13. Of Valor and Sorrow
Chapter Written by Elfhild
The soft, ever-changing amber glow of flickering campfires pierced the darkness of of the field where the orcs had set up camp. This would be the first night that many of the prisoners had spent beyond their own realm, for now they had come to Anórien and the Riddermark lay behind them. Though the lands east of the Mering Stream had once belonged to Gondor, the Firien Wood had been considered for long years as the domain of the kings of Rohan.
The women in each troop of ten clustered together, for they were not allowed to mingle with any other captives save those in their own group. The twins were acquainted with all the women in their troop, since they all came from Grenefeld. There was Aunt Leofgifu, of course, and her daughter Hunig. Then there was Breguswith, a tall woman, plain yet pleasant of face, and her five-month-old babe. She and her husband had once lived to the west of Grenefeld, but the twins knew little about her or her family. From what they had seen of her so far, the girls thought that Breguswith seemed like a gentle, somewhat timid soul, whose affable manner and sweet voice made her easy to be around. There was a quiet air of sorrow about her, for she grieved for her husband, whom she was convinced had fallen somewhere in the South.
Her little son was the first child of her marriage, and the child had only been three months old when the muster had been called. The tiny lad seldom was allowed to nurse for very long on the journey, and the poor child was often ill-tempered from hunger. All the women thought that both Breguswith and the baby looked too thin, and so they had torn off sections of their own bread and given them to her when the orcs were not looking. Elfhild had gladly given Breguswith the extra bread and meat which she had received that evening. The maid felt she did not need such a large portion and she resented the reason why the orcs had doled out so much to her. Fat rumps and big breasts, indeed! She should starve herself just to spite the orcs and the Higher Ups! But she knew that such a plan would not be wise, for she would only cause herself to suffer. Hunger subdued even the most defiant of prisoners far quicker than did whips or threats.
Then there was Goldwyn, a shapely beauty in her mid-thirties with shining golden hair and turquoise eyes. Proud and aloof, she knew that she was beautiful and, up until the time of the war, favored by fortune, for her family had been of the peasant aristocracy. She often carried herself with a haughty, almost regal, grace which befitted a noblewoman of far more gentle birth than hers.
Her youngest son had been the one who was taunted by Sergeant Glokal. Though all the captives in the troop despised the tall, scar-faced orc, perhaps she was one of the ones who hated him the most, for he had frightened her son into humiliating himself. She had three sons in all: Fritha, who was five, Frumgár, who was eight and Fródwine, the eldest at elven. They were all among the many grandchildren of Old Man Fastred, who had ridden off to war back in the spring on his old gray horse. The night of the raid, Goldwyn and her sons had been awakened by the screams of women and the harsh cries of strange, cruel voices. The orcs had dragged her and the boys from their home, and as they stood trembling upon the way, the hungry flames rose high from the houses all around, piercing the darkness with a raging blaze of hostile light.
There was one other woman, Waerburh, the wife of the butcher. A strong, brawny woman, she had often helped her husband in the shop. Like Leofgifu and Goldwyn, she was also in her thirties. She had never had children, which perhaps was a good thing, for no one, much less children, deserved to face the perils of captivity and slavery. Though she held a prominent position in the village as the butcher's wife, Elfhild and Elffled only knew her as a casual acquaintance, and had never been close friends with the woman.
As they ate their evening meal, the women in the troop told tales of sorrow and woe, recounting their losses and small triumphs against the orcs. A fierce pride flamed up in the hearts of the captives for they felt like Riders who had been sorely tried in battle and passed all tests of a true warrior. Only two days had they spent in captivity and their fiery spirits had not yet been completely cowed by the creeping, withering plague of despair.
Their bread quickly eaten and long gone, the three boys and Hunig sat together on the damp grass at a slight distance from the women. The four children tried to amuse themselves with softly spoken word games. It seemed that Fródwine was the unspoken leader of the group and had taken a liking to Hunig. Mayhap he felt protective of her, for he had no sisters of his own and she was the only little girl in the group. He seemed a good lad, though rather domineering.
