A Note From Sun Queen: Yes! My greatest dreams have finally been realized! I have FINALLY gotten to the point when I can introduce the second of our intrepid triad, Selkanaliel. I doubt it means anything in Elvish, 'cause I made it up; I know, I really should have given her a genuine Elvish name. If it bothers you that much, call her something else. Call her Britney Spears for all I care, (actually, PLEASE don't call her that!). Just read on. And if you adore her, or hate her so much you want to kill her, good. 'Cause I wanna know; that's what the little button at the bottom is for. Review, and let me know what you think of sweet little Selka.
A quick warning, there's a bit of ickiness in this chapter. Nothing gory, but a bit disgusting, so if you have a super-weak stomach, don't read this. Pick it up when I post the next chapter, and try to imagine how Jaidru met Selka.
Also, I describe a lot of geography in this chapter. My source was the detailed map of Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor that can be found in the back of the Fellowship of the Ring. See if you can follow Jaidru's rather, um, confused route. Look! It's proof she's not a Mary-Sue! Mary-Sues NEVER get lost. They always end up safely in Rivendell, or Lothlorien, or wherever the hell they're headed...do you think there's signposts at each crossroads, one arrow pointing to "Mirkwood, Home of the Hot, Blond, Pointy-Eared Elves" and another pointing to "The Shire, Home of the Adorable, Fuzzy-Footed Hobbits", and a third pointing to "Mordor. Scary Bad Place, Don't Go There". I also think there's a sign at each road, with a huge arrow, saying: "The Fellowship Went THAT Way. Follow Them For Free Adventure and Chance of Scoring With Hot, Blond, Pointy-Eared Elf". Tolkien must have forgotten to mention those nifty, convenient signs...
And, just to be a little different, I think I'll let the characters introduce the next chapter!
Jaidru: Ha! I love this story! It's all about ME!
Selka: Not for long, sweetheart! It's MY turn in the spotlight! Mwahahaha!
Sun Queen: Now girls, stop fighting...
Jaidru and Selka: Shut up, author-chick! *brandish scary pointy weapons at SQ*
Sun Queen: Eeep. My creations are rebelling! *SQ ducks behind computer chair.*
Kharapel: *whiny voice* When the hell am I gonna show up in the story, huh? WHEN?
Sun Queen: Soon, Khara-chan, I promise. Just as soon as I can MAKE THESE TWO STOP FIGHTING!
Jaidru: *sulky* Fine.
Selka: *also sulky* We'll behave.
Sun Queen: Promise?
Jaidru, Selka, and Kharapel: Promise.
Sun Queen: Good. Let the chapter begin.
Jaidru: Hoo boy...
Kharapel: And the peasants rejoiced...
Sun Queen: Say thank you to all the nice reviewers, ladies.
Selka: We love you!
Kharapel: You're gonna love me when I'm introduced.
Kharapel: Why you...
*CRASH* *THUD* *OW!* *TINKLE TINKLE* *GET YOUR TEETH OUT OF MY NECK!* *SMACK* *THUD* *THUD* *THUD*
Selka: And that, dear readers, was the sound of a human and a dwarf falling down the stairs. Don't try this at home, kiddies...
Sun Queen: Aw crap. I think I'll just start the chapter now...
Chapter 8: Your Worst Nightmare, Courtesy of Selka
Rohan in high summer. Grassland, rolling hills, turf studded with lichen-covered boulders, and bubbling springs trickling towards some great river. Bright sunlight that hurt my eyes, and warm winds that made the long grass rustle silvery-green.
I hated it.
Not Rohan, not at all. It was gorgeous, a land of rolling plains, a true Paradise in Middle-Earth. Somehow, I didn't think even the Undying Lands of the Elves could be fairer. But all the beauty under the sky is no good to a girl if she's got no one to share it with.
But at least now, I had a bit of experience, and an inkling of a plan. I thought back to the days after my escape; after leaving Minas Tirith, I'd travelled along the Great West Road for a day before straying north. I feared that Gondorian soldiers would have been dispatched, and I'd be caught if I remained on the road. So I struck out on my own.
