Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and (just to cover all the bases) New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to me. I will not receive any remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. In addition, this work is my intellectual property, and may not be copied or redistributed without my express, written permission.
This story has been a long time in coming. It has been in my head, slowly forming, since I first saw the LOTR movies 10 years ago. Since then, I have heavily researched Tolkien's world, and tried to grasp a sense of the place in which he envisioned. The Lord of the Rings remains one of my most favorite trilogies.
There are things you should know before reading this story. Firstly, the main character is an OC tenth-walker. I have taken great pains to ensure that she is NOT a Mary-Sue, but as I understand many of you readers dislike OCs in Tolkien's world. Secondly, this story is AU. It has to be, given that it has an OC in it, but I, again, have taken great pains to ensure said AU-ness is as realistic as possible. Thirdly, this story is rated M for a reason: language, violence, and eventual sexual situations.
Please do not read if any of the above offends you. If you are still here, I invite you to discover Gwen's journey in Middle Earth.
The Light Within,
People are like stained-glass windows: they sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.
The soft, uncertain voice of a servant girl, Elia, interrupted the quiet of the cool, August day. Ignoring it in favor of drinking in the last vestiges of that warm day on her face, the elder woman breathed in the crisp air sweet with fresh grass and herbs.
The Queen could not bring herself to turn from the balcony and gaze into the girl's young, sweet face - not today of all days. The servant was a reminder; with a face that, should she choose to look, would surely be as flushed with youthful life as her own face had once been, and never would be again. Today was a day of deeply saddened reflection, and she could not shake that heavy specter.
Sighing lightly, the Queen allowed her thoughts to carry her away.
She was old, now; the years of her life had passed before her as steadily and swiftly and unrelenting as the coming of spring after a long winter. Those years had crawled so slowly, carrying both heavy sorrows and boundless joys. And yet, with one careful, long look back at the whole of her experiences, time seemed to have flashed away more quickly than she ever could have imagined. It was as if time had moved in a wave of experiences, there one second and receding the next.
There was a time when she was as meek and unsure as the maid herself. Now she was an elder among her people. Old, indeed.
On this day of days, for the first time in her life, the Queen truly felt her age. Yet the mirror did not reflect the person she saw in her mind's eye. Wryly, with a touch of humor and love, the monarch recalled her husband's loving words just days ago when she had complained of the many wrinkles and folds of skin adorning her body. "You are as beautiful to me as you were when we met." He had to have been lying, but he knew how to make her smile, though he rarely graced others with his gentle side. He had never been a man of sweet words of comfort; Éomer was a warrior through and through, and the many years at his side had not blunted the sharp blade his words could wield in a battle of words, nor the wickedness of his intellect. Though he rarely scored her with his weapons of speech anymore, many a man had had the unfortunate experience of facing them.
And then he died. More quickly than she could have imagined, that man she had loved was gone, and she was left alone – a half of what once was whole. Without him. Tomorrow, she would bury the man her heart and her very future had been given to. The enormity of the task she could not face. Not yet.
Knowing the servant girl was waiting on her, albeit patiently, the Queen of Rohan finally turned, gracing the young woman with a small smile, though both knew the gesture could not possibly reach her eyes. It was enough that she was trying, and all of Edoras could see that, at least.
"Elia," the queen murmured gently, gliding towards the youthful, small girl despite the age of her limbs, "You have news for me."
It was not a question. The Queen already knew what information the girl had come to share with her. The servant met her clear gaze tentatively before sliding away, in awe and embarrassment. The Queen knew, too, what the servant saw as she looked into in her face. Deep grooves of time, marked there by so many years of laughter and love, now stamped clearly with grief. An echo of that pain could be found mirrored in the young girl's eyes, but she, being among the youngest of those in Meduseld, had little idea how beloved by all the King truly was, to say nothing of a wife's love for her husband. Her dead husband. The words themselves were as sobering as a slap.