Elffled smiled to herself as she watched the children, her heart aching with a bittersweet yearning. She missed her own childhood intensely, for it was a simple time of blissful peace and happiness, surrounded by the warmth and love of her family. The great evils of the world lived only in stories and she was protected from them by strong warriors and heroes, men such as her father and uncles. Each passing year was filled with endless days of wonder which seemed to last for long ages of the earth. Yet in truth they had passed all too quickly, as downy seeds of dandelions sent fluttering wildly through the air after being stirred by the slightest puff of breath. Now the days of her childhood were naught but a broken, barren plant wilting in her hand, and she lamented them greatly, feeling much older than her young age.
Goldwyn had just finished telling of the struggle which her young sons put up against the orcs when their home had been raided. When her youngest son had been seized by the orcs, the other two boys had come to his defense. Fródwine had rushed forward, striking at the raiders with his fists, while Frumgár had hurled a barrage of kitchen crockery in their direction. Both boys had kept up the struggles until the fiends had at last subdued them. All the women praised Goldwyn's sons for their acts of bravery and the boys beamed, basking in the attention.
"Oh... 'twas nothing; any Rider would have done the same," Fródwine, the eldest boy, remarked modestly, though inwardly he exulted in the praise. Hunig looked to him and his younger brothers with wide eyes filled with awe.
"Aye, they would have kept fighting if I had not pleaded for them to stop." The smile upon Goldwyn's face slowly faded as her thoughts became grim and somber. Yet she forced herself to smile once again, for she did not want to give in to despair before her sons and the other women. "I fear they are not yet men, though they think it," she forced a little laugh.
"But I am not far from manhood," protested Fródwine. "I am eleven, and I know that some of the lads who went off to battle back in the spring were barely thirteen."
Goldwyn laughed again and teased her eldest son, as though they were back at home and not being held prisoner by the orcs. Though there was no hope, still the captives tried to keep heart, until the bitter lonely night darkened and no solace could be found for their troubles. More praises were given by the women and the boys felt like heroes of old, more like knights than lads. At last the excitement began to slow and gradually a thoughtful silence descended upon the troop.
"So, Elfhild and Elffled, what brings you to our sorry lot?" Waerburh asked, breaking the silence. "Where is your mother? Was she placed in another group?"
"Their mother fought the orcs and was murdered for resisting," Leofgifu lamented sadly. "The bravery of all three is worthy of song, to be remembered for long years to come."
"Oh no!" Waerburh groaned, closing her eyes tightly and turning her head away. "Not Athelthryth! Oh, I am so sorry! This is most grievous news!"
"I regret to hear of this news," Goldwyn remarked without elaboration. She had never cared for Athelthryth, though she was sorry to hear of her death. Goldwyn considered herself far too honest a woman to give praises where they were not due or to give false eulogies for a woman whom she did not consider her friend.
Elfhild sniffed away tears and smiled forlornly. "She charged the orcs in an attempt to protect us. I was terrified at the time - both Elffled and I were," she added, looking to her sister. "We fought for our lives and tried to defend her the best that we could."
"There were at least six of them," Elffled shivered. "They just kept coming, though Mother killed two of the fiends." Now she knew how soldiers felt in the heat of battle, an unpleasant sensation for which she did not care at all.
Elfhild took in a deep breath and then sighed. Her voice wavered as she spoke. "Mother fought valiantly but there were just too many…" she faltered as her eyes began to fill with tears at the dreadful memory. Clutching her arms tightly to her chest, she shivered and rubbed her limbs as though she were cold. Trying to comfort her niece, Leofgifu rubbed her back and drew her close.
"I am sorry," Waerburh murmured, heartache heavy in her voice.
"She died bravely." Elfhild smiled through her tears, but then her expression became deadly serious. "I avenged her death, though. I flung myself on the hell-spawned fiend who murdered her, and smashed his skull in with my knife." Her fists clenched tightly, her fingers digging into her palm.
"Elfhild and Elffled, both you and your mother were so courageous!" Breguswith's sweet voice was soft, her eyes wide with awe. "I surrendered to the raiders, for struggling would have brought peril to my son's life." She gazed tenderly at the small, sleeping baby upon her lap.
"Greatly have our folk suffered at the hands of the invaders," Waerburh sighed. "Others were slain by the orcs - just as your mother - when they fought back, even little children. I heard that the orcs slew many of the old and infirm, for the murderers deemed them too feeble to make a long journey. Such wicked, cruel folk, and we find ourselves at their mercy!" She shook her head sadly and then looked to the twins. "I will not ask you anything more, for I can see that it hurts too much to talk."