It was a week before I realized how far in over my head I was, because one day, as my pack getting lighter and my feet getting sorer, I crested a ridge and froze. For, spread out several miles below me, I saw the wide, glimmering expanse of the Great River, and beyond that, the dark smudge of trees that was North Ithilien. By all the Valar, I was so close I might as well have been rapping on the Black Gates themselves. I hadn't realized how near I was to Mordor.
Despite the bright sun, I shuddered, and, feeling my knees go weak, I sat on a rock. Okay, Jaidru, 'cause that's your name now, it's time to figure out what the hell you're going to do. This isn't an adventure any more. It's real life, and you're gonna get yourself killed reeeeaaaaaal quick if you don't figure out what you're gonna do next.
I contemplated my options; I had food and water, enough to last for a few weeks, whichever path I chose. Now, what was I going to do? I had reckoned, correctly, that I was a-ways north-west of Cair Andros, several leagues east of where the Entwash flowed into the Great River. I had several possibilities open to me.
East? The prospect terrified me. East would take me over the Great River, to the forest of Ithilien. These woods were patrolled by the Soldiers of Gondor, I'd even heard rumours that Faramir the Stewart's Son was stationed there with his battalion of soldiers. But even so, the woods were slipping into darkness. And beyond Ithilien...the Black Lands. Not number one on my list of Must-See Locations in Middle-Earth. So, my next option was...
North? That path lead to impassable marshlands. I'd heard disturbing tales as a child, about a haunted land, where ghosts and candles hovered below the murky water. I was quite a bit older now, but the idea of heading in that direction chilled me to the core, so I discarded it.
South? It would lead me back to Gondor, and I had no desire to return to my homeland. I knew that I wouldn't be getting a warm welcome if I returned. That left me only one choice.
Towards Rohan, the Golden Wood, the Misty Mountains. Towards the unknown lands of the west, the Grey Havens where my beautiful Elves had gone, towards the Sundering Sea.
I felt a smile split my face, probably my first real smile since Eowyn had left.
West it was.
So I found myself somewhere in the middle of Rohan, during what was said to be the most beautiful summer of the Third Age. But like I said, I was getting desperate for companionship. I was afraid that I'd go raving mad, and start talking to the grass and rocks like an Elf if I didn't find a village soon.
Not to mention the fact that I was *very* low on food. I'd filled my pack at the last village I'd seen, but that had been weeks ago, and I'd been rationing ever since. But I'd bought a tiny, collapsible hunting-bow, and a supply of darts. The bow was unlike anything I'd ever seen, two slim wooden segments, each the length of my forearm, and these fitted cunningly together and slid apart when you wanted to stow it away. The darts were short, feathered arrows that I hoarded like my gold, suitable for killing small game. Unfortunately, I was a terrible shot. Several times, I managed to nail a slow, stupid gamebird that didn't have the sense to fly away when I got close enough to shoot at it. Even so, I could see that the bow had been a waste of money, and the arrows were better suited for picking my teeth.
The merchant must have seen me coming a mile off.
At any rate, I was getting nervous. It had been more than a fortnight since I'd left the last village, and I knew I didn't have enough food left to make it back. My pack contained a week's worth of rations, and that was only if I ate sparingly. So I had no choice but to press on, hoping that I'd meet other travellers, a band of Rohirrim on their magnificent steeds, or maybe a settlement. I had money, or I could work for food.
I walked the entire day, trying to ignore the tightening in my belly, marvelling instead at the warm wind, the bright sun, the occasional rushing streams, the singing birds. Eowyn had been right. Rohan truly was a glorious place.
The sun was setting that evening as climbed what I swore would be the last hill for the day. This one was a monster, a rolling, grassy, stone-studded giant sleeping on his back. I chuckled at my mental image; hunger does funny things to your mind, doesn't it? But the laughter froze in my throat as I crested the hill.
Oh. Sweet. Valar.
The stench was the first thing that hit me. The reek of rot and corruption, of decay and foul things that feed on death. My knees buckled underneath me, and my behind hit the ground rather unceremoniously. But I didn't even notice, my eyes never left the valley below me.
