishing she could simply sit back and fall asleep. She turned and stared into the fire, trying to clear her mind as she watched the flames dance hypnotically. The world around her darkened as she stared, and slowly, very slowly, her mind began to wander into dream.
Arwen was running, the canyon walls of the Redhorn Pass jutting up on either side of her. The ground was a river of thick, hot blood, and the current beat at her calves as she struggled forward. She was only a child, her tiny limbs much too weak to fight the river of blood. She cried out, calling for her mother.
Suddenly, a strong hand grasped her outstretched one, pulling her up out of the river of blood and carrying her through the Pass. Deeply relieved, Arwen wrapped her arms around her savior. The figure holding her was cloaked in shadow, but she spoke in Faye's gentle voice.
"Hush, my child," she whispered. "You're safe now."
Faye carried her to the end of the Pass, setting her down in a small clearing next to the cliff she had fallen over so long ago. She looked up happily at her guardian, who was still cloaked in darkness, her face hidden.
"Why do you not remove your cloak?" Arwen asked. She was in the body of a child, but she still possessed her adult grace and wisdom. "I have not seen your face in many years."
Faye's hand, which was resting on her shoulder, suddenly tightened the grip, and Arwen felt the sharpness of talon-like fingernails pressing against her skin. She shifted uncomfortably.
"Faye, that hurts," she said, feeling the grip tighten even more. "Faye, let me go."
Suddenly, Faye reached up and pulled back her hood. Arwen screamed. The figure was not Faye at all. It was a skeletal, pale woman with bitter yellow eyes and matted black hair. The woman pulled back her lips, revealing blood-coated tapered fangs.
"Hush, my child," she hissed mockingly, her voice now icy and fierce. "You're safe now."
She released her grip, and Arwen turned to run, but her feet were frozen to the ground. The woman, the wretched Thuringwethil, threw back her head and shrieked. The sound was not a vampire's roar, but a horrible howl equal to the one the werewolf had uttered so many years ago. Arwen cried out, struggling against the ice that bound her feet. Thuringwethil extended her arms, and before Arwen's eyes, she began to transform. Her form mutated into that of the giant bat, but her head elongated, becoming the mirror image of the werewolf. Arwen screamed as the creature's maw opened, spewing a fountain of fire.
Flame filled her vision, and within its core Thuringwethil reappeared, but she was transforming again. As Arwen watched, her beloved guardian appeared, staring at her through the fire. A tear trickled from Faye's eye, then she was gone, her body consumed in flame. Arwen shrieked, trying desperately to reach out for her, but someone suddenly grabbed her shoulder.
"By Eru, Arwen!" a dim, distant voice shouted. "Wake up!!"
The fire vanished. Maida's face swam into focus, her skin pale and eyes wide with fright. Arwen gazed up at her, disoriented and now feeling very ill. She felt Maida press something cool and damp against her forehead.
"Oh, Arwen, what happened?" she asked, her voice shaky.
Arwen couldn't find her voice. Maida continued mopping her face gently with the cloth, humming softly in an effort to calm her. Arwen could still feel her hands trembling.
"I saw her," she finally said hoarsely. "I saw the beast, and Faye."
Maida froze, eyes growing even wider. She pulled her hand away, staring.
"You saw Thuringwethil?" she said, sounding horrified. "You saw her alive?"
Arwen shook her head, and after a moment described the dream. As she spoke, Maida began to calm, and when she was finished, Maida sighed and smiled softly.
"Just a bad dream, then," she said. "By Valar, Arwen, you were screaming so loudly, I thought you had gone into labor."
It was then that Arwen noticed the others in the room. It seemed like half the royal court had responded to her screams, and all were gazing at her in concern. Blood rushed to her face, and she nodded sheepishly.
"I am well," she said breathlessly. "I thank you for your concern."
Slowly, the crowd dissipated, and soon, she and Maida were alone once again.
"Should I send a message to Aragorn?" Maida asked.
"He has enough to be concerned with," Arwen replied firmly, shaking her head again.
"He would want to know about this," Maida urged.
"He wouldn't understand," she finally said softly.
For a moment. Maida appeared confused. Then, realization dawned on her face, and her jaw dropped slightly.
"You never told Aragorn about Faye?" she whispered, looking abashed. "But why?"
