The