It was a great fall, a long nad treacherous descent from the smoke-flecked blue of the sky above her. She had heard the great rustling of the trees, bending almost to the point of snapping beneath the high and groaning gusts, and it had brought her there, that terrible sound. And then the trees did break, and they crackled and shattered like glass figurines beneath a fist as heavy as iron. The earth shook down to her bones with a deep rumbling, as if from a beast – one that would soon draw its last breath, and she did not have long before it did.
Silently she moved through the columns of trees, the shards of light that touched her brown skin here and there. Her longbow – carved from the roots of the Blackwood tree – towered over her, whisper-thin and black as shadow. She kept her ears sharp and open, moving, searching for the echo of a voice on the air or a breath through the trees and the unkempt brushwood scattered around her feet. Nothing. There was nothing but her own breath and the voice of the soles of her own light step. But there was no noise, not a sliver of sound.
For what seemed hours she walked – stepping over thorn-wreathed bushes with flowers the color of freshly spilt blood. The boughs of the trees danced silver gray in the light above her black turbaned head, and by the color she could see that evening would soon flood the forest with a darkness in which no glimmer of light could endure. Her horse still grazed in the flatlands which rimmed the forest's edge – a whistle might bring him to her, but how far had she wandered? Could he even heed her call if she should summon him?
These grim thoughts hastened her steady gait, even as the gloom deepened and the shadows of the trees grew long all around her. She passed beneath the heavy eaves of a dying oak tree, picked her way through a thicket of briarwood, and there – there was where she saw it.
A long, pale body lay sprawled across the dew-splashed earth. Overhead, the colors of dusk began to burn like fire in the sky, and a halo of red-gold light spread throughout the clearing. The hands which lay upturned, palms facing the heavens, were torn open and bleeding – the color of new rust.
Everywhere there was skin there was also blood - pooling in crevices and the hollows of bones, and in brushstrokes across the raised arches and knots of limbs. Slowly, carefully, she had begun to sink beneath the cover of briarwood behind which she crouched. It was a man lying there, a son of the Westron lineage. Whether it was the blood of Numenor which lay spilt upon the ground or that of the blood of the Northmen, she did not know. But the pallor of his flesh told her that he could not be Southron; there was no color of the east running with the current in his veins. There could be no mistaking it.
He still drew breath, of at least that she was certain. The lean belly heaved and withdrew as, beneath gouged and tattered wounds, the spirit clung still to breath and life. But the figure did not stir, he did not make a sound. Only the shallow tug of gasping lungs filled the air, and it made the animals and the trees surrounding him anxious – paper-thin leaves drifted and blew into the clearing, skipping over his outstretched arms and softly trembling legs. The skittering of tiny feet could be heard in the scrub and up in the trees. Whoever this man was – his presence brought a terrible shadow over the forest realm; terror began to grow beneath its leaden pall.
She reached for her longbow, drawing the pads of her fingers across the length of the string until it grew taut in her grasp. The quiver of arrows had begun to empty, as too many had snapped and broken during her fruitless hunt. Only four remained. She could only hope, and pray to Eru above, that her foe was not so great that four arrows would not be enough to fell him.
Outside the borders of the clearing, now blue-gray as the sun had sunk deep into the belly of the western mountains, it was gravely silent. The wind had slackened, still as it waited, and the woods retreated within their heavy bark from the enemy which lay sleeping in their midst. Her every footstep was deliberate, measured, the skin of her slippers drawn noiselessly against the bare earth. Bow drawn tight against her breast, she was ready. Her watching eyes burned hot and dark beneath her brow.
A twig snapped beneath her toe. She winced. The cold eyes flew open, staring sightlessly into the pale stars above them.
Her heart pounded thickly in her chest and she halted, suddenly afraid. "Who are you?" She called to it, taking aim for its black heart. "Foul creature, you have chased my prey from their burrows. Who are you that your presence should make them flee from this place?"
It blinked slowly, and the unearthly shade of its cold stare became eclipsed by silver-white flesh. "Do you not recognize me, o' maiden of the east?"
Her fingers shook against the curve of her bow. When she did not answer, the figure pulled itself up, dragging the long, tangled limbs from the ground until it stood – so high, like a white stone citadel above her, and watched her with those eyes the color of a cold winter's storm.
"So easily you forget," said he. "The dragon which took from the dwarves of Erebor all which they possessed?"
She shook her head, moving backward slowly as to not tempt the cruel figure's malice. Her only thought was for escape, to leave this place and find her horse waiting for her at the forest's edge. "You are flesh and bone, and nothing more."
"Your eyes deceive you."
In the place of the man a great flame sprung forth. Red. Burning scarlet red.
She wakened with a scream and a fine cold sweat on her skin.
Still, her charge slept - white skin glimmering red in the firelight, as if he were nothing more than a breathing mound of coals lying there, hushed in slumber, next to her makeshift hearth. His breath came and went from him with each strained gasp. She saw the dressings she had made, untouched, boiled in herb-soaked water. His dark curls were damp with the sweat of fever. When she woke once again, she would have to change the blood-stained dressings, draw fresh water from the spring and make him drink from it. There was little she could do until the fever passed. Until then she could only wait. Wait and give her healing prayers to Eru.
The earth around the fireside smoldered in the dark, the reed and clay walls of the hut dancing behind a veil of smoke. Her eyes grew heavy again. All fear of the dream had gone from her as she lay her dark head against a jute sack stuffed with grasses and straw. In her sleep-softened mind, there had been no dream, no shadow and flame – there had been no pale figure, so fragile as if spun from glass.
As she fell deep back into slumber, she did not see the ring of blackened earth around them - as if it had been set aflame.
author's notes: please do tell me what you think ! i won't bite. leave a review. ;)
disclaimer - only the OC belongs to me. everyone else belongs to tolkien, God bless his brilliant soul.