Prologue: Darkness Falls
The sun shone on the glades and meadows surrounding Imladris as it had not done in many years. Arwen tilted her head back to drink it in, still amazed at the warmth it gave, despite that it was but April. It was as if Arda itself rejoiced in the destruction of the One Ring and had sent Spring early in celebration.
Even Arda's joy could not compete with Arwen's however. When she had learned of their victory over the Shadow, she knew she was finally free of the pressing fear that had held her captive for many years. She had laughed through her tears--a pure, unadulterated sound of happiness that none save her father could ever remember hearing.
Elrond was true to his word; plans were immediately set underway for their journey to Minas Tirith. They would leave in little more than a week, and Arwen had begged for this one last ride through the places she loved dearly.
She shifted slightly in her saddle, glancing around the valley she knew so well. She knew she should feel some sadness at leaving her home and her family to start a new life, but she had been preparing herself for this separation for forty long years; years in which she had nothing to cling to but a hope and a promise that this day would ever come. There would be tears when she said goodbye to her father, but that knowledge did not diminish the joy she felt when she looked forward to her reunion with Aragorn.
So caught up was she in her own thoughts that she almost missed it--the sudden quiet in the forest that meant something was wrong. She felt the tension in her companions and shifted the leather reins to her left hand so her right was free to reach for her bow. She was not sure what was wrong, but then the wind shifted direction, and she caught a foul odor that made her nose crinkle in disgust. "Yrch," Lindir murmured and, they turned their horses swiftly toward home.
Though she knew the danger was real, in truth Arwen felt little concern. Their horses should be able to easily outrun the Orcs, and none of the foul beasts would dare enter the borders of Rivendell. Even during the Dark Years, that valley had been a haven against evil, and now with their Lord and Master defeated finally they would not dare to assail the Elf-lands.
But instead of falling behind, these Orcs kept pace with them. Though it was true that Orcs would not usually be able to catch an Elf on horseback, something seemed to be driving these to run faster than any she had seen before. In little time, a band of thirty or forty Orcs was running alongside them.
Trusting her horse to keep galloping toward home and safety, Arwen dropped the reins entirely in favor of her bow. She notched an arrow and took careful aim before letting it fly. She only let herself feel a glimmer of satisfaction when he fell before she shot another, and another.
Though she was skilled with the bow and a sword, Arwen had not seen many battles. She did not realize that as she shot and killed Orc after Orc on her left side, she left her right side open. On most days, the Elf riding on that side would keep her protected; today however Beriothien had been separated from her as they rode through the trees.
Arwen knew none of this until she felt a sharp sting and glanced down in surprise to find an arrow piercing her side. She pulled it out quickly, heedless of the pain, knowing only that she could not stop. She notched another arrow and pulled back on the bowstring, only to double over in the saddle from the strain it put on her fresh wound. Her horse faltered, unsure what his mistress unfamiliar movements meant.
This was the opportunity the Orcs had been waiting for. Ten of them swarmed around her and pulled her from her horse. Before they could do more, she pulled her sword from her belt. You will not take me, she told them, for she knew better than most what would happen if they did. Unbidden, the image of her mothers body as it had been after her brothers found it came to mind, and her hand tightened around the hilt of her blade.
The Orcs laughed; a coarse guttural sound. They dare to mock me? Arwen's anger surged and she spat out a curse. "Nai Ungoliant meditha le." Then she lunged, striking at the Orc on her immediate left. Though he easily parried the blow, their laughter stopped.
In an ideal situation, she should have been able to defend herself indefinitely. She had been well trained by Glorfindel and Erestor both, not to mention her brothers. She knew how to handle a blade with an ease and elegance that would put most men to shame. However, this was not an ideal situation. The weight of the blade in her right hand pulled painfully at the wound in that same side, forcing her to fight with her weaker left arm. As the skirmish wore on, she felt herself tiring. I cannot keep this up much longer, she realized. Each blow is harder to block.
Barely had the thought crossed her mind when an orcish blade glanced off her thigh. Though it was not a serious hit, it threw her off balance and opened her right side to attack. Another Orc struck her, and she fell to the ground. She struggled valiantly to rise to her feet, but she was knocked down as soon as she rose. She gasped as the pain in her side intensified and was joined by new wounds in her leg and stomach.
With an effort, she raised her sword above her head and brought it down the fighting arm of the Orc nearest her. The hit was good, but it took all her strength. Though she saw a sword flash on her left side, she could not move in time to dodge or block it.
The blade sliced through her stomach, and she fell to the ground, her mouth open in a silent scream. The Orcs laughed once again, this time in victory. She could hear her companions fighting to get to her, but she knew they would not reach her in time to help. This was her fight, and she had lost.
Aragorn sat up in bed, his breaths coming hard and fast. For a moment he did not recognize his whereabouts, so vivid had his dream been. He had felt the warm sun, smelt the clean air of sweeping off the Misty Mountains. He had been there with her there with her when it happened.
He looked wildly around the tent, his frantic mind unable to focus on anything but the image of Arwen lying near death. After several long moments he felt the scratchy wool blanket under his fingers and realized he was in his tent at the Field of Cormallen,. He tried to concentrate on that reality and not what he had seen in his dreams, but he could not. He passed a shaking hand across his face, reliving it once again in his mind.
She had fought well. Though he had been concerned for her well-being, he had felt a sense of pride at first. Few of his men could have ridden and shot a bow as well as she could. But he had seen the danger when she had not, and though he had tried to shout to warn her of her vulnerability, he had found himself a prisoner of his dream, unable to do anything but watch.
The first shot to her side had made him wince, though he had been proud once more when she pulled the arrow out and rode on as if nothing had happened. But he had watched, horror-struck, when her horse slowed and allowed the Orcs to pull Arwen from her saddle. He had looked around the field in vain, wondering why the others did not better defend her, but saw quickly that there were none to come to her aid. Lindir and Beriothien were both too far from Arwen to realize that she was in danger, though they looked up when she shouted her curse at the Orcs.
Her challenge would have brought a smile to his lips had his stomach not been cramping with dread. He knew better than any man alive how much a true battle differed from training exercises; did he not bear scars that had come in his own first skirmish? He willed her two companions to move quicker, but they too were hard-pressed on every side.
The rest had happened so quickly that nothing could prevent the inevitable, as is so frequently the case in the middle of a battle. She had gone from proudly defiant to on the ground in agony in the span of minutes. No one could have reached her in time to save her.
He lay back against his pillows and took a deep breath. It was a dream; it had to have been a dream. The final image of Arwen being sliced open by an orcish blade could not have been real. If he told himself that enough he could almost believe it, and yet he felt a grim sense of foreboding that kept sleep from returning that night.
Nai Ungoliant meditha l: May the Ungoliant devour you.