The dying hisses of the spider had faded into silence before Arwen regained enough sense to look at the new arrivals. They were clearly Elves, and she let out a cry of surprise when she recognized her own grandfather among them. Celeborn immediately rode towards her, dismounting and kneeling before her.
“Arwen,” he said, his voice filled with shock and worry. “Arwen, what are you doing here?”
The spider now safely dead, the others were starting to gather around them. Eowyn, clearly speechless, only stared at them. Arwen grasped Celeborn’s arm, gesturing to Maida.
“She needs help,” she gasped.
Celeborn immediately beckoned to the others, and two approached to take Maida. The Elf-lord’s eyes were not long from his granddaughter, though, and soon he was examining her again. Arwen could see the mixed emotions on his face as his gaze lingered on her swollen belly.
“How close are you to birth?” Celeborn asked slowly.
Arwen gazed into her grandfather’s eyes. She wanted to shout out that she had seen Faye, that they should immediately ride in pursuit of her, but she knew she could not avoid the question.
“Past due,” she said quietly. “But I have felt no pains.”
Celeborn was silent, but Arwen winced as she saw anger form on his face. His lips tightened into a scowl.
“Where is Aragorn?” he asked gruffly, glancing around. “Does he know where you are?”
Arwen bowed her head. She knew what Celeborn was thinking, and could see no way out of the inevitable. She may be the Queen of Gondor, but she still had every reason to quail under the furious gaze of the mighty Elf-lord.
“No,” she admitted. “He was not willing to permit this journey.” She looked up, gritting her teeth. “But my reasons are justified.”
Celeborn appeared livid, but he did not reply. Instead, he stood, gesturing sharply to the others in signal to leave. Arwen was helped to her feet, and Atego approached when she whistled to him. Eowyn, who appeared quite disconcerted, approached her.
“Do not worry,” Arwen whispered. “They are my kin.”
Seeing her grandfather had startled Arwen, almost driving her purpose for the journey from her mind. But as she led Atego across the place where Faye had disappeared, she snapped back to her senses.
“Grandfather, wait!” she cried. “We cannot go.”
Celeborn turned his horse around, and the others paused and gazed back at her. All were clearly confused.
“Grandfather, I came on this quest because I was searching for Faye,” Arwen said, spurring Atego forward. “She is here, in the forest. We saw her just now.”
Murmurs erupted from the gathered, but the expression on her grandfather’s face did not change.
“You saw Faye?” he asked, an eyebrow raised in disbelief.
“We did, my Lord,” Eowyn said suddenly, bringing Bregan to stand beside Atego. “She has been, until recently, held in forced captivity. We believe she runs because she has taken leave of her senses.”
“She ran that way,” Arwen added, gesturing to the forest. “She was bitten by the spider, so she couldn’t have gotten far.” She gazed pleadingly at her grandfather. “Please, we have to find her.”
For a long moment, Celeborn was silent. Finally, he nodded.
“Follow the trail,” he said to a group of three soldiers standing with him. “Report if you find anything.”
The Elves rode off immediately. Arwen watched them depart, turning Atego to follow them.
“No, Arwen,” Celeborn said sternly. “You are coming with me.”
Arwen knew her grandfather was angry, but she did see just how angry he was until they reached an observatory campsite and she was assisted up into Celeborn’s private talan. Arwen groaned as her grandfather set her onto a low couch, the pain in her back having become almost unbearable. Eowyn, who had remained by her side, seemed to be overcoming her nervousness in the presence of the Elf-lord. She sat next to her, a comforting hand on her shoulder.
For a long while, there was a cold silence between them. Celeborn looked out onto the forest, a scowl on his face, clearly deep in thought. Finally, he turned.
“What were you thinking?” he said, his voice soft, but forced. He seemed to be struggling to remain calm.
“What?” Arwen asked, looking up at him.
“What were you thinking?” he asked again, more harshly. “You wandered away from Minas Tirith, late in pregnancy, with no proper guard, following a rumor.”
“It was no rumor!” Arwen replied fiercely, indignant. “We saw her, just now, in the forest!”
“She was in Gondor all this time, my Lord,” Eowyn added proudly. Her stance seemed to mirror Arwen’s agitation. “Enslaved by a plantation owner in the south. I saw her myself when King Aragorn went to investigate.”
Celeborn turned, but before he could reply, one of the scouts appeared. He bowed to his Lord, his face very grim.