Arwen tried to respond, but a deafening crack of thunder interrupted her, and both of them jumped. She bit her lip, imagining Aragorn and Eldarion attempting to shelter themselves from the storm. Rain lashed at the windows, audible even over the thunder. Maida sighed, apparently deciding to save the subject for a later time.
"Come," she said softly. "It's late."
Arwen stood, groaning quietly when her back protested. Maida grasped her arm, and once again they walked up to her bedchamber.
"Good night, Arwen," Maida said after lighting a few candles for her. "Dream of pleasant things tonight." She moved towards the door, glancing back. "Dream of throttling Gimli. That's what usually makes me happy."
Arwen smiled, and Maida departed, the door closing quietly behind her. For a long while, she stood still, thinking over the dream. Why now? Why, after so long, was she having these dreams? Could it possibly be a sign? Was there even the slightest chance that. . .
"No," she said aloud, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "I will not allow myself to hope. Faye is dead." She lay back, firmly closing her eyes. "Faye is dead."
* * * * * *
It was several days before Aragorn returned. Arwen stood waiting for him, overjoyed at the sight of him. The members of the court hailed him, but he kept his eyes on her as he dismounted and approached. He smiled slightly.
"I see I have not missed anything," he said, kissing her gently in greeting. "How are you feeling?"
"Well," Arwen replied, though she was no longer smiling. Eldarion had just approached, and he was grasping her harder than usual. "What happened?"
Nobody replied for a long moment. Finally, Aragorn set a firm hand on her shoulder.
"Arwen," he began, his voice strangely cold. "Who was Faye?"
Arwen stared at him in shock, mouth slightly agape. Maida, who stood behind her, let out a tiny squeak of surprise. Eldarion's grip tightened, but Arwen was unaware of it. She turned her gaze to Legolas and Eowyn, the only two who could have possibly told Aragorn anything.
"What is going on?" she demanded.
Once again, silence met her question. Now greatly concerned, she turned to study Eldarion more closely, and gasped when she saw the remnants of a large bruise on his temple. With great effort, she lifted him into her arms, and he buried his head in her neck. Clearly, he had been frightened as well as wounded.
"What happened?" she demanded again, more harshly.
"Eldarion was attacked by one of the slaves in Gandin's plantation," Gimli replied gruffly. "We arrived there the one day the most docile of his slaves turned violent." He crossed his arms. "She got away before we could get her under control."
"She was a monster, Mother," Eldarion whispered, raising his head. "She had fangs."
Arwen's knees buckled, and she stumbled forward into Aragorn's arms, just barely preventing herself from dropping her son. Aragorn helped Eldarion to the ground and grasped her arms, seemingly surprised that she had been shocked so badly. Maida, whose jaw had dropped at Eldarion's words, quickly began herding them back inside.
"We'll discuss this inside," she whispered.
Arwen had been stricken dumb. She barely noticed being led to the parlor and sitting down in an armchair. She only came back to herself when the others had gathered around, and Maida had shut the door in the faces of baffled members of the court with a harsh: "Queen Arwen comes first! King Elessar will speak with you later!" She approached and sat down on the armrest of Arwen's chair.
"This cannot be," Arwen said shakily, her head in her hands. "I waited for so long."
"It would explain a lot," Maida replied softly.
Arwen glanced around. Only Eowyn and Legolas seemed to understand. Faramir, Eldarion, Eomala, Gimli, and Aragorn simply stared. Maida patted her arm.
"Eldarion, are you sure of what you saw?" she asked.
"She growled at me, Lady Maida," Eldarion replied, sounding slightly indignant. "I think she would have killed me had she not seen this." He pulled the Evenstar from underneath his shirt. "She looked at it, growled, then that eagle cawed and she ran away."
So many emotions were flooding her already overtaxed senses that hearing about the eagle defeated Arwen's struggle to remain calm. Arwen felt the shock rise in those around her as she broke into choked sobs. Deeply upset, Eldarion ran to her, clutching her tightly.
"I'm sorry, Mother!" he cried. "I did not mean to upset you."
Arwen forced herself to stop crying, feeling Maida's hands on her shoulders. She gazed at her son, and as she looked into his eyes, a deep relief filled her. If it really had been Faye who struck Eldarion--and she couldn't image the turmoil Faye would have been in to do such a thing--then his life had been in great danger. Drying her eyes, she took Eldarion in her arms and held him protectively.
"Thank the Valar you are well," she said.
"Did you know the woman, Mother?" Eldarion asked.
