Mother of Isengard
3. A Curse Upon You
“Rinn.” The voice was not much more than a whisper, and at first she wasn’t sure she’d heard anything.
“Rinn.” Somewhat louder.
“Alric?” she sat up in bed, wiping the sleep from her face. It was still dark. “What is it?”
“I need to speak with you.”
“What about?” her breath was coalescing in the cold air, “Can’t it wait until morning?”
“Please, Rinn. It’s important.”
“Oh, very well.” She sighed, and reaching for her sheepskin coat she shrugged it over her shoulders. She struggled into her breeches and half heartedly tucked in her coarse linen shirt as she made her way to the door. Lavan pressed himself to her side, growling.
“ Oh, stop!” she scolded. “It’s just Alric.”
She reached for the latch and the dog began to bare his teeth. “That’s enough! Go and lie down.” She pointed to the end of the bed where Farn was still curled. The dog obeyed reluctantly, and she pulled open the door and stepped out into the freezing night.
“Alric?” She could just about make him out, standing against the sheep fold in the darkness. “What …”
From her blind side a cracking blow to the head felled her to the ground, stunned with pain and surprise, hardly time to cry out. Her stomach heaved and the earth beneath her swayed, and before she could gather her wits sufficiently to try and rise, she was pinned down by a knee between her shoulders. From the cottage behind her the dogs exploded in a frenzy of noise, barking and flinging themselves against the closed door.
Her captor shouted in an unfamiliar tongue, dragging her arms painfully up her back and binding them tightly. The pain in her head was dazzling, and the taste of blood sharp in her mouth.
“Alric!” she managed to call, struggling to try and gain her feet. Where was he?
But no arrow came from his bow to strike down these wolves, and as she was dragged up onto her knees, she saw the truth for what it was.
The Elders of the village stood in silence and watched as she was jerked to her feet and a lantern held up to her face.
“Ai!” Cried the man holding it, tall as she was, his dark bearded face splitting into a grin, “She’s just as ugly as you described!” He ran a hand over her shoulders and down her arms appreciatively, “And just as strong.”
Rinn jerked away from him. “Don’t touch me!” she snarled, twisting and lashing out with her bare feet. She felt a solid impact and he went down on one knee cursing.
Her dogs redoubled their fury, the rotting hinges of the door starting to give way beneath their onslaught. She sprang forward, ready to run, but they were everywhere. She circled, looking for a space, ducking and weaving as they tried to come for her. Another slaver, young and fair, swung his heavy staff at her, whacking into her shoulder and knocking her back to her knees. Now the bearded man approached again, uncoiling a heavy whip from his belt.
The dogs broke free, hurling themselves at him in a whirlwind of snarling teeth.
The fair-haired man pinned her to the ground by the shoulders, shouting for assistance while she writhed and bucked in an attempt to throw him off. She flung her head backwards into his face, smashing his nose, then rolled to try and shake him. Another was coming at her with more ropes.
A yelp sounded from her right, and she looked round to see Farn on the ground, bloody and still, the feathers of an arrow quivering in her side.
“No!” she shouted, renewing her efforts, twisting and kicking.
The men were cursing now, in their own tongue, and a fist smashed again and again against the side of her head, stunning her.
“Hold!” A voice commanded.
She looked up to see the dark-haired man standing in a face-off with Lavan. The dog crouched, snarling and ready to leap. The man was poised with bow drawn and arrow knocked.
“If your dog moves I will kill him.” He growled.
“No!” she cried.
“Command him to lay down.”
“Lavan.” She called, her voice choking, “Down by.”
The dog’s eyes never moved from the man’s but he sank to the ground at her word.
“Good lad.” She whispered.
“Submit and I will let him live.”
Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and behind her the slaver fastened a running noose about her neck, while another fixed heavy shackles about her ankles. Her arms were loosed then rebound in front of her.
Grief and betrayal swept over her. Why? Why were they doing this to her? Hadn’t she always served the village faithfully? She looked round at the men of the tribe, hard eyed and justified. Even Alric had no shame beneath her bitter gaze, only a look of grim satisfaction. She had thought herself inured to their rejection, but this was far past any wrong she had ever expected. She steeled herself to hold her head high, and bit down hard on the sorrow.