“We followed a trail of blood,” he reported. “It ended near a stream, but there the trail disappeared. We searched the area, but we found nothing.”
“No evidence of Faye?” Celeborn asked.
“No,” the scout replied.
Arwen tried to stand, but her legs were refusing to cooperate. Eowyn clutched her shoulder more firmly, holding her back.
“We must look again,” Arwen snapped. “Faye is out there! She is wounded! She needs our help.”
“It is true,” Eowyn said in support, standing. “King Aragorn, Lords Gimli and Legolas, my husband, our children, and over a dozen other men can support our claims. They all saw Faye in that plantation.”
Both the scout and Celeborn stared at her. Some of the Elf-lord’s anger seemed to be fading.
“Widen the search,” he said. “Take a few of the others and comb the forest around the trail. If she is out there. . .she will be found.”
Arwen’s heart lightened as the scout nodded and disappeared.
“You believe us?” she asked.
“That remains to be seen,” Celeborn replied, turning sharply to glare at her again. “Whether or not Faye is truly alive, I am still astounded that you placed such a risk upon yourself. When I think what could have happened. . .” He paced slightly, running a hand through his hair. “Lady Eowyn, you said that Faye has taken leave of her senses. A creature like her lost to madness is more dangerous than any beast of the forest.” He paused. “Did she attack anyone?”
Arwen fell silent. That was one question she did not want to answer. What would Celeborn say, if he knew what Faye had done to Eldarion? How would he react if she told him that Faye had killed several men in her attempt to escape the plantation?
“Did she attack anyone?” Celeborn repeated, slowly and fiercely.
Arwen bowed her head, her sense of discomfort only increasing. She only just caught Eowyn’s apologetic glance.
“In madness,” Eowyn began softly. “Faye killed four men at the plantation, and injured Prince Eldarion. We are not sure if she has drawn any more blood in her run north.”
Celeborn was staring at them again, his face a mask of incredulity. He seemed almost hesitant to believe what he had just heard.
“Killed four men?” he said icily. “Injured Eldarion? And you have. . .you have been following her?”
At that moment, Celeborn’s control seemed to snap. Arwen gasped as her grandfather launched into an infuriated tirade, cursing her for daring to try and find Faye when she was in such a dangerous state of mind.
“It is hard for me to deny that she is alive, from what Lady Eowyn has said,” he was saying. “But you, Arwen, know Faye better than anyone else. You should have seen the danger! You have risked your life, the life of your babe, and the lives of Lady Maida and Lady Eowyn. Faye could have killed you, all of you, without ever realizing what she was doing.”
“She would not have hurt me, Grandfather!” Arwen proclaimed forcefully. “She loves me.”
“Faye loved you,” Celeborn snarled, emphasizing the past tense of the word fiercely. “She loves nothing now. She is little more than a dangerous creature running loose in the forest. How do you expect her to know the difference between family and prey?” Suddenly, the Elf-lord’s anger faded, and he grasped Arwen’s hand, a pained look on his face. “Arwen, the days of your youth are gone. You cannot dwell on the past.”
“Do not say I must forget her,” Arwen replied savagely. “I will not turn my back on Faye now. She needs me.”
“If she needed you, she would not have run from you,” Celeborn said. He paused, then turned away. “I will send a message to Aragorn. You are not to leave this camp. If Faye is to be found, it will be by my scouts. If she is returned here. . .I will deal with her accordingly.”
And with those words, Celeborn was gone. Arwen watched him leave, more disheartened than ever before. She had seen Faye, something that, for one moment, had brought overwhelming joy. She was so close to finding her, so close to having her beloved guardian back again. . .
“Lord Celeborn believes us,” Eowyn said softly. “That is the most important thing. He will make sure Faye is found. I saw it in his eyes.”
Arwen turned to Eowyn, suddenly confused at her own sorrow. Eowyn was right, after all. Faye could not hide long from her grandfather and his scouts, who knew these forests intimately. She should not despair, but be glad. Anyone else would say that her quest was successful.
But you know why you are afraid, whispered a tiny voice in Arwen’s mind. Faye is lost to her madness. She will not listen to anyone else but you. If they come for her, she will run. They will chase, but she will escape.
Faye proved long ago just how many she can
* * * * * *
For the first time since she could remember, Faye felt comfortable. Her utter exhaustion was soothing the pain that constantly raged in her body, and all around her she could feel softness and warmth. Slowly, she forced herself to wake up. She was curious to know what soft surface she was lying on, where that rich, soothing scent was coming from. Somewhere nearby, a fire crackled.