Arwen glanced around, looking for one final reassurance. The look on Legolas' face finally convinced her, and she smiled softly.
"She was my guardian," she said. "I loved her with all my heart. She was with me through most of my childhood." She glanced at Aragorn. "I am sorry for not telling you of her before. She's been gone for so long, it hurts to speak of her." She saw her husband's eyes soften, his anger vanishing. She turned to Legolas. "What happened?"
Legolas frowned, shaking his head. Arwen cast him a confused glance.
"There is no cause for joy here, Arwen," he said. "The Faye you knew and loved does not exist anymore. She is even more of a beast now than she was when she came into your life."
"What do you mean?" Maida asked, keeping Arwen from saying the same thing. Her gaze flickered to the bruise on Eldarion's temple. "What did she do?"
* * *flashback several days prior* * *
Legolas gazed around at the wide willow-trees that swayed in the gentle breeze. Gandin's plantation was a beautiful place on first glance, but signs of slavery were still very obvious. In the distance, beyond the white-washed fences, was a collection of small, shabby huts, and in the fields beyond a man on horseback was whipping something that lay sprawled on the ground. Legolas was sure everyone could hear the cries of pain. Gandin himself stood before them, flanked by Ramir and the fourth trader, a scruffy old man named Rubeus. Torrin and Gandrir stood behind Aragorn. Gandin was very pale, but his expression was firm.
"Yes, my King. I do keep slaves," he was saying, his voice cold and shrewd. "But I assure you, they are all given the best of care, as are those kept by the other farmers in this area. Their lives are far better than they ever would have been in Mordor."
"Your men have said otherwise," Aragorn replied coldly. "They have spared their lives by telling me about you. I shall expect full cooperation from you, unless you wish to endure the full penalty of the law." He turned to a nearby soldier. "Send word to Dol Amroth. I shall want all of the plantations and farms in this area inspected for quality of life for the slaves. Severity of punishments will depend on what is found."
The soldier nodded and departed swiftly. Aragorn turned back to Gandin.
"Guide us around your lands," he said.
If possible, Gandin seemed to turn even paler. After a moment of hesitation, he swallowed and nodded shakily.
"Very well," he said, his voice squeaky as he glanced around briefly to everyone else.
True to Gandrir's words, Gandin resigned himself to defeat, though Legolas spotted his murderous glances as he led them towards the huts. His first impression of them surprised Legolas, for they did not look very shabby after all. They were made of rough wood, had very sturdy builds, and the thatched roofs were well-maintained. Healthy grass grew around them. A communal garden was being tended to by three older women, all of whom looked up and stared as they approached. Gandin glanced back at Aragorn, checking his horse as he turned.
"As you can see, they have sturdy homes and are allowed to grow their own food," he stammered.
"Aye! Woman!" Gimli called, beckoning to the slave nearest to them. "Come forward."
The woman straightened up and approached, eyeing them warily, and turning slightly pale when her gaze met that of Gandin. Legolas could sense their fear.
"How is your life here?" Gimli asked, softening the tone of his voice.
The woman glanced at Gandin, swallowed, and opened her mouth to reply.
"Speak not what you think he wants to hear!" Gimli declared. "Speak the truth."
The woman appeared petrified of the thought. Aragorn's gaze turned even colder. Gandin shuddered slightly.
"Go on," he urged, but the tremor in his voice was very audible.
The woman glanced back at the others, who seemed equally nervous, and finally sighed.
"Well enough in our own rights," she replied, keeping her gaze on the ground. "The days are long and the work is hard, but our homes are strong and warm. We follow overseer orders, and we fare well."
"And what happens when you do not follow orders?" Faramir asked.
With a considerable increase in confidence, the woman pointed to a post in the middle of a bare patch of ground a little ways away, chains dangling from it. A hulking man stood near it, holding a young boy with fresh whip marks on his back, and appeared unsure of whether to continue his task.
"Let him go," Gandin commanded suddenly, his voice weak.
The man immediately released the boy, who crawled away swiftly and ran to one of the huts, where a woman came out and grasped him in evident joy. By now, several other slaves had started gathering, and murmurs broke out at the release of the boy.
"He would have been chained there three days, my Lord," the woman said eagerly, apparently convinced that she could speak her mind without fear of punishment. "He had refused to take water to the overseers of the Wild One. I do not blame him. Those men would have beaten him for the fun of it."
