8. 8 - Fear
- Chapter 8 / Fear -
Though expecting an attack after Legolas' words of warning, I had not been prepared to see what I saw, nor witness what I have witnessed that day. Until then, danger had remained something that loomed over my head day after day, unchanging and ever present. An uneasy feeling in the back of my mind that I could outsmart and avoid. But that day, danger had taken a whole new meaning. Fear. Blind, paralyzing fear. A cold, that gripped my body, that glued my tongue to my palate and left me placidly waiting for the blow.
We had been walking for hours; men and women of Edoras, young and old trudging side by side in a slow, endless procession. Hours had trickled by with each step, and I had ended up losing the notion of time. The dull ache in my feet had become a constant, just like Legolas' silent presence by my side.
Suddenly, a cry rang somewhere ahead and, in a heartbeat, Legolas was gone. I saw him run towards the commotion forming at the head of the procession; but there were too many people between us for me to see what was going on, and soon he had disappeared out of my sight. Straining my eyes, I had tried to distinguish something behind the crowd that massed between me and him, but the news reached me as a cry: "Wargs!"
And chaos broke out all around. People scattered like chickens, running, screaming in horror and dragging their children along in their hurry to save themselves. Yet I had remained frozen, looking at the scene with detachment. Strangely, I was surprised that Legolas' fears had come true. Should I run as well? I picked up my skirts, the better to run on the rain-slicked grass, and took a step towards the lower grounds.
And then I saw the first beasts appear: enormous and ugly, they poured over the hills like hairy roaches. Orcs rode them, armed with crude swords. One of them pulled on the reins, halting the beast; it roared, slaver running down its sharp teeth, and leaped forward again.
We stood no chance. I stood no chance, not with my laughable human slowness. My heart sank in my chest. I would die here, in the mud of a nameless field. A warg would feast on me while I felt its teeth tear me apart, rip my flesh bite after bite…
A hand gripped my arm and spun me around. I found myself facing Legolas, his handsome face contorted in anger. "What did I tell you?" he hissed, his eyes blazing. He released me to nock an arrow, then fired. I watched as the arrow embedded itself into the closest warg's eye. The beast's legs gave under its weight and, carried away by its speed, it rolled to the ground, throwing its rider.
"Do not think. Run!" Legolas snarled, not looking at me. His fingers were already drawing the string again. "Run, Morwrei!"
And I ran, stumbling towards the other refugees and forbidding myself a glance back. I ran until I was out of breath and my lungs burned, fleeing past the slower members of the procession. I helped no-one; I only listened to Legolas' voice telling me to save myself and not to look back. But their cries filled my ears, the sound of torn fabric and flesh as the wargs hunted them down painting all too vividly the carnage behind me. The beasts growled and grunted; jaws munching on their prey with a sickening sound that would remain engraved in my mind forever. This is a feast for the wolves of Isengard, and we are only meat.
But I was saved. Éowyn's voice cut through the chaos, instructing her people to reach the lower grounds and clear the battlefield for the men. We obeyed, leaving our fallen behind.
Éowyn nodded in acknowledgment when she saw me. "Morwrei, lead them," she ordered. "I will see that the last ones follow."
I turned around one last time to see the army of Edoras clash against Saruman's hordes. The wargs could awaken one's deepest, most primal fears, and I wished our warriors courage. And I tried to distinguish, amongst the golden hair of the riders of the Mark, the pale locks of one sylvan elf.
The rest of the journey to the Hornburg seemed to pass even slower, with the sounds of the battle echoing down the valley. So near, so very near was danger, breathing down our necks as we hurried to the relative safety of the stone walls. Yet the people around me seemed relieved to enter the stronghold, scattering in search of their loved ones, patting each other on the back and even smiling. They were happy to be alive, I realized. Despite the loss and the grief, and the gruesome attack we had witnessed, they were happy.
Then why wasn't I?
It was when an old man with a cart roughly shoved me aside to get into the passage leading to the caverns beneath the fort that I realized that I had been left alone. Éowyn had gone to take up her duties, and all of my few friends had remained with their families. Only I was standing there, not knowing where to go or what to do.
And I realized that Elswide had been right, in a way. During her short existence, Magge had lived, made friends and enemies, while I had retreated into the shadows. Fear had kept me from revealing anything personal, any thought or emotion that was truly mine. I had been so careful that the darker times had passed like a bad puppet show; unreal, distant. Stripping myself of any tie that could prove dangerous or compromising, I had become completely detached from anything or anyone; and now that I was free to cry and laugh again, I found myself with no-one to share it with… A stranger in my own home.
Shivering in the cold draft that wafted through the open gates, I wrapped my arms around me: I could feel myself, therefore I still existed. I was still a part of this world, despite the lengths I had gone to in order to disappear. But a part of me, the colder and more realistic voice inside whispered insidiously that, other than the conviction of my own existence, I had little proof that I still belonged there. No-one was looking for me, no-one needed me. So very few people cared about me now that with them gone – and it could happen so easily, with a war raging around us – I would be left with no ties at all.
"The riders are returning! The King is returning!" echoed the cries of joy and relief. The crowd flowed back to the gates, people watching hungrily as the warriors rode beneath the stone arch. Their eyes darted from face to face, trying to recognize a familiar face under the mixture of human and orc blood. Then came the relief, or the horror.
Prompted by the trickle of people gathering at the gates, I went to stand at the entrance as well, watching as the men halted in the small courtyard, dismounting quickly and leading their horses away in order to clear space for the ones still arriving. They hugged their families briefly, but their faces were grim and their eyes dark. They had seen a sliver of what the future had in store for us; and that glimpse had taken away what hope they had left.
I saw Éowyn push her way through the crowd to her uncle; but her eyes searched the arriving riders, and I knew she was looking for someone else. I had seen eyes follow the ranger, Aragorn. I had seen her bring him stew, and linger, searching for an excuse to start a conversation and stay by his side a while longer. I knew how she felt: had Legolas not sought me out, I would have thought of doing the same, and come up with any foolish excuse to speak to him.
Legolas rode through the gates, Gimli sitting behind him, and I breathed in relief: he was alive, and safe – for now, at least. He even seemed uninjured, as he slid down from his horse's back. A smile tugged on the corners of my mouth. Legolas had returned to me. He looked around, scanning the crowd for someone… Me? My heart leapt in my chest at the prospect, and I edged towards him. And just then our eyes met.
I stumbled, suddenly hesitant to go meet him, scared by the searing pain that I saw in those eyes. That was not simple grief, or the loss of a friend and brother that raged inside him – that was pure despair, as one looks around to see naught but darkness and flame where a fortress should stand, and a heap of rotting bodies instead of a nation. I understood his pain – after all, I had lost a friend too. But even though I did not understand his fear, I felt it; and it terrified me.
"Where is Lord Aragorn?" I heard Éowyn ask quietly. "Where is he?"
"He has fallen," I whispered, not taking my eyes away from Legolas, who nodded. "We are doomed."
Legolas closed his eyes briefly, shattering our connection, and I felt released from some dark spell. Shaking his head, he glanced at me one last time, then turned away, his tall form disappearing in the crowd. Still shivering from that nameless fear, I watched him leave, a battle raging within me. Should I seek him out, as he had sought me out? Or should I leave him alone? After all, our relationship could only tentatively be described as friendship, still so very young and fragile… Young, as I appeared probably in his immortal eyes, and as I would ever be, even in my old days – should I live long enough to see them.