Horses. Thousands upon thousands of reeking, rotting corpses, the ruins of beautiful, noble animals, strewn about like so much garbage. There was a drone of flies in the air, as they feasted on rotting flesh, decaying bones, spilled guts...
I promptly retched all over my boots, splattering the ground with what felt like all the food I'd eaten that week, weak, acidic vomit that made my throat burn and the world spin. I would have fallen over if I hadn't already been on the ground. As it was, I drew my knees up to my stomach, moaning, trying to steady myself.
It seemed like hours had passed by the time my limbs stopped shaking, and I could sit up and sip water from my leather flask. I spat, trying to rid my mouth of the sour taste of vomit, and only partially succeeding. Ugh.
I tried to observe my situation objectively, allowing the rational part of my mind to take control. I knew this place; Eowyn had heard news of it, and had told me it the winter before she left Minas Tirith. During the autumn of last year, a strange and horrible disease had afflicted a great many of the horses of Rohan. In one village, a single stallion would show the symptoms, then it would sweep through like a plague, sparing few animals. The sick beasts would sweat and foam as though they had run miles, then they would go mad, breaking their leads, throwing riders, smashing stable doors, and running away as though all the Orcs of Mordor pursued them. The Rohirrim were terrified of this illness, and quite suspicious that it had been the work of the dark powers in the East. At any rate, the crazed horses had congregated in a great herd, fleeing to, and obviously dying in this accursed valley. Eowyn had told me of Riders coming to this place during the first snowfall of winter, and being sick with horror and grief at the sight of their once-magnificent horses, now lying strewn about, half-frozen, half-rotted, food for carrion birds. They had called it The Horses' Barrow, and Eowyn had said that it chilled and sickened them to the very core.
I could sympathize completely. The smell of corruption, the sight of dead, staring eyes, flaring nostrils, rotting flesh...I imagined an enormous herd of ghostly steeds, their bones knocking together as they galloped across the plains.
The image was so real that I began to shake, then I scolded myself. Only a child invents ghost stories to scare herself, and in this case, it could only make my situation worse. So I stood up, and tried to think logically. The sun had dropped below the horizon, and stars had begun to dot the sky. Soon, the moon would rise, and I reckoned that it would be just shy of full; I was in for a bright night, the kind that is best suited for travelling. The hills around this valley were rocky and treacherous, difficult to navigate through. I hadn't thought of my food supplies for some time, but I knew that I was running low, too low for comfort. I glanced around me, determined to think my situation through; travelling around this valley of death would take a long time, longer than I could afford. I had to find a village soon, otherwise I'd perish from hunger.
So, I made what was quite possibly the most rash, foolish, and downright stupid decision of my life. I decided to take my chances in the valley.
The moon had risen, a full, gleaming eye amid the stars, lighting my path as I descended the rocky scree. I had decided to travel through the night, when the flies and other carrion insects wouldn't be so active. I'd mapped the distance to the rise on the far side as being a mile, maybe two, but even so, I had no intention of losing myself in this labyrinth of horrors. I'd pulled out my parcel of little feathered arrows, the ones that had come with my hunting bow, and when I reached the valley floor, I jabbed the arrowhead deep into the ground, leaving the feathered shaft jutting out amid the rocks. This way, I could find my way out if I lost my bearings, or needed to leave in a hurry.
Plus, it was the most use these arrows had served thus far.
I had taken my new cloak out of my pack, and had wrapped it around my mouth and nose, trying to lessen the stench. It wasn't really working, so I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore it, as I was trying to ignore the grinning horse-skulls, or worse, the corpses where the flesh and hair was still somewhat intact. It seemed to me that dead eyes tracked my slow, mincing steps.
The night time stroll through the Horses' Barrow was the scariest experience of my entire life. Even now, bleeding and cold on some forsaken battlefield, it doesn't even come close. I can still remember the stench, the shadows, the leering skulls, and the sickening fear that coiled in my belly and crawled like a liquid snake towards my heart.
And then I heard the voices.