Gandin's pallor was pale gray. He turned to Aragorn, who turned instead to the traders standing nearby.
"Who is the Wild One?" he asked.
"The woman I spoke of before, my King," Torrin replied. "She still works the back field?" Gandin nodded silently. "Her overseers are the toughest of the lot. I don't think she does so anymore, but when she first came here, she had to be beaten into submission almost every day."
Legolas, who had been patiently listening, became alert. He looked out over the fields, but could not pick out the woman in question. He turned to Gandin.
"Take us to her," he said firmly, glancing at Aragorn and seeing him nod in agreement.
Legolas led the group as Gandin ushered them past the first few fields. After a moment, Legolas turned and beckoned to Gimli.
"Be prepared," he said softly. "I think I know who this woman is, though it startles me greatly. If she is truly wild, then she may be dangerous."
Gimli did not question him, but tightened his grip on his axe, clearly eager for some action. Legolas glanced at Eldarion and Eomala, and was about to warn them to keep away, when a loud commotion sounded in the distance. Gandin immediately became alert.
"What is going on?" he demanded. "Now, of all times!"
The pace quickened. Legolas drew his sword, picking out two very strange sounds in the midst of the racket: fierce, vicious snarls, and the angry squawks of a bird.
A very strange sight was starting to come into view. Five men were struggling with a small horse, which was putting up a massive fight, rearing wildly before falling onto its side. For a moment, the men stopped, then a loud thunderous roar split the air. Gandin's horse shrieked and slid to an abrupt halt. Legolas' horse reared, but he barely noticed. He had recognized that terrible sound.
Commotion abruptly turned to chaos. The men gathered around the fallen horse scattered, but one could not move fast enough. A skeletal woman pounced on him, driving him to the ground and bending her head down. The man's screams silenced, and his flailing limbs went slack. Two of the fleeing men stopped and turned back, brandishing iron-tipped whips.
"Finally!" Gimli exclaimed. "Out of my way!"
He charged forward, swinging his axe. Legolas tried to shout at him to stop, but before he could, the others were in pursuit. Only Eowyn pulled her horse back, grabbing the reins of Eomala's horse and forcing her to stop as well.
"Is that. . .?" Eowyn began, staring at the pandemonium ahead. "Is that Faye?"
Legolas, his eyes fixed on the woman, did not respond. The woman was now lashing out at the men whipping her, and didn't seem to notice Gimli's approach. Gandin was shouting orders to those that had fled and were refusing to return, and his voice attracted the woman's attention. Turning, she spotted Gimli, and with a strangled snarl she flung herself at his horse, hanging off the saddle and grappling with the stunned Dwarf. Torrin, who was closest to him, grabbed the woman's arm and attempted to pull her off.
Legolas drove his heels into his horses' flanks and galloped forward, but saw that Torrin had made a fatal mistake almost immediately. One hand firmly clamped on Gimli's axe arm, the woman twisted around and used her other hand to grab Torrin's throat. The pull of her weight brought both riders off their horses, and they fell to the ground in a crumpled heap. The woman and Gimli struggled to their feet, but Torrin remained motionless, his head bent at an unnatural angle, showing precisely the fate that had befallen him. By then, they were surrounded, and the woman hissed and crouched down. Aragorn beckoned sharply, and the men whipping her drew back.
"Calm yourself, woman," Gimli demanded harshly.
The woman stared icily, then stood, threw her head back, and unleashed a horrible scream that caused each and every one of the horses--save the one that had been fighting earlier--to panic and scatter. Legolas forced his horse to remain facing the woman. Now that they were mere yards apart, Legolas recognized Faye in the creature. She looked beyond terrible. Her hair was dirty and matted, her dress tattered. Bits of leather hung from her body, and fresh blood dripped from her mouth and down her chin. He was amazed she could stand at all, for her legs were mangled. The left was slightly withered, and had half the foot missing, while her right knee was slightly disfigured. Her thumbs were gone, and thick dark scars lined her jaws and throat. His heart pained for her, and he slowly lowered his sword.
"Faye!" he spoke loudly, and she twitched. "Faye, do you recognize me?" The woman started growling again. "Faye, I am Legolas."
The others, who had backed away a considerable distance, were now staring at him. Gimli, whose horse was being brought back by a slave from another field, hefted his axe, drawing a growl from Faye.
"Back down, Gimli," Legolas said firmly, feeling his horse shift its weight nervously.