Every fiber of the elder woman's being shrank away from the thought, but it could not be avoided. It was now a stark reality.
I cannot face this without you...
Had the girl been older, she might have seen the way her Queen's face crumpled momentarily under the crushing weight of loss and pain. Rohan grieved for its' King, and for the noble, prosperous, good years that had passed under his reign, and she along with them. The kingdom, and she, had been rent in two by his death. The kingdom might lay reeling from the elder King's passing, but his Queen could not afford to. Right now, she could barely hold it together, though she understood that soon, she would have no choice but to. Her husband would have expected no less from his consort.
How would she get through the next day? The Queen despaired and trembled inside, knowing all that would be expected of her in the coming weeks. Even as her spirit cried out in anguish, she could barely breathe for want of her man beside her. She had forgotten what life was like without him in it. Forgotten what it was like to mourn a life forever changed and gone from her sight. My love, I need you so...
But so, too, did the whole of Rohan. Her adopted people needed her, like she needed her husband. They would need her strength now more than ever. There was little choice. Squaring her shoulders, the queen drew herself up and took a deep breath, having all but forgotten the servant girl waiting nearby, watching her with questioning eyes. Yes, she would do this, because her husband would have wanted it - nay, more than that - he would have expected her to shoulder this as strongly as she was able.
Her son would ask for her wisdom in his first days as King, of course. His advisers would continue to look to her for guidance even after his coronation. She was needed, now, more than ever. But how would she manage without the other half of her very being? It was a question she could not answer. She did not know, and perhaps never would. The resiliency of youth had faded from her life with the passage of years. The Queen's thoughts ran away from her again, as they did more often of late, but the young servant's soft voice brought her back to the cruel present.
"The King of Gondor has arrived, milady." Ah, yes. Aragorn and the Lady Arwen had arrived. So, too, had a delegation from Ithilien who had come to mourn the King's passing, among them the King's own sister. But the servant girl would not know outright that they were separate parties, given that for so long they had been one along the craggy roads of Rohan. The Queen inclined her head in acknowledgment of the announcement, the motion regal if stilted.
"I will be there momentarily, thank you."
Though her Queen had lived in Rohan for many years, her voice carried a note of foreignness that the girl found no less odd than the first time she had heard it. It was faint and barely discernible above the reedy, thin quality grief had given to the Lady's speech, and it would be impolite to inquire about it. Knowing she had been dismissed, Elia curtsied deeply and backed out of the chamber as silently as she came, leaving the door slightly ajar without a word. Heavy silence descended within the room once more, save for the faint shouts of men and women and children going about their lives in the village below, that could be heard through the open window. The stillness and renewed quiet of the room no longer comforted the old Queen, but instead turned to suffocating loneliness. Her grief, it seemed, would not be assuaged today no matter what she tried.
Never in her whole life had she felt this kind of crushing sadness.
Even looking at her empty bed, filled yet with many happy memories, brought pain. Her legs shook weakly within her stockings, wobbling and swaying under her slight weight. Unable to support herself any longer, she took the few remaining steps toward her marriage bed before collapsing within its soft folds. Heedless of her clothing or hair, the Queen buried her face in the sheets. I could sleep for a thousand years.
Life as she had known it was irrevocably changed; those who knew her well would understand how difficult just that was for her. Never had she been fond of the ever-changing nature of time. She was old, but for the first time in her life, she felt aged. Truly aged. Turning her head into a down-stuffed pillow, she breathed deeply, willing herself to rise and continue as her husband would want. His masculine, woodsy smell surrounded her then, strong and pure. Her husband. Musk and horse flesh and pure Éomer. Tears came, then, for the first time since his passing, and a breathy, soft sob escaped her chest, feeling as hot as a volcano and twice as unstoppable. Burning tears coursed her face, and for the first time in days, she cried freely.
