Disclaimer - The Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien owns Middle Earth and all therein. No breach of copyright is intended by the following fanfiction, and no profit will ever be made from it.
Wow...umm...it's been a while. Would you believe...a 6 year writer's block?
But I'm back.
Thanks to the lovely reviewers for chapter 22: Hermonine, tigerlilly396, Kiricat, FaithAngel712, Jade Elf, Moriwen, Crecy, Blue Kat, Hobbitfeatures, Writer from Rivendell, Isthia, Ainu Laire, lucylambchop, Sunsetcheetah, Aranel-DiSonne.
I ran mindlessly, heedless of the ragged shouts behind me as I peeled away from the longhouse, darting along the lane and heading for the edge of the village and the prairie beyond.
I wasn't an especially fast runner, but I had the dubious advantage of being less weighted down by armor and helm, and didn't have to retain my hold on weapons, so I kept far enough ahead of my guards to avoid being caught immediately.
Plus terror did literally lend wings to my heels.
As I flashed past one of the homes near the village's edge, a voice different from my guards' called out to me. "Oi! In here!"
I almost paid it no heed, but did send a startled glance its way, as I rushed by, for the voice had been female… and that was my undoing.
My foot caught on something, and I tripped-
I got distracted, and my foot caught on a rock jutting out of the ground, and I pitched forward-
Hitting the ground hurt – I actually rolled over, the breath dashed out of me.
The terror still gripped me, and as I heard the pounding of feet – three people, now, and I still had that breathless feeling, like when you get punched right in the diaphragm, so you try to breathe but it doesn't work right away, then I got in that first whoop of air, and tears sprang into my eyes, and then I realized I felt the Danger from two directions-
-from above and coming at us from outside the village.
And I got enough air into me and said a very Bad word that they probably hadn't ever heard in Middle Earth before.
Aelfwhed and Morthren had arrived. I saw them looming above me, through the distortion of my angry tears. Despite my idiotic stunt and graceless tumble, one of them – Aelfwhen by the tunic color – gently if firmly helped me to my feet.
The third person was a woman, brown-hair pulled back in a messy bun, her gown's skirt pulled up somewhat and somehow tied to allow her enough freedom to run. Sword in hand, she stared at us, her pale face pinched in a bemused determination mostly mirrored by my guards.
"Mayda! The children?"
"Agyfen's. We guard."
Morthren nodded once.
Mayda glanced at me, a line between her brows. She didn't even have to ask.
"She is…a… seer. Said great danger approaches."
Mayda's expression changed subtly. "The raiders," she said, not quite a question.
"Not that!" I snapped. "Something else! Something worse!" And I still 'felt' it, but nothing was happening at that very moment, and I felt like such a fool, and-
She stood before us, staring at me in confusion, but sword in hand, running toward the danger, defending her home, everything I wasn't-
"I'm sorry…" I whispered, slumping against Aelfwhen, who was kindly holding me up but also making sure I didn't race off again, as the manic energy drained out of me. "I'm sorry…"
Then Morthren let out a wordless, short shout and pointed. Out beyond the edge of the village, something was coming toward us through the waist-high grasses. Stalking toward us.
I was frozen with a sudden horror. This was the source of part of the terror. But I blinked with confusion. At first glance, it looked like a small pony-?
A moment later, my mind caught up with what I was really seeing.
It was a wolf. A huge wolf that was as large as a pony – easily five feet high at its shoulder. And it was somehow, impossibly, exuding an amazing amount of menace.
Menace and intelligence. Part of my mind got caught up in a disbelieving thought of Well wolves aren't like that while the other part reminded myself that this was Arda – wolves could totally be like that, remember? – while the third part merely gibbered in despair.
The gigantic warg –for that was what it was, I realized - paused, opened its mouth in a slavering grin, tipped its head back, and I swear it laughed.
Then it stared at us all where we stood frozen in shock, savoring the looks on our faces, before it leapt straight at us.
Our group went in three directions. If I hadn't been in shock and then in mid-air, I'd have wanted to admire the inadvertent choreography. Aelfwhen went to the right, with me. Morthren leapt forward to meet the warg, his sword clearing its scabbard and swinging up in a deadly arc. Mayda darted to the side, but her own sword came up and around even as she did so, waiting to follow-up Morthren's first strike.
Aelfwhen and I cleared the jumble. In the space of seconds he fiercely took hold of my right hand in an almost-crushing grip, wrenched me around, and we ran. I couldn't have pulled away or gone anywhere else except in the direction of forward even if I'd tried. We were heading for the closest shelter, a barn nearby where we had more of a chance to hold off whoever came after us first, warg or raider.
