Disclaimer: I do not own Middle-earth or its characters (save for Forhend, Hiril, Meleth, Sagroth, and Meril); they are the sole property of the Tolkien Estate. I am merely gratefully borrowing them.

Thanks go to the Silmfics group, who tossed the idea for this tale in my direction, and to Finch, who helped me with the Edain names.

The Unforgettable Fire

Prologue – The Maiden

Somewhere east of the Ered Luin...

The wise-woman sighed when she heard the faint tapping on the door of her hut. She had been hoping for a quiet evening to herself, but as was not uncommon, one of her people apparently needed her help. A woman in labor, perhaps, or a child with the coughing sickness. Quickly gathering her things together, she prepared to go out into the night.

She was briefly dismayed when she opened the door and saw the young girl standing there, clasping her woolen shawl across her body with shivering hands. "Well, don't just stand there – come on in, girl" she said, and quickly closed the door behind them as the girl stepped inside the small hut.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, truly I am," the girl stammered, "but I need your help. I –"

"How long has it been?" the wise woman asked, cutting the girl off in mid sentence. The girl, startled, simply stared at her; she sighed again and repeated her question. "How long has it been?"

"I don't understand," the girl whispered, and the wise woman shook her head in faint exasperation.

"Since your last flow, child. How long?" When no answer was forthcoming, she added, more gently, "That is why you came to me, is it not?"

The girl nodded miserably, then looking down at the floor, replied softly, "Two moons."

"Well, it's not too late to end it, then," the wise woman replied, " if that's what you wish. Are you sure you don't want to marry him?"

"He said he wouldn't have me," the girl replied, remembering her lover's scornful laugh when she had gone to him with the news of her pregnancy. His stinging reply still echoed in her mind. Did you really think I would marry someone as ugly as you are? Oh, you were good enough to sport with, but I'll have a comely wench for a wife. Her face burned in shame. How stupid she had been, to think he loved her!

"What he says counts for little, now that he's gotten you with child. Haleth, you're from a good family, and everyone has seen the way young Sagroth has favored you. If you go to your father with this news, he can force Sagroth to take you to wife, if that is what you wish."

Haleth paused briefly, imagining marriage to her lover. Sagroth had been so attentive and kind, and so fervent in his proclamations of his love for her, that in the end she had permitted his advances, although she felt no pleasure herself in their coupling – but now she knew the truth. She tried to picture herself lying beneath him as he thrust himself inside her, knowing that he only took her because he could, and to slake his own needs, not because he truly desired her. She imagined herself cooking and cleaning for him, bearing his children, pleasuring him – and all the while knowing that her husband did not love her, and had married her only because he was forced to. She shuddered in sudden disgust.

"No," she replied, very firmly. "I don't want him."

The wise-woman saw the determined expression that passed over the young girl's face, and smiled inwardly. She's more sensible than most girls her age – no foolish sentimentality here. Perhaps she'll make a wise-woman herself one day, once she's grown. "A good decision, in my opinion. If he doesn't want you now, he certainly won't want you later, for marriage cools most men's hearts rather than heating them. And frankly, Haleth, you deserve better." She began to rummage around her collection of flasks until she found the one she was looking for. "Here it is," she said in satisfaction; turning to Haleth, she pressed a small vial into the girl's hand.

"Drink one sip of this every morning until it's gone. If you haven't started to bleed by the end of the week, come back to me, and I will give you something stronger. Don't be surprised by the cramping – it's normal. And don't worry, Haleth – no one will ever know."

As Haleth walked back to her homestead in the frosty evening air, she turned the vial over and over in her hand, watching the oily liquid slosh back and forth. No one will ever know, the wise-woman had said, but Haleth realized the truth – any man who would lie with her now would know she was no maiden, and no respectable man would want such a one, another man's leavings. She would bring such shame to her family if she were to wed, once her husband learned she was not a virgin! Not that many had wanted her anyway, with her plain looks and unfeminine ways. I will never marry now, she thought sadly, and soon this potion will end the life of the only child I will ever conceive. And knowing that, she wept softly.

When her tears finally slowed, she looked up at the sky, the bright stars and the pale Hunter's moon that hung high overhead. I have always been strong, she thought. I will be strong enough to bear this. For the sake of my parents and brother, and for the sake of my own honor, I will find a way to live without love.