The Queen allowed herself this moment of weakness, unable to bear the weight of her duties any longer. It turned quickly to anger when a knock sounded at the door, interrupting that badly needed moment of personal space. Before she had a chance to turn her disturber away, the door opened to reveal the young, so familiar face of an old friend. Recognition, followed by shock, struck the elderly woman. Joy mingled with grief to see that face in the doorway. Gasping, the Queen righted herself sloppily from the bed, seeking to rise. The woman had moved too quickly, though, and the Queen found herself together on the bed with her. Wordlessly, she was taken up in a warm embrace.
"Never did I expect to see you here again," Rohan's queen breathed out from within those comforting arms. Sighing heavily, overwhelmed by emotion, sobs up from her throat once more. A keening wail of a woman who could take no more. After a moment trapped within its clutches, conscious thought returned, and all the Queen could think of was gratitude. "Thank you...thank you for coming." She pulled away to stare at the other woman, as if she could not believe her presence. Her eyes met her friend's sad, ever-haunted gaze incredulously.
"There are many things that might have kept us away," The newcomer replied huskily, her cracked voice - equally emotional - was comforting. "But no fears or doubts were so important as knowing you were dealing with this," she finished. Solemn gazes connected. "I'm sorry." The Queen could feel her friend's sadness. Anguish could be heard clearly in the woman's voice. "So, so sorry. Haldir and I came as soon as we were brought word from the courier."
The Queen nodded, knowing already the Marchwarden would be close. For the past fifty odd years, he had remained at his beloved wife's side, scarcely straying from her company without cause. Blue eyes clashed with green; concern, as well as a darker emotion, lingered like a shroud between them. The Queen knew how much it had cost her friend to leave the safety of her home, and was more than grateful she had come to support her in this painful time.
"How are you doing?," her friend demanded, roughly, after a moment's silence. "Tell me honestly – no bullshit." The crassness of her words was jarring after so long without hearing it spoken in her voice. The woman's odd gaze pierced right through her soul in that strange way her friend had always been able to do. When she didn't answer immediately, the younger woman made an impatient noise in her throat. "This is me you're with now, you know; Not with the kids, not with the others. Me."
It had been a long time since anyone had spoken to her in such a casual, unusual manner aside from Éomer, and her words sounded almost as foreign to her ears as they both truly were to this land. The Queen laughed softly, truly comforted by her friend's presence in a way no other could have provided. She couldn't put her thoughts or feelings into words. Helplessly, the Queen shrugged, willing the words that would not come.
Her friend grew more impatient quickly, as was just like her. "Damn it. You don't have to be strong with me... I can see your pain." Was it so obvious, then? But of course it was. Tears welled in the Queen's eyes as her beloved Éomer's face hovered in her mind's eye. Her stoic resolve to hide the depth of her pain crumbled into nothingness, and the words flowed more freely.
"I feel like my heart is gone," she murmured softly at last, rubbing her hands in an unconsciously comforting gesture. "Ripped clean from my chest." She slipped into her natural, emotive style of speaking without thinking, lifting an arm unconsciously. "Worse even than when Bean..." she trailed off, eyes unseeing, unable to turn her mind away from all that she had lost in the years past. Her hands clenched in sudden anguish, twisting uncomfortably in her lap, and a trace of anger laced through the pain in her features.
"And...damn it, I'm definitely old now. You can say it... " She lifted shaky hands to rub at her face even as the old joke between them made her smile through the tears that fell. She had always joked about her friend's agelessness. Compared to her, her friend looked as new as a spring lily; she hadn't aged a day since the first time she had been seen in this land, while the Queen had grown more wrinkled and gray with every day that passed. The old Queen's whole body shuddered with her next breath.