We could faintly hear the sound of shouts and the dull sound of metal on metal from the other side of the village. If the villagers and Theodred's men didn't hold them off…they'd be here soon enough.
I couldn't see; had no time to even look behind me, but I suddenly heard a ragged female scream and winced- No no no
We slammed against the wooden door, about to tumble inside, when something slammed into us from behind, tossing us aside.
I didn't even make sense of the jumbled visual flashes; I just fell, and lay, semi-stunned, then heard a groan. Aelfwhen, or me?
I was laying facedown. I shifted a little, attempting to roll over. When I did, enough to be able to see, I could have screamed in pure shock.
The warg was right in front of me, about a foot from me, staring at me.
I didn't even get a chance to glance around to see what had become of my companions; caught in his dark gaze, I simply stared.
And stared. And stared.
My mouth dropped open. I gasped, then again, a weird sort of hyperventilation. I became dimly aware that I was…keening. A strange, almost breathless protest.
The creature's grin widened. And then it spoke to me. I think it was the mind-speak so many did there. At least, that's how I remember it. Not regular 'speech', just me somehow getting the meaning.
You feel…different. Who are you?
I stared, unable to look away.
The beast's 'smile' widened. Oh, this will be fun.
It suddenly leapt away from me. Released, I scrambled frantically and dazedly around, seeking to get to my feet and go in the opposite direction of wherever it was now.
I froze. It was several yards away, learning over a slowly moving, dazed Aelfwhen. But staring right over at me. I was trapped in its gaze again. I ask you again – who are you?
I merely stared, and the warg's head dipped down and its teeth flashed-
A hoarse, strangled scream erupted from the fallen warrior, and warg's head rose, its teeth stained crimson.
A strangled scream of my own rose. "NOBODY!"
And the shaggy head dipped down again.
My shriek mingled with the sudden clap of power that the sent the warg scrambling away, with a startled snarl, from Aelfwhen.
Istar Fool! You dare interfere?
"Get thee gone, creature. Or despite my charge, I will end you."
I cringed back, both forces poised before me equally perilous. The warg, broad, high back arched in outrage, a vicious, curdling snarl erupting from its throat, the brown-robed man standing before him, staff in hand, radiating a quiet, implacable confidence…
My Master will remember this insult, Istar...and repay you in full…after he is done with Mithrandir.
"I will await my turn, then, as needs I must."
I blinked. The warg turned a last, malice-filled glance my way, and I flinched. You are important to this wizard. Oh yes, you are somebody indeed.
And then he sprang away, twisting and turning in a mad dash away, vanishing within moments into the sea of grass.
I slumped forward, wishing I could just faint and escape all of this for a time.
But I couldn't. Not this time.
So I looked up, catching Radagast's gaze. Little energy left after today's shocks, but enough to say, "Help them…please."
From behind from the village outbuildings came running Theodred and a handful of his men, in time to see the aftermath of our own private little battle. Three prone bodies, one slumped, one striding over to the most grievously wounded. Barked orders and the others hurried over and performed triage.
"Mi'Lord, they live still."
I hung my head in immense relief. My cowardice, my flight that had put all three right in harm's way, hadn't cost them their lives. Yet.
I looked up again and the First Marshall of the Mark was staring down at me. "What occurred here?"
I glanced away. "Warg," I said succinctly. I glanced back up and he was staring at me expectantly. Evidently that wasn't enough of a sitrep for him. "Warg attack. Big one. Biggest one I've ever seen. Radagast drove it away."
Theodred gazed at me a few moments longer, then nodded. Leaning down, he offered a hand. I numbly took it and he lifted me to my feet.
"Thank you. Mi'Lord." Better too polite than not. "The raiders?"
"Dundlanders. It was a small party – they have been routed. Two were left alive to flee; my men are in pursuit. They will not get far."
I nodded. I saw Theodred glancing over at Radagast who had looked up as we both finished our explanations. "Coincidence?" he asked the Istar.
"Possibly. Probably not."
Theodred nodded, resigned. "One beast did as much damage here as all the Dunlanders." He raised his voice. "The four most wounded will remain here and recover. The rest of us must ride for Edoras today. We will depart when the sun has reached Ormod." All eyes followed his pointing finger to the right-most mountain peak. From my perspective, the sun was about an inch above the edge of the peak, shadows slanting across the lower mountain slopes. About an hour, then.
This was going to be one hell of a ride.
To Be Continued…