Very well, let it be so. She could not fare worse as a slave than she had among her own people.
The fair-haired man came round in front of her, her tether coiled about his hand and holding a blood-sodden cloth to his nose. “Filthy peasant!” He struck her across the face, the force of the blow knocking her off her feet. The rope about her neck tightened, choking her, and he drove his fist into her again.
“Ai! Elrdred! Enough!” Breron threw down his bow and ran up to where the younger man was beating the captive. “You reduce her price! Arnac will have it from our wages!”
“Phsaw!” The younger man spat, bloody spittle flecking his lips. “No one will buy her for her face.”
“Nevertheless,” Breron snatched the rope from Elrdred, “He’ll count every scratch against us. Besides, she’s no use if she can’t walk.”
“Can’t walk?!” Elrdred wiped his face again, “Look at her, strong as an ox – and twice as ugly!” he laughed harshly.
“That’s enough now.” Breron’s voice was grim. “Here.” He rummaged in his jerkin and retrieved a small bag of coin. “Pay the villagers, and let’s begone from this stinking midden.”
“Stand up, woman!” he commanded in Dunlending. She did so unsteadily, and he scrutinised her bruised and swollen face. It wasn’t too bad, didn’t look like anything was broken. She was starting to shake, probably from the cold as much as shock.
He cast round for her coat, dropped near the door of the tumbledown shack.
“Here Jarn.” He passed the rope to the other man and walked over to the hovel. The dog growled threateningly as he passed it, but remained obedient to his mistress’ command.
“No.” One of the villagers objected as he retrieved the heavy sheepskin, grabbing it from him “It’s too good.” The man ducked into the decrepit dwelling and emerged holding out a noisome blanket. “Take this.”
Breron looked hard at the man for a minute. The trade in slaves was his business, and he knew there were many reasons why poor villages like this might sell some unfortunate inhabitant. But to deny her even her coat on a bitter night like this? Ah well, he shrugged, gingerly accepting the matted woollen coverlet.
“Come on,” he called to the others, “Let us make haste, we need to be back at the camp by dawn.” He tossed the blanket over the woman’s shoulders and began to lead them towards the gate.
Wait a minute, what had he forgotten?
“Elrdred!” He shouted to the younger man catching up behind them, “Get my bow, will you?”
Rinn found herself following in a daze. Her head was aching, her face throbbing in pain, and an empty bitterness filled her heart. The Elders were turning away now, melting back into the night as they returned to their houses. Shadows whispered at windows and slipped through doorways. Still motionless outside the cottage Lavan raised his voice in a long whine as she reached the gate. She turned her head, suddenly heartsick, tears at last coming to her eyes. He must not follow her, but neither could he stay here.
“Home, lad.” She called quietly, commanding him back up the mountain from whence they had come that morning. At least he’d have a chance there. And if she could escape she could find him again.
He raised himself up, and trotted past them out of the gate, his white coat gleaming in the darkness. She smiled to see him go as though he were carrying her hope with him.
She did not hear the bow being drawn, nor the arrow loosed. The heavy thump and Lavan’s cry as he fell were the first she knew.
“Aah!” she cried aloud, a new grief ripping open in her. She tried to run to him but was pulled up short by the noose about her neck. She struggled against it, choking herself heedlessly, tears streaming unchecked. “Lavan!”
From behind her she heard a laugh, and she flung her head round to see the fair-haired man toss the bow to its owner, his bloody face grinning at her.
She stopped fighting as an icy rage gripped her, freezing her heart and stopping her tears. She drew herself straight and looked into his laughing eyes. “I will kill you for that.” She stated it quietly. “I swear it.”
He laughed aloud, calling out in Westron to his companions, raising a chuckle from them.
“Come, woman!” the bearded man drew out his whip and motioned her to continue up the road.
She began to walk, but as she passed the sad, lifeless bundle that had been Lavan, she turned her wrath on the darkened village and its hidden people. “Cursed be this place forever!” She spat harshly upon the ground, and raised her voice so that it rang from the mountains. “May your crops rot in the fields, your animals be barren and your women drop their children early! For the lack of mercy you have shown me, so shall no mercy be shown you. A curse on you and your children, and on your children’s children! May you be driven from your homes to starve destitute in the lands of strangers!”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.