"I don't have a clue how to handle this... " she admitted helplessly, meeting her friend's gaze once more. It was hard to admit she was adrift and unable to cope. "He was the King." Her eyes were expressive, and worried with an old fear. "I was never meant to be Queen of anything, except he went and made me one." Her voice was softly horrified, and the helplessness within her voice tugged at her friend's heartstrings. "Now he's gone.." she continued, "and I don't know how to handle it. I was never supposed to have to do this without him. This world has been crueler than I believe possible."
Her breath rattled in her old lungs. Her friend's gaze grew sympathetic even as it hardened momentarily. There were many cruel things to be found in Middle Earth, her friend knew. Thoughts of the past trickled into her mind. "You know, there were a lot of things that were never supposed to happen to us, my old friend, and yet they have." Old hurts still lingered between them. Blame and accusation had long since passed away for both of them, but some old wounds never healed. The two women, one old with age, and the other, young and in the bloom of life, shared a long, knowing, weary look. Finally, the younger woman sighed, and reached out for the Queen. Young hands clasped old and held firmly. "But," the younger woman allowed in a gravelly voice, "I suppose it did turn out for the better." She sighed again, leveling her gaze at her friend again, cracking a smile when the older woman's countenance broke.
"Does this make you wish you had gone back after all, when you had the chance?" The woman couldn't resist the question. Once a point of contention between them, the lost opportunities of the past had been cushioned with time. For her, at least. She was curious about the Queen's reply.
The Queen looked momentarily alarmed and hurt, then paused, contemplating the whole of her happy, joyous life in Rohan, laced with pain and tragedy. How could she regret the years she and Éomer had spent together? It was unthinkable. "No... you know that I don't." The Queen shook her head, stared at her veined hands, curling with arthritis in her lap. Her friend's eyes were compassionate and firm when she raised her eyes to meet her gaze.
"Then do not look for regrets after all this time. Not now. It will only drive you mad."
She was dreaming... again.
Gwendolyn Carrick had experienced the same scene over and over in her dreams so many times it failed to surprise her that it was occurring yet again. Some things a person carries with them always, even if they don't want to. Her best friend's words echoed through the dream-state, and she was forced to acknowledge the truth in them. If she had a choice, Gwen would never have remembered anything of this night, much less dreamed of it.
She was running. Adrenaline pumped through her veins with every dreamed... no, every remembered heartbeat. Sobs tore their way up her throat as fear took hold in her gut, and her ears recognized the sound of those terrible taunts once more. "You can't run from me, Gwen. Gwen. Gwen..." His voice echoed in her mind, and, instinctively, she flinched even in sleep. The scene whirled, making her dizzy, and Gwen tripped, catching herself against a tree. There was no sensation at the touch. She couldn't recall how the bark felt against her skin.
He had pursued her unceasingly that night, or so she had been told. Gwen didn't recall this about her ordeal, at least in her waking hours, but the cuts on her feet had taken weeks to heal. In the dream, she could see his endurance clearly exceeded her own, and that he gained ground on her easily... so very easily. In her dreams it seemed almost inhuman that he could move so quickly, even if logic told her it was only her subconscious fears that made it seem that way.
The terror had risen in her so quickly, she remembered, like a living, breathing entity.
Gwen wanted to shake herself awake, to draw herself away from the terrible, painful memories, but she had never been able to manage it before, and tonight was no different. It was as if her mind forced her to relive every moment, over and over, night after night, to force her to accept it until she was healed. Scarred, but healed. She had lived this once, though. Truly lived it, and once was enough.
Like always, she was forced to watch from her dreaming vantage point as the man with demon-bright, savage eyes beat into her. The smell of alcohol on his breath was so strong it made her gag. He had been a beast, clawing at her breasts, biting her neck. Ravaging her.
She had been a black and blue mess for weeks afterward. The nurses in the hospital had assured her she was safe, and she had been physically, at least; no amount of assurance could dispel the dreams from her sleep or the fear that had lingered in her heart for months afterward. The dreams had come nearly every day for months after it had happened. It was not surprising that she would dream of his horrible, twisted face, and perverted eyes during this night, in particular.