Tears streaked Elfhild's cheeks and her face was ruddy and swollen. She rubbed her eyes, her fingers trailing tears to her temples. "I just wish that this war never happened and my mother was still alive," she whispered sorrowfully.
"I wish the same thing." A tear rolled down Elffled's cheek. Were her father, brother, uncle and friends dead as well? How many would she have to mourn? Her aunt? Her cousin? Elfhild? No, no, she could not dare let her thoughts stray there!
"I do not believe anything shall be as it once was," Waerburh lamented. "The world has been changed for ever, I believe, and we look now at the end of all things which we held dear."
Leofgifu looked around at the group of captives who sat near her. "We have all suffered much," she lamented, sorrowing for the evil lot of the women and children. Yet she knew she must be strong and brave for the sake of her daughter and herself. And was it not the tradition of her people always, no matter how dire the days might be, to remain firm and steadfast? Yet she felt neither strength nor valor, but instead a strong sense of ominous doom. Still, it was never good to give vent to the fears that lay submerged in the heart and in the mind, for once they were allowed to escape, they would destroy as surely as an enemy.
"Look at us!" she exclaimed, shaking her head in disgust. "We sit around as though we were thieves caught with our hands upon a clutch of stolen eggs. Let us not dwell upon our plights! We should not let our captors see us sink so low."
Hunig, who lay with the side of her head nestled upon her mother's thigh, was close to tears, but she stifled the whimper that came to her lips. "Mother," her voice trembled and her sluggish tongue stumbled over her words, "I am afraid!"
"We are all frightened, my little one." Leofgifu looked down to her daughter's face and gently tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear.
Hunig twisted her head so she could look up at her mother. "But I never stoled eggs in my life!"
This brought a deep chuckle to her mother's throat. "No, you never did, thankfully, and I do not think that you would find any eggs here to steal even if you wished."
The women and children could not stifle their laughter at those words. Fródwine, who sat near Hunig with his brothers and mother, snorted in amusement. "You look like an egg thief to me."
Hunig raised herself up into a sitting position and turned to glare at Fródwine. "What do you know?" she asked contemptuously. "You are just a lad!"
"Maids," he commented, as though he were a wise sage, "are flimsy things. What can they do of any use? They cannot fight. They can wield neither sword nor spear. All they do every day is sit and play with their dolls!" He made a face.
Hunig was growing angry, and as it always did when she was excited, her tongue began stumbling over her words and becoming stuck now and then. "And what do boys do, Thodwine?" she countered, mispronouncing his name. Thrusting her head and shoulders back, she gave him a burning stare. "Lads can only boast and brag, talk much too loud, get in trouble, and do naught else!" She tossed her head with a haughty shake, her hair flowing the way an angered horse twists its tail.
Fródwine rose to his feet and stood in front of her, looking down at her arrogantly as though he considered her slow and foolish. "You did not say my name correctly. Are you mocking me? My name," he declared pompously, annunciating his words firmly and clearly, "is Fród-wine!"
Hunig stood up and faced him, her hands upon her hips in a saucy manner. "You do not deserve that name, silly boy! Toadwine shall be your name. Toadwine, a toad's friend, for you are nothing but a slimy, ugly toad and a boor! The way your tongue darts in and out of your mouth, always talking, always boasting, you could use it to catch flies! At least there, you would have some good use!" Looking at him triumphantly, a smile flickering upon her lips, she folded her arms and held her head high, a contemptuous smirk upon her face.
"You are silly, Hunig," Fródwine's youngest brother proclaimed, squaring himself up for verbal battle, "very silly. My brother is not a toad."
"You are sillier than I am, Fritha!" Hunig was defiant, daring the younger boy to meet her in battle.
"Stay your temper, Fritha!" Fródwine ordered importantly. "I will handle this matter!" Then turning back to Hunig, he retaliated, "Maybe I am a toad, but you are the one who has the warts! You have them all over your hands and I daresay that next you will have a long ugly one dangling from your nose."
