Title: A Spark in the Dark

Author: Luinëturiel (aka Zoe)

Feedback: is more than welcome!

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters from Lord of the Rings. They belong to the wonderful J.R.R. Tolkien. Any other characters in this story, however, are mine.

Author's notes: This hasn't been beta'd, so I hope you don't mind the little mistakes and odd wordings that I'm sure are in it. It's quite a dark piece of writing, written in POV chapters and full of musings rather than real action. A discussion on the question of how Elves smell let the initial idea for this little ficlet crop up in my mind. Well, any further explanation would spoil the effect, so I'd better shut up now...

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A Spark in the Dark

1 Thalwyn: Circle of Life

The quietness of the forest is wonderful, calming. Apart from the occasional call of a bird, the only thing that can be heard is the sound of our horses' feet shuffling through the leaves that cover the path. This is one of the days that Aldarida and I enjoy ourselves on a long ride – without doubt one of the more happy days in my life.

Unfortunately, Aldarida is the only person who would take me on a ride, which makes each of our little trips something very special to me. Aldarida. My sister. Well, not my sister in blood, but I could not love a natural sister any more than I love her. And I know that she feels the same.

"Wait, Thalwyn. I think I have found what I was looking for," Aldarida's delighted voice interrupts my thoughts.

"All right." With a slight tug at the reins, I let my horse come to a halt. Then I close my eyes and raise my face towards the mild autumn sun. Her gentle fingers are reaching down through the thinned-out roof of leaves to caress my skin, and I savour the feel of their touch. My lips curve in a slight smile. It is such a wonderful, sunny day; the perfect day for a ride like this.

To my left, Aldarida mounts off her horse and leaves the path, dragging the gelding behind. I do not even consider following her example, since I know that she is looking for some herbs that are rare to be found. I would not be of great help to her; I do not know that much about herbs. And so instead of dismounting, I let go of the reins and lean back, letting my hands rest behind the saddle, eyes still closed, face still raised towards the sun.

My horse shakes her head; I can hear the rattling of her bit. Obviously, she is happy about the newly won freedom. Just a moment later, she takes a few reluctant steps to the right. I bet there are some branches, some last juicy leaves, that are luring her. Yes, there is one or the other plant that Liorin could never resist...

Relaxed, I take in all the sounds and scents around me; the sounds and scents of the forest. The air is filled with the smell of autumn, of dry leaves and soil. Many people speak of spring or summer to be the most beautiful time of the year, but to me each of the seasons has its unique beauty, even autumn.

I heave a sigh, inhaling deeply. Oh how I love this earthy scent! At no other time of the year do I feel closer to the earth, to the life-giving soil, than in autumn. She consumes the skeletons the trees rain down on her, consuming them to bring forth new life in spring. The circle of life, tangible in moments like this.

Liorin snorts happily. It seems that she has found some plants that are to her liking, for I can hear the rhythmical grinding of her teeth. The distinct smell of her warm fur mixes with the earthy autumn scent that fills the air.

From behind, somewhere to the left, Aldarida's voice reaches my ears – she has started humming a joyous melody. Once more, a smile steals upon my lips. I know the tune my sister is humming. It is a song about birds, the uncrowned kings of the air.

Birds. Flying. How I wish I could fly like a bird and look down at all the beauty below. With a few beats of my wings crossing the country from the Misty Mountains to the Shire and even further to the west – to the Great Sea. Thinking about it, I can almost hear the waves crashing against the shore. I try to imagine how it may really sound...

All of a sudden, Liorin raises her head in one swift movement, as if she were alarmed by something. Every muscle in her body seems to tense.

Reluctantly, I sit up straight, not at all delighted about the disturbance of my reverie. My hands reach for the mare's neck, stroking it gently to calm her. "What is bothering you, my girl?" The last word of that question has not even come across my lips when I can finally hear it, too – a rustling in the undergrowth to our left. It is a faint sound, hardly audible. Some of the animals that inhabit these woods?

Aldarida however does not seem to have heard anything, for she is still humming to herself. I am just about to turn in my saddle and call over to her when the humming stops and a panicked cry from Aldarida makes me jump.

"Ride, Thalwyn! Get away from here, quick!"

At the same time, I hear her running for her own horse. And there is yet another sound – a singing that cuts through the air, sharp and piercing. Deadly.

Arrows.

Without hesitating, I dig my heels hard into Liorin's flanks, making her jump forward at once, starting off in full gallop. I do not waste a single thought about picking up the reins. Liorin will run faster if I do not try to interfere; besides, I trust her to find the best way out of here on her own. And so, I lean forward flat onto my horse's neck instead, and bury my hands and face in her fluttering mane. That way, I will at least not have to worry about branches lunging for me in attempts to pull me from the saddle. As long as I manage to stay on Liorin's back, I will get away from here, unharmed. I will...

But what about Aldarida?

