1. Last Light
FRIEDRICH, Caspar David
The Tree of Crows
As the last light leaves the sky, they come. Carrion eaters, black as the night they herald with their raucous calls and heavy, thrashing wings. The sound is of doom and they draw the night behind them like a cloak, the land over which they fly falling silent in their wake. They bring death, they are death, and the fear that has haunted me all season now chills me to the core as they approach. I have borne witness as, one by one, my companions were taken, and now the quick ones will come for me. Death follows the crows this night, and though I have lived long, it yet seems but a little time now that the end is nigh.
It was not always thus; there once was grass, light, and sweet song here. Warm breezes tickled the leaves from the south and cool winds from the north made the branches dance and sway. Now the land for as far as can be seen is blasted earth and shattered stumps; a miasma of smoke rises from the dark tower and rasping shrieks fill the air both day and night.
I grew up in this place, surrounded by my kin, sturdy folk and proud. From the edge of the wood my brothers and I stood our guard, watching the slow passage of the world through untroubled eyes. The black tower in the distance rose higher than the tallest tree in the forest and the white beard commiserated rarely with the other quick ones. At times we could feel the magic crackle around our borders, the sudden discharge of a vast power bent to mysterious purpose. Yet never did these things trouble us. The quick ones came and went for years without number, moving through life as they moved past the forest, hastily, senseless of the world around them, the world of rock and wood and fern and clear, sustaining water. Only rarely did they look upon Anor, and then their tiny limbs would wipe the water from their tops and they would shake their shaggy heads, and move on.
In my youth, I could see the gentle swell of the plain and feel the lush greenery and the dark earth in my very spirit. From my vantage point behind the small hillock I saw the tower, older than any save the elders. Many times the white beard passed by on his journeys into the wood and he was the only one of the quick ones I ever saw closely. On a few occasions I heard his voice and the smooth, ancient words awoke strange feelings within my limbs. In those days the thunder of the Ent voices rose above the tops of the elders and the white beard was the only one who ever disturbed our watchful contemplation.
And then the change came. Quick ones of the night began to move though the land. They slunk past us in the distance, their faces turned fearfully to the forest as they made their way to the tower. Day ones and night ones, as we came to know them, streamed in and out of the tower and began to roam the surrounding hills and plain. We gave them little notice, for the concerns of such as they were not our concerns, and we knew that they would soon be gone and our peace would return.
Then a time came when, after darkness fell, a group of the night ones came. Their voices were as harsh as those of the crows, their laughter brutal, as they descended upon us. They carried fire and rope, axes and sledges, and fear rose up in waves from my kin as the quick ones felled them. I can still hear their screams as they hacked and slashed the life from my fellows and dragged them off to the tower.
Within days smoke began to rise from the tower and since then it has not ceased. The death cries burn within my dreams as the steadfast trunks and branches of my brothers burn within the black tower. The sky, once as endless as the earth itself, is now often obscured by the smoke, and the rays of Anor must fight through the hazy dawn and dusk to feed my withered leaves. I strive toward the fading light with all my being, but my spirit dims and my will to fight, now that my kin lie in ruin around me, seeps slowly away.
I wondered for a time why I had been spared when the others were taken, and then the crows came, and I knew. In great flocks they perch in my branches calling to each other, telling of a group of quick ones upon whom they have been spying. Their speech is hasty to the point of madness and I cannot bear the shrill sounds, and their sharp claws and beaks ripping at my bark. Yet it is only for the sake of these creatures that I still live, for from me they can see the tower and keep watch of the ones who come to cut and burn my kin. Each night they come more of my life ebbs, and my spirit cries out for succor, for a salvation I know will not come.
Hope fades with the last light, and I know I will not survive another night of flame and iron and death. I feel myself shake as they begin to land, shake with the crow's weight and with my dread. Their cries fill the air and they shift and lash at each other as they vie for space along my branches. My leaves fall in small drifts around my roots, the twigs that held them losing their grasp among the flailing of the crows. A light breeze brings a pall of smoke over the hill and my enfeebled limbs reach pleadingly for the last meager rays of Anor, a memory to carry with me back into the earth from which I sprang. The fading beams falter and die upon my trunk and my sap grows sluggish as I wait for the darkness, and the coming of the quick ones.
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.