Hunig looked at him as though she were struck with a hammer in the middle of her forehead. "You are evil, rotten, like an apple that has gone sour in the bottom of the barrel!" she retorted. "You are vile, beastly, and definitely not a gentleman!" She hid her hands behind her back. Indeed, Fródwine's words had been true and there were warts between her fingers, one even daring to appear upon her wrist.
One day, her mother had showed her how to milk the cow by placing Hunig's small fingers on the cow's teats. She then squeezed Hunig's hands, showing her how to pull down the milk, drawing it from the sack. The gentle cow had warts covering her teats, and Hunig had caught this harmless yet unsightly malady from her. Hunig's lower lip trembled, her small face puckering up into a frown, though she tried to hold the tears at bay. Her honor had been sullied and she was dreadfully humiliated.
"Girls," Fródwine spat in disgust. "Say one word to them and their faces turn into a rushing river of tears. There is simply no understanding them. All of them have heads that are hollow like a drum, good for nothing except to make noise!"
The women, in spite of themselves, roared in laughter at this childish tournament. The children's argument had broken the feeling of tension and the women were glad of this pleasant and most welcome diversion.
"My head is not a drum!" Hunig exclaimed hotly, trying not to be outdone.
Laughing so hard that he was out of breath, Fródwine stood there, shaking in laughter, while Fritha grinned impishly and pointed at Hunig.
Frumgár, the middle brother, refusing to be left out of the fray, taunted, "Drumhead, drumhead!"
Gasping for breath, Fródwine held himself around the middle. "Maybe we should beat her," he cried when he finally stopped laughing, "and see if she makes a good drum!"
Chortling, he made a mock lung towards Hunig. Trying to evade his grasp, she screamed, "Mother!"
"Lads," Goldwyn spoke calmly and quietly, "let her be. Do not torment her so!"
"Mother, I was only jesting," Fródwine protested, his voice defensive. Grinning at the little girl, he told her, "I shall make amends." With that, he bowed to her, a graceful, sweeping bow, causing her to glare at him all the more.
"She still has warts," Fritha muttered under his breath, an innocent smile on his face.
"Mother!" Hunig howled.
Lolling about their campfire, the orcs had been enjoying their orc draught when the cheerful banter among the children began to vex them. Getting to his feet, the sergeant swaggered over to the group of captives and snarled at them. "Keep your yapping traps shut! You will drive us all mad with your jabbering! If I hear one more loud noise from this quarter of the camp, the offenders shall be punished. Mark my word!" he threatened, looking down at the little group and shaking his fist at them. "Not another peep out of you! Go to sleep all of you, you gaggle of squawking geese and your brood!" He gave them a disdainful growl and bared his teeth. Then he turned away and walked back to the radiating glow of the orcs' campfire.
More out of fear of punishment than reluctant obedience, the captives followed the sergeant's orders. With talk forbidden, the women and children had little to distract themselves from their woes, and they keenly felt the weariness of the day's march. Limbs were stiff and aching and many of the captives willingly sought relief in sleep.
In the stillness of the night, fear, sorrow and despair became living, breathing things, like shadow-creatures which lurked about, seeking their prey among those without hope. Tears welled up in Elfhild and Elffled's eyes, and they quietly wept until their eyes became too heavy and filled with sand to stay open any longer. Then they slept the deep and dreamless slumber of the weary upon this desolate field so far from home.
Far behind them now were the green fields through which they had once ran, the tall grasses parting before their bodies like the waters of cool, rushing streams about calloused and dirty feet. When the weather was warm, the sisters would often cast their clothes aside in messy piles upon a grassy bank and bathe and swim with their family in deep streams, their unclad flesh warmed by the sun and cooled by the water. Then after they had dried off and thrown their crumpled dresses back over their heads, the two sisters would climb up a high hill and look at the endless green plains spreading out before them. When they were younger, Elfhild and Elffled imagined they were queens and this kingdom of beauty was theirs to rule. However, now all the places and paths that were so dear to their hearts were far away to the west.
Above the clouds, the icy beauty of the stars which Varda had placed in the sky long ago shone brightly, though their light was veiled. Those far away who still dwelt in safety and freedom had received tidings of the war and were afraid. They murmured a prayer of protection but the emerging stars only looked down at them, cold in their high seats in the heavens, immovable, unimpassioned, uncaring. Still the Elves prayed and sought out with their sharp eyes the Valacirca, the Sickle of Doom.
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.