"What kind of beast is she?" Gimli demanded.
"She's a blood-drinker," Gandin declared, sounding furious. Aragorn, who was standing beside him, held a protective hand towards Eldarion to keep him back. "What are you waiting for?! Put her in chains!!"
Faye threw back her head again, turning to Gandin as Gandrir and the two men carrying whips approached her. She snarled and bared her fangs, and Legolas realized that they were much longer than he remembered. Gandrir's horse froze and refused to take another step. The other men hesitated.
"Now!!" Gandin roared.
Legolas saw the danger, but by then, it was too late. Letting loose a terrible cry of rage, Faye went utterly mad, lunging towards the whip-carrying, horseless men. Aragorn's men, Gandrir, Ramir, and Rubeus tried to save them, but they too reacted one moment too late. The first man fell instantly when Faye struck his chest, bones smashing audibly under the blow. The second struck her with his whip, but Faye twisted around and grabbed the back of his neck. Legolas heard Eomala cry out in fright as the unfortunate man's neck snapped. Lifting the body into the air, Faye threw it at Gandin and Aragorn. The body struck Gandin, who fell backward against Aragorn, who struck the rump of Eldarion's horse before both tumbled to the ground. To Legolas' absolute horror, the horse jumped forward, and Eldarion fell from the saddle, landing with a dull thud at Faye's feet.
"Faye, no!" Legolas shouted as she bent down and grasped the collar of Eldarion's shirt. "That is Arwen's son! Arwen! You must remember her!"
It was as if Faye had not heard him. With a terrible growl, she struck Eldarion on the side of the head with the palm of her right hand, and the boy tumbled to the ground again, yelling in pain. Aragorn was on his feet instantly, unsheathing Anduríl and charging forward, the great blade raised. However, before he could bring the sword around, a large brown eagle swooped down and grabbed it, tearing it out of Aragorn's grasp. Aragorn slid to a halt, and for one terrible moment, Legolas was sure Faye would turn and kill him before anyone could move to defend their King.
However, Faye did not move. She was staring blankly down at Eldarion, growling emotionlessly as her gaze focused on the sparkling amulet hanging from his neck.
Suddenly, the eagle reappeared, having dropped Anduríl at the feet of the slave holding Gimli's horse. It cawed loudly, circling low to attract Faye's attention. She looked up at it, shifted her gaze from it to Aragorn to the Evenstar, then turned and ran. She leaped over Eldarion as she darted away, passing Aragorn's men, ducking under Gimli's axe-swing, and dodging Faramir when he charged at her. In a matter of moments, she was gone, leaving a group of very stunned men, and one bewildered pony, in her wake. The eagle circled around once more before flying off after her. The pony looked around, glanced longingly at them, then followed.
"What just happened here?" Gimli asked once the figures had faded into the distance.
Legolas looked at Aragorn, who was holding Eldarion. The boy had a dark and ugly bruise forming where Faye had struck him, but he appeared fully conscious. Aragorn slowly turned to glare at Gandin, who was sitting where he had fallen, a dumbfounded look on his face.
"What have you to say now?" he demanded.
* * * * *
Maida had become quite pale by the time Legolas finished speaking. Arwen was clutching Eldarion tightly, her hands trembling again. Legolas suddenly revealed an old leather bag, which he had been hiding behind his back.
"Gandin relented soon afterward, vowing his full cooperation and immediate change," he said. "As we were departing, he came to me and gave me this. He claimed it belonged to Faye."
He opened the bag and withdrew a tattered black cloak. At first, it seemed unremarkable, and everyone else was gazing in curiosity at it. However, Maida soon gasped loudly and stumbled backward.
"It's hers!" she cried. "It's the creature's cursed cloak!"
All eyes turned to Legolas as he nodded grimly and stuck his hand into the folds of the fabric. After a long moment, he withdrew a shining silver blade--to the stunned awe of everyone else--and held it up. All color drained from Arwen's face as she stared at the weapon the creature had used to torture her mother.
"Proof that Faye succeeded in the task the Valar sent her to do," Legolas said softly. "But at what price?"
Arwen shook her head in bewilderment, unable to respond. She was still having trouble comprehending Legolas' story. However, Maida found her voice.
"Too high," she whispered, tears trickling down her cheeks. "Much too high."
And although Arwen still could not speak, she nodded slightly in agreement. There just was no other way to see it.