Suddenly, Faye felt something being pressed against her lips, and a cool, bland liquid began sliding down her throat. It took several moments to identify it as water. Hissing, she started spitting the liquid out again, and felt the pressure on her lips ease.
“I wonder. . .” a strange voice said softly.
Faye felt the pressure on her lips again, and steeled herself to spit out whatever was coming, but she froze when she tasted that first mouthful of rich, warm, salty blood. Her eyes were still closed, most of her senses still locked in the haze of unconsciousness, but that did not matter. Jerking upward, she tore the source of the blood from whoever was holding it, and began gulping it down viciously.
Instantly, her senses sharpened, the haze dissolving as Faye became attuned to herself. The blood was reviving her, like the blessed substance always did. She hardly noticed that she was drinking from a goatskin bottle until it was empty. Tossing it aside, she looked around, sated enough to remain calm as she examined her surroundings.
Faye was sitting on a low bed in a tiny, one-room cottage. At the far end of the room, a hearth-fire blazed, a steaming pot set on a hook above it. A cabinet, an old wardrobe, a few chairs, two low tables, and a chest at the foot of the bed were the only furniture. Sitting next to the bed, a grim look on her face, was the woman that had taken her out of the stream. Faye growled at her, registering her presence for the first time, but was surprised when the woman only glared at her.
“Is that the way to thank the one who rescued you?” the woman asked gruffly. “Lay back, blood-drinker. You are in no condition to move just yet.”
Faye did not move, still staring at the woman, amazed that she did not fear her growls, or her show of fangs. She tried again, but to her greater surprise, the woman slapped her in response.
“Calm yourself,” she said harshly as Faye gaped at her. “I know you can understand what I am saying. I had my suspicions of what you were since I saw how fast that spider bite closed up.” The woman stood and retrieved the discarded bottle. “I hope you’re thankful for this. I had to hunt down three wild geese to get that for you.”
Faye closed her mouth, gazing distrustfully at the woman but not attempting to warn her off again. The woman sat back in her chair, setting the bottle aside and crossing her arms.
“So who are you?” she asked bluntly. “Where did you get all those scars?”
It took a long moment for Faye to decide what to do. Her years of enslavement had made her very wary and distrustful. Still, this woman plainly had no fear of her, and Faye could tell that she had been well cared for in the time she was unconscious. She was clean, her hair brushed and tangle-free, and her ragged clothes replaced by a blanket wrapped carefully around her body. She could not remember a time when she could actually see the coppery tone of her flesh.
“I am Faye,” she finally said, her voice hoarse.
“So you do speak,” the woman replied, sounding slightly amused. “For a moment there, I thought you were a mute. It wouldn’t have surprised me, not with all those horrid scars you have on your face.”
Faye lifted her hand to her face, feeling the roughness left by poorly healed wounds. Pressing into the flesh, she could also feel the gaps in her jaw where teeth used to be. All of it had been ripped away by that accursed bridle. At least being sold to the plantation had come with the mercy of its removal.
“What happened to you?” the woman said again, curiosity and concern on her face. “I’ve never seen an animal in worse shape.”
Faye stared at her deformed hands and mutilated legs. She cursed herself now, more than ever, for not being able to remember a time before the enslavement, the torture. All she had were a few formless names, and ghosts of an even more confusing dream. She bowed her head, suddenly feeling very weary.
“Orcs,” she said softly. “Evil creatures. Torture and enslavement.”
The woman frowned, seemingly understanding. For a moment, she was silent, but then she lifted a damp cloth from a basin on the floor and handed it to her.
“Clean off the blood,” she said, her voice more gentle than at any point beforehand.
Faye did so, her gaze also softening. Once her mouth was cleaned, she turned fully to her new friend.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“My name is Ancalima,” the woman replied. “My family was killed in the forest when I was a child. The Elves looked after me.”
Faye gave Ancalima a confused glance.
“Elves?” she asked.
“You’ll meet them soon enough,” Ancalima replied with a slight smile. “They pass through every few days.” She took the damp cloth back, then gently pushed on Faye’s shoulder. “Now lie down. You have a ways to go yet before you heal from that bite.”
Faye did as she was told, resting back on the bed and watching as the woman walked over to the hearth and began stirring its contents. She was at ease, now. She could see that Ancalima was trying to help her. Already, the blood was starting to make her feel better. With a comfortable sigh, she closed her eyes, dropping willingly off to sleep.