Written for Legendarium Ladies April 2015.
The prompt was "Into the Unknown" and the poem "Far Away, From My Hill" by Olga Orozco. The full poem is found at the prompt post, but I was inspired by these lines in particular:
Perhaps I had loved them under another sky . . .
But, over the hills,
your sister, memory, a young branch still in her hands,
tells once more the unfinished story of a misty country.
Feredwen climbed swiftly upward through the branches of the beech tree. The grey-brown bark was smooth and cold against her hands. Only a few dead leaves still clung to the bare twigs, but here and there an icicle glinted like a jewel.
Once she thought she was high enough, she shielded her eyes with her hand and scanned the landscape. The wood was silent, and the only moving forms she saw were their own people. It seemed no warning had come yet to Menegroth. She made her way down again, dropping from one handhold to another and letting the branches slip through her fingers.
As she hung suspended from the lowest branch, a burst of sunlight reflected from the snow shone upwards. For one moment, it was almost like golden Treelight, almost – and once again she hung by both hands from a leafy branch, swinging back and forth, her small body lifted between earth and sky and her eyes dazzled with golden light. It was the beech tree that stood beside her father's house, her favorite one – it must still be there, surely, but no longer gilded by Laurelin or silvered by Telperion. It must stand under sunlight and moonlight now, but she could not imagine it. She could only remember her last sight of it as she glanced back, a darker shape in the darkness.
The branch slipped from her loosened grasp and she dropped to the ground, feeling the impact jar through the soles of her feet. It freed her from whatever memory or spell had bound her. She gave the signal to her fellow scouts: all is well, and they moved warily onward through the woods.
It was a trick, she thought distrustfully. Some last glimmering of Melian's magic, seeking to dull her mind. The memory still tugged at her, so that she could almost feel the spring breeze on her face and hear her child-self's laughter, but she pushed it aside. It was of no use to her here. A chasm wider than the Great Sea lay between her and the child in her memory. She no longer sought to speak to the trees, whether beech or oak, unless they could tell her the movements of the enemy. She had learned the ways of steel and stone, of building fortifications higher until her back and fingers ached, of marching and sleeping clad in armor.
A movement in the corner of her eye, a flash of color – her companions had seen it too and reached for their weapons. Feredwen dropped to one knee behind a holly bush and nocked an arrow to her bow. The familiar motions steadied her and she leaned forward, eager for the immediacy of battle to drive the remaining mists from her mind. She waited her moment, then loosed. The arrow leapt from the string, and one of Doriath's march-wardens fell without a cry.
The skirmish was over quickly. They were not expecting attack here, in the heart of their realm. Doriath's folk still relied too much on Melian's Girdle, Feredwen thought scornfully. But that defense was gone, gaping with holes like a rent spider's web. She moved forward to investigate the fallen enemies and found one still alive. He tried to raise himself, but she drew her sword and stabbed swiftly downward. His blood was very bright against the snow. Her companions dragged the bodies away, while Feredwen pushed at the snow with her foot until the betraying red stain was concealed.
She saw Daradir scratching signs with his knife into the bark of a tree for the host that followed: All is clear and Proceed. In time, she thought, the tree's bark would grow again, erasing all trace of their passage. But they would leave deeper wounds in Menegroth. Her lip curled. Dior the Fair, Dior the fool – he would learn the price of defying her lords when he lacked the power to hold his own, much less what was theirs.
They moved on. Feredwen cast one last glance backward and settled her bow more firmly against her shoulder. To her relief, the strangely vivid memories did not return. It was better to forget that there had ever been a girl who swung in beech trees and was called Fernewendë.
This ficlet incidentally answers a question which most likely no one was asking: What was Feredwen's original Quenya name? If I have my Elvish languages correct, Fernewendë is Quenya for "beech-maiden" and Feredwen is Sindarin for "huntress."