Cold—why was she so cold?
Arwen shivered, hugging her arms tightly about herself to ward of the sudden, unexplainable chill that had come over her. Elves were never cold, even in the harshest of winters. Why then…? She closed her eyes with another violent shudder, her throat aching with unshed tears. The dim light of the coming dawn washed over her, the quiet morning sounds meeting her keen ears.
Bleakly, she stretched out her hand, reaching for something gone from her forever, or perhaps merely touching the edges of an old memory…
A cold, clear melodious clatter of running water came dancing upon the wind toward her. Arwen glanced out the high window, her gaze finding a cold stream of water slipping merrily down from the hills and moving swiftly on down the slope of the mountain, and joining in the distance, another river that shone silver in the rising dawn before flowing on into the fair, autumn forest.
Where are you now, Aragorn? she thought desperately. A thin ice covers my soul and my body’s frozen, and my heart is cold without you.
With a deep breath, Arwen wiped the tears from her eyes, she had cried so much, but tears wouldn’t bring him back.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed and hurriedly walked over towards the window. Everything seemed so abnormally still and silent. The soft breeze that had been blowing through the trees earlier had stopped, the crows had stopped their annoying cawing and flown away deep into the woods. The bright yellow sun had become blocked by dark, grey clouds that had a greenish tint to them. Even the air in the room seemed unusually still. Arwen sighed deeply and was about to turn around when something in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She leaned as close to the barred window as she could. In the distance she could see… Orcs? She ran towards the door but stopped and covered her delicate ears at the horrible sound of an Orc horn. It was a shrill sound, loud and rough to her ears, a sound that surely promised only suffering.
What were Orcs doing here? Eyes narrowed, Arwen picked up her sword, Hadafang, which had once belonged to her father, and her powerful long bow that was painted a shiny green color and had silvery leaves traced on it. There were perhaps fifty elves in Rivendell, and they all would have heard the Orc horn. One last glance out the window confirmed that there was a full army of Orcs steadily approaching.
Fifty against a thousand… the chances of survival were slim. Never give up hope.
* * *
“Milady,” called one Elf, Esren. “What are these foul creatures doing here?”
Arwen shook her head. “I do not know. But prepare for a battle.”
Esren’s keen eyes scanned to horizon. “They have a great advantage in numbers.”
“Numbers do not win a war.”
“It would be advisable to leave Rivendell, milady.”
“No.” Arwen shuddered at the thought of those vile things tramping through the clean, beautiful halls of Rivendell. “Not while I have breath left in my body.”
There was a long pause. “In that case, the Orc Chieftain, a nasty brute by the name of Zalog” (why did that name sound so familiar?) “wishes to speak to you. You can refuse if you want, send a messenger in your place. Orcs are a devious sort, and they won’t hesitate to kill an unarmed—”
Arwen held up a hand. “I can take care of myself, Esren. Where is he?”
“At the main gate, milady. Will you allow me to come with you?”
Arwen nodded and began to walk, setting a brisk pace toward the gate. There she found herself facing an Orc. It was thick-limbed and had hands with long, sharp claws, the teeth yellow and pointed. The creature had long, oily, black hair that was pulled back in a long ponytail. He made a low growling sound as he tightened his fist around the large scimitar he held clasped within his clawed hands. The blade was rough and curved at the tip where it was covered in fresh blood that dripped off of it. He stayed as far away from Arwen as possible, as if afraid her beauty might be infectious. It gave a rasping laugh, if you could call it a laugh, then called in a voice dripping with sarcasm, “Lady of Rivendell! I offer you a bargain! This worthless place… for your life. As petty a thing as that may be, I think it may be valuable to you! Depart now and be spared, or I promise you a death more painful than any you can imagine! Hurry, I am waiting! Give us this city or die!”
“You will have to kill me, then, for you shall not have it!” Arwen snapped.
“Then,” said Zalog with a toxic smile, “by refusing our generous terms of surrender, you have chosen death as your fate. No more shall I negotiate! The hand of friendship has turned into the fist of war. If any of you still hold regard for your rightful sovereign, then you will flee! None may stand before us. So flee, we say, or suffer the end of your despicable race!” With that, the dreadful creature untied a canvas sack and flourished a severed Elf’s head. The Orc tossed it into the air, and turned away, setting a pace worthy of a cheetah back the way it had come.
“Shall I kill him?” asked Esren, his ashen face stony.
“No,” said Arwen quietly. “Enough blood will be spilled on his account in days to come.” In a louder voice, she called, “Zalog! Return and face me! I
have a bargain of my own!” Esren gave her a curious look, much like the one Zalog turned to give before doubling back.
“Esren, thank you for accompanying me, but I need to speak to this Orc alone, for now.” When he hesitated, Arwen fixed him with a forceful stare, and, reluctantly, the Elf back off several paces.
“Yes, Lady of Rivendell?” the Orc cackled, standing close enough so that only
Arwen could hear him and also close enough that she thought she would gag on the foul sent of his breath. “Your wish is my command.”
“So Sauron didn’t kill you?” Arwen said coldly. “Odd, I was almost certain that if he found you’d had dealing with an Elf that he would.”
Zalog’s yellow gaze became harsh, the sarcasm left him in a flash. “I would have thought you would forget.”
“I very nearly did. Selective memory loss, I presume.”
The Orc’s noxious smile widened sickeningly. “And I feared I had killed you.”
Arwen said nothing.
“Yet… you are as beautiful as ever.”
Still she did not respond. Zalog, though, recognized her disgust.
“You do not believe that I can love? Dear Arwen, I have loved you since I first saw you. For a long while, I watched you from afar, delighting in the
simple grace of your ever movement.”
Arwen steeled her cold gaze and did not blink.
“But I am not a pretty creature,” Zalog went on. “And so it was Aragorn—” a bit of venom bubbled over in his voice at the mention of that name “—who first caught your fairest eye.” The self-deprivation was pitiful, but Arwen held little sympathy for Zalog.
“A pretty creature?” she questioned. “You still cannot comprehend how small a thing that is.” Zalog backed off, perplexed.
Arwen just shook her head. “You have never been able to see beyond the skin. You have never cared for what was in someone’s heart and soul because your own are empty.”
“Take care with your words,” Zalog said warningly.
“They hurt because they are true.”
“Yes! It is not Aragorn’s smile I love, but the source of that smile, the warmth of his heart and the truth of his soul. Wretched Orc, I pity you,” she
decided then. “I pity that you never fathomed the difference between love and ego.”
For all her cunning, Arwen had touch a weakness in Zalog’s black heart. He stared at her, yellow eyes wide in shock and horror. Then, very quietly, “What is this bargain?”
“I have none. I wished only to see your face, so that I alone may find you on the battlefield. And it would be good for you to mark my face as well, Orc, for the next time you see it, it will be the last thing you see on this earth.”
“Ah,” replied Zalog as Arwen walked off, the main gate closing behind her.
“Finally an Elf worth killing.”