I strain my ears for any signs of her following me. At first, I am convinced to hear another horse taking up our pursuit, but then the sound of pounding hooves behind us is gone. I am just about to give in to the temptation of reaching for the reins and slowing Liorin down when a painfilled cry from somewhere far behind makes me freeze.

Aldarida! Oh no, they must have got her!

I raise my head. For a second, I am torn between riding on and turning back. My heart tells me to do the latter, but deep inside I know that I cannot help my sister. Maybe I have learned quite well how to defend myself with a knife against a single attacker of my own size, but I do not even know for sure who – or what – it was that attacked us on the clearing. There is word that some evil creatures have appeared in different parts of Middle-earth, but I do not know any details. Maybe it was some of them that just attacked us? The only thing I can say for sure is that there were arrows flying past me when I rode off head over heels.

Arrows, Thalwyn!
The only weapon you are equipped with is a knife, and there were archers. And you could not even tell how many there were of them...

No matter how much the thought of leaving my sister behind hurts, there is nothing I can do but try to flee. Without doubt, all I would achieve if I went back would be to get myself killed.

Killed. Aldarida. I am unwilling to connect those two words in one thought. Best not to think about it at all for now. I have to ride on – fast, without looking back. Maybe the attackers have got horses as well. And maybe they have already taken up pursuit...

My heels increase the pressure to Liorin's flanks, spurring her to go even faster than before. Obeying the silent command, my dear horse starts racing forward as if a Balrog were chasing us. For a moment, I am not sure whether her hooves touch the ground underneath at all as she runs.

Soon silent tears begin to pour from my eyes; not only because of the speed we are riding at, but also because I come to realise that I will most likely never see my beloved sister again.

Once more, I bury my face in Liorin's mane, my whole body now shaking with sobs, while the mare runs on as fast as she can. I have completely lost my bearings, but I do not care at all. My mind is already clouded with greater worries than that. Liorin will be able to find our way back. Horses do always find their way back home... But how can it be home without my sister?

I keep crying until my eyes hold no tears anymore. Liorin keeps running, although she has slowed down to a canter a while ago. Her breath now comes in rhythmic snorts, and the fur underneath my hands is already damp with sweat.

For how long have we been riding? I do not know. Nor do I even want to know. We must have left the forest, though, for the ground underneath is hard, much harder than the path in the woods.

The steady rhythm of Liorin's hooves hitting the ground has something calming to it. Sleep. I want to sleep now. I feel worn out, empty. It seems that, with all those tears I shed, any strength, any will to go on, has left my body. Sleep... My common sense tells me to stay awake and alert, but maybe if I fall asleep, I will wake up in my bed and find out that everything was but a nightmare... Maybe...

I am too tired to even notice when Liorin slows further down. She finally comes to a halt, my exhausted form still bent forward, trembling hands still clutching the mare's mane. Only when I get aware of the voices right in front of us do I realise that we have stopped.

Voices. The sound of hooves, and voices. They are close, yet I cannot grasp what they are saying. Some more foes? A reinforcement maybe?

The talking stops; the clatter of hooves does not. It must be four or five horses – I cannot tell for sure –, and they are approaching.

All right, so come and get me! Put an end to my misery...

I do not even bother to sit up straight in my saddle. Liorin and I are both too worn out to attempt to flee another time. Nor would I have any strength left to fight. So why should I not hold on to my dear horse and wait, hoping that the end may come quick...

Now the other mounts have come to a halt next to us. Someone – something? – leans towards me. The faint creaking of leather and the soft rustling of clothes betray the movement. I am prepared; prepared for the deadly blow that will make me join the leaves on the ground.

A corpse among corpses...

"What are you waiting for? Now bring this to an end already!" My voice is an angry hiss, speaking of impatience rather than fear.

As an answer to my plead, a hand touches my right shoulder. I was prepared for worse, so I do not even flinch at the contact. To my surprise, the touch is accompanied by a calm voice whispering close to my ear, "Bring this to an end? What are you talking about? Who are you, and what has happened to you?"

It is a male voice that speaks to me; distinctively male despite its softness. In the background, two or three other voices whisper in some foreign tongue – a beautiful, melodic tongue.

The grip at my shoulder tightens, but not uncomfortably so. It is a reassuring gesture, a wordless offer to assist me in sitting up.

Thalwyn, this is no foe!

Reluctantly, I gather all the little strength that I have left and let go of Liorin's mane to sit up straight. The stranger's hand has now grabbed my upper arm, helping me up, steadying me in the saddle.

A long moment passes before he speaks to me once more in a soothing voice, "Now will you tell me what has happened, young lady?"

I turn my head towards him. His face is still close to mine, and I can hear as well as feel him drawing in a sharp breath when I force my tear-swollen eyes open.

"Thalwyn. My name is Thalwyn." This is all I manage to say before my eyelids flutter shut again, my body giving in to exhaustion.