I hadn't thought at the time that the night could get any more terrifying, but oh, look, I was wrong. Was I *ever* wrong. For, as I was rounding one great heap of corpses, I heard voices, jabbering and snarling. And I knew, though I denied it for a moment, that no Man ever spoke in such a harsh tongue, Common-speech, hisses and snarls all rolled together into a hideous, nightmarish sound.
A large group, some thirty or so, roasting bits of dead horses on spit over a stinking, putrid fire. Slavering, swearing Orcs, fighting and eating and speaking in their horrible grating voices.
Understand, this was my rational mind that catalogued these things. The rest of me was frantically stuffing my fist in my mouth, fighting down the scream that was trying to erupt from my throat. Oh no oh no oh no oh no...
"Cursed horseflesh. Rotted and ripe, and not a taste of anything else for weeks!"
"Shut your mouth, Grulash! Lucky enough to have meat, and yet you whine like a dog!"
The other Orcs laughed as Grulash and his opponent fought, scattering embers from the fire, cursing as they were spattered with blood and ash.
I stood, rooted to the spot, unable to back up even as mind screamed to run away. I thought of my sword, of my daggers, but I knew, knew that while I might be able to fight off as many as four Orcs at once...there were too many now, far too many. So, inch by inch, I forced my legs backwards, feet falling heavily to the ground, backing away from the firelight, away from the nightmarish creatures, my back brushing against a particularly ripe corpse, dislodging a flood of writhing, gleaming maggots. I began to wheeze, my hands clamped over my mouth and nose, but tears leaking from my eyes as sobs or screams tried to force their way out.
One step, then another, backing away slowly, oh so slowly. Then I froze, as one Orc, an enormous slobbering brute, stood up from his place by the fire, his nostrils flaring as he sucked in air. A voice that paralysed my bones, hard and grating.
"I smell man flesh...alive!"
That did it. The scream finally tore loose, and I turned and fled, driven by mindless panic. Behind me, the yowls and screeches of the pursuing Orcs split the night, each one desperate for something fresher than year-old horse. I ran, every once of terror fuelling my legs, crashing through rotting skeletons, heedless of the insects and foul creatures that I was disgorging. But I knew I couldn't outrun the Orcs, knew I couldn't hide, couldn't fight, knew I was doomed...
Then something struck me hard in the head, and everything exploded into starlight, then blackness.
I suppose, due to the terror of that night, the utter panic and absolute hideousness, my mind simply shut down, for I have no memory of what happened after that night in the Horses' Barrow. What I remembered next was this.
The blackness had been warm and soothing, and I had welcomed it. Then, what seemed like mere moments later, I felt icy, sloshing water on my face. My eyes snapped open, and I frantically sucked in a lungful of river water. Strong fingers gripped the back of my neck, and hauled my head out the water. Choking and gasping, I groped at the matted reddish curls that hung soaking and cold over my eyes. When I finally blinked away the water and the blurriness, I wondered if I was still dreaming.
The sun was shining, a bird was singing somewhere, and I was a dripping, muddy mess, dumped in a slovenly heap beside a swiftly flowing stream. What dominated my attention, however, was the figure sitting perched beside me.
Oh. Sweet. Valar.
A cream-coloured linen shirt, flared at the sleeves, under a vest of smooth brown leather, embroidered with silver thread. Dark legging that clung like a second skin to long, shapely legs. Lean, delicate hands, their slender fingers tapping on the cunning studded gauntlets that sheathed the wrists. A slender, swan-like neck that flowed into curvaceous breasts, which were utterly proportioned to the slim hips. Skin that seemed to glow, pale as the light of the full moon on the petals of a lily. A long sweep of silken sunlight, hair that hung long and free down to the hips. And such a face...full, pouty lips, a narrow, aquiline nose. High cheekbones under huge violet eyes, the curve of perfect eyebrows.
And the ears...each tip tapering to a definite, flawless point. An Elf. I knew it must be, for nowhere among men would such beauty be found. An Elf, and *all* woman, from what I'd seen.
I'd stared at her, speechless, for a long moment. And she'd swept her violet eyes down my narrow, dishevelled frame. Then she raised one perfect eyebrow sardonically, and Selkanaliel the Butterfly Elf said the words that dumped her in my life for good.
To be Continued...Review, please!