Written for the Spook Me Ficathon 2015. My prompts were:
2) the image "The Invisible Noose" (a sepia photograph of a woman in a long white dress with her back to the viewer, her feet suspended off the ground and her neck at an odd angle);
3) the image "La Plus Belle Peur De Ma Vie" (A boy stands in front of three wax candles, two lit and one which has just gone out; he is turning around with an expression of terror to face a figure which has just tapped him on the shoulder: a blood-smeared skeleton dressed in rags and with long white hair. Behind the skeleton are a black owl perched on a broken cross, bats silhouetted against the moon, and gravestones with clusters of glowing lights or possibly eyes.).
Gorthaur: another name for Sauron.
Gorlim ran swiftly through the forest, intent on his goal. The brittle brown leaves that covered the ground crackled unnervingly under his feet with a sound like flames. The dark trees were closely pressed together, meeting overhead to shut out the light, and their crooked branches reached for him as he passed. Ducking aside, he brushed against another tree and immediately recoiled; the bark was black and slimy as if rotten, peeling off in long strips. But he could not stop; he could hear Eilinel's voice far ahead of him in the distance. He saw her, at last, but she did not stop though he called to her. She seemed to glide rather than walk and he could come no closer, though his muscles strained with the effort and his lungs burned with each breath he drew. The black trees slid together, closing ranks before him and blocking his path; he frantically tried to force his way through, but a cluster of twisted roots rose up to grab his ankles. He stumbled and fell full length in the dead leaves with a mocking rustle. He raised his head desperately to see where Eilinel had gone. He could only catch a glimpse of her dark hair as she passed through a slanting ray of sunlight, and the glimmer of her white dress receding ahead of him.
The roots wrapped around him more tightly the more he struggled, winding around his legs and his body, pinning his arms to his sides. He made a desperate effort to wrench free - and awoke, under the stars beside Tarn Aeluin.
The night was quiet; only a faint wind stirred the leaves, and he could hear the lapping of the water. Around him lay the slumbering forms of his lord and comrades, as still as death - no, he thought shuddering, not that. Only asleep.
He sat up abruptly, throwing off his blankets. He was damp with sweat, and the cool air made him shiver.
"Is anything amiss?" Arthad was on watch; the starlight gave only enough light to see a dark shape wrapped in a cloak, his back resting against a tree.
"No," Gorlim said hoarsely. "No, I only need some water-"
Climbing to his feet, he stumbled to the edge of the lake and splashed his face with water. His reflection stared back at him, pale and mournful. "She could be alive," he said defiantly. Eilinel was always fleet of foot, and skilled with a bow; she had brought down rabbits for their supper as often as he. She could have escaped from the raid, when the Orcs plundered their house and fields.
Gorlim had been in the north with his lord. On his return, he had stared stupidly at the empty house, as if expecting Eilinel to rise up out of the ground. He had searched and called for hours, but in vain.
The last time he saw Lady Emeldir, Gorlim had asked her to look for Eilinel, to find her and bring her along to Brethil if she could. His voice shook in spite of himself. Emeldir had given her promise, but Gorlim was not so foolish that he could not see the pity in her eyes. She did not think it likely that Eilinel still lived. But it was not certain, he thought stubbornly. If she ran- if she hid in the woods-
But if she did escape, where would she go? How would she find him? With a pang he thought of their snug house abandoned to Orcs and wild things, the forest growing closer around it. She would have gone back there, surely, looking for him. If Emeldir didn't find her in time for her to leave with the others-
Part of him knew it was folly, that there was no reason to think she would be there. Every time before, the house had stood empty and open to the wind, the small wordless tokens that were all he dared leave for her still undisturbed except by birds or squirrels. But the thought burned in him, and he could not extinguish it. Was there any harm in going to see? He would only look for a moment, and then return.
He did not go for more than a week. They each had duties, and he could not simply disappear and leave his companions. But finally Barahir sent him to scout the paths near their camp. There was only one path he cared about, his heart flying in thought ahead of him.
He stood beyond the familiar grove of trees (twisted now, their leaves black and drooping sadly) and took great gulps of air, unable to catch his breath. If he took three more steps forward, he would see the house, and then he would know. He was trembling as he stepped forward.
A light flickered in the window. For a long moment he only stared, the candlelight dazzling his vision. Then he slipped out from the cover of the trees, keeping to the house's shadow. He reached the window and peered eagerly inside. She was there, just as he remembered her - no, not quite, her face paler and thinner, with streaks of grey in her lovely hair –- but she was still his Eilinel, his own. Her lips moved, forming the shape of his name. (But part of him knew, even then.)
"Gorlim," she said softly. "Gorlim, where have you gone? Have you forsaken me in these dark lands all alone?"
He did not ask himself how he could hear her words so clearly. A crack in the walls of the ruined house let the wind blow through, making the candle flames waver; one of them blew out as he watched, leaving an upward trail of smoke. That was enough to bring her voice to him. He pressed closer, his hands clinging to the wall.
"He cannot be dead," she cried in despair, and his heart was torn for her. "My love, if you yet live, where are you? I have sought for you-"
He ran forward then, forgetting caution. His only thought was to reach the door, to open it and have her in his arms again at last.
A dry stick cracked behind him. He whirled around - and behind him, in the shadow of the wood, were the glowing eyes of the Enemy's wolves. Higher up, sharp-fanged bats with folded wings were clustered in the trees like horrible dark leaves. They were the Enemy's scouts and spies; he could hear now what his hope had deafened him to, the heavy tread of Orcs in the distance.
Gorlim ran. He made more noise than he had to as he fled and left a clear trail for them to follow, thinking only of drawing the foes away. He could not bear to think of them coming near Eilinel, of her turning away from the candles in the window to see bloody grinning death behind her. (And yet, part of him knew.)
When the Enemy's servants caught him, and when they tormented him, he kept the image of Eilinel's face before his mind, and he told them nothing. But somehow the Enemy had read his heart; and when one came close beside him where he lay in bonds and whispered "Eilinel," then he began to waver.
He could not bear to lose the hope of what he had longed for so desperately. He knew and did not know and could not bear to know that his hope was in vain; but when, his treachery accomplished, Gorthaur smiled cruelly and told him, "She is long dead," a part of him was not surprised.
They took their time with killing him, as was the way of Orc-kind. He was not sure towards the end what was real and what he only imagined; but he thought he saw a fluttering white shape, her face pale beneath dark hair, reaching out her hands to him. He reached out to her in turn - felt, or thought he felt, his hand brush her fingers - and then at last the pain was gone.
"Eilinel," his spirit sighed, even as he sped bodiless to warn Beren. "Eilinel . . ."