It was a year to the day from her attack.
In the dream, when the tormentor's movements became hurried, less taunting, and more deliberate, Gwen knew the end was thankfully near. The silver of the blade gleamed dully in the moonlit sky, and the cold of that September seeped into her very bones until she felt she would never be warm again. As the knife slashed her skin, Gwen's sleeping form traced the white scars on her body, groaning as pain leaped and pulsed down her body. Heat suffused her skin.
He had sought to kill her, that much she was certain of. What she might never understand was why. With a final, plunging stroke, he nearly had taken her life. That plunge to the gut, as always, wrenched Gwen from sleep, her body dripping wet with sweat and tears, her chest heaving with the force of her gasps, and fear pounding through her veins. For a moment visions of the past clung to her sight, Gwen clutched her side as pain swamped her already electrified body, covering the shiny patch of scar tissue below her ribcage. Black spots burst into her eyes, shocking her. What the fuck was that?
Something was happening. Her wounds pulsed with energy, and it made her heart stutter, but she refused to give in to the blackness calling to her. Instead, she chanted, "You survived. He did not take you, and he never will. He didn't win." She repeated the words, a mantra, over and over until her breath began to even, and the blackness receded. With a sob, Gwen faced reality and let go of her fears. She had been lucky. So lucky. All the other victims had been raped...brutalized...tortured, really. But she had not been. Gwen had been saved.
Her tears ceased to flow as her gasps for air had calmed to deep breaths. They would always be just dreams, Gwen knew logically. Never again real. And that – that had been the true comfort she had gained from her sleep. Still panting, she glanced around her, trying to recall herself and the events of the previous day. The morning light filtered through the small canvas tent, creating a dim illumination within. She saw the beautiful woven green of her favorite throw blanket covering her. The thick waves of deep chestnut hair curling over her breasts. The slimness of her fingers. She had been blessed with this ability, of finding beauty in common things.
Determinedly, Gwen shut the thoughts of her past trauma away, and sought the newness of the day, mind whirling.
There was something quite remarkable about the beginning of a fresh day. Perhaps it was the sense that at each waking moment, the hours that followed would be a chance for something new and different to occur. Maybe something special, something good. Or something terrible. The lingering, hateful thought was immediately banished. Her demons were wrong: the new day was an opportunity to walk an unknown path, to learn that which was previously unheard of. The promise of each morning was an irresistible call for her.
Gwen sat up from her thick sleeping bag with a leisurely stretch and a half-yawn, a small smile gracing her face. It really was a beautiful morning. Her friend Jessie's idea for an impromptu weekend camping trip in the hills of southern California was just what she needed to help get her through the particularly difficult week. Gwen's stomach growled raucously, interrupting her internal monologue and demanding food, and with a small laugh she flung the blanket from her lap carelessly and crawled from the pallet.
"Jessie!" She drew out the syllables, calling to her friend in a sing-song voice. I wonder if she'll have breakfast ready. Jessie was the early-riser of the pair of them. When her friend didn't respond immediately, Gwen's brow furrowed in concern and confusion. Or maybe not. Unzipping her tent, Gwen crawled out and into the September sun. Expecting to see the tall pines of the countryside nearby and the lake in the distance, she was surprised and confused when there was nothing to be seen around her but open, swampy field around her, with high, unkempt grasses surrounding her. Far in the distance, to the southwest, was a massive, darkly green forest, but not one sign of the lake could be found.
Never one to fall into instant panic, Gwen mentally cataloged the possible explanations for the change in scenery and came up with precisely nothing logical at all. But what could explain this? Well...Jessie could be playing a joke on me, but that doesn't seem like her at all.
Gwen saw no sign of her friend anywhere around either, not even her tent or bag. Stumped, she did a slow turn around the camp, searching for any clue where Jessie could have gone. Nothing. What in the devil is going on?
Where the hell am I?