Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Cursed Queen of Angmar, The: 15. Screams in the Night
Something heavy crashed into the side of the building.
Ariashal sat up. She was alone. The fire was dead, the Hillman's hall utterly black, black and cold. Not a normal cold, but a sickening, deadly cold, a liquid cold that froze the air and chilled the heart, a cold that made each breath agony. Outside the wind was howling, shaking the timbers of the long house.
She crawled to the edge of the bed, dragging one of the fur blankets over her. The children- -she had to get to her children, to protect them from the awful, hideous cold. She managed to get from her bed and into theirs, pulling the draperies closed behind her. Their nurse was nowhere to be found; she must have fled when the cold began to grow intense. Ariashal would deal with her tomorrow.
"It's cold," began Imrahil.
"I know." It hurt to speak; instinctively she dropped her voice to a whisper. "All of you, come under my blanket with me. We will keep each other warm."
Shivering, shaking, they gathered beneath her great fur blanket. She pulled it over their heads, making it into a simple tent. Here, protected by the blanket, they began to feel some warmth.
"Where's papa?" whispered Zimraphel.
"He's taking care of this," said Adrahil, confident in his father's prowess. Ariashal held him close, praying, hoping that he was right.
A hideous cry rent the air.
Horrified, they collapsed together on the bed. Sickening fear, terror, despair--all washed over them, flooding the room in a cold mass of horror. They could not run; the fear was too great, and with the fear came a second wave of the deadly cold. Ariashal managed to drag herself over her children, desperate to protect them; but even as she did so the cold robbed her of hope. They would soon be dead; there was nothing that could save them now. She felt a cruel pang of loss for the King; she would die without ever seeing him again, and he would return to find his family dead.
Slowly, gradually, the cold began to recede, and with it went the terror. They might just live, after all. It was still deathly cold, the room still pulsed with fear, but she sensed that the worst of it had passed. She eased off of the children, giving them a little air. Yes, the terror was definitely departing, dragging the cold away with it. Soon they could leave their little refuge, and spread out on the bed.
A second wailing cry echoed through the room.
This one held no terror; it was more a cry of pain. It hung in the air for a few seconds, then was lost in the shrieking wind. To Ariashal it seemed that it had come from farther away, as if whatever made the noise was leaving, perhaps being driven off or even killed. She hoped and prayed that the screamer was gone for good, that it had been slain and all would again be peaceful.
She let the blanket slip down. It was definitely warmer now, almost warm enough to climb free of the blankets. In a few minutes she would have to go and see about rousing servants to start a fire.
Someone was coming. She could hear heavy footsteps, see the bobbing of a torch. It was not the King; he never used torches, or indeed any lights at all. Instinctively she gathered her children into her arms.
The curtain drew back. By the flickering light she could make out the features of Adzuphel, although never before had she seen him like this. Blood smeared across his face and chest, his eyes wide with fear, he looked as though he had just battled the army of death.
"We are undone," he said, shaking. "They have captured the King!"
"What? What happened?"
"He cast spells to drive them away, and then followed them on his horse. They shot his horse so that it fell down the hill. By the time we caught up, they had taken him captive."
"Then--that awful screaming--that was them?"
"No, Madame. The first was one of his spells. The second was when they brought him down."
The full impact of what Adzuphel was saying hit her. She had hoped and prayed for the destruction of the screamer, and she had gotten her wish.
The curse had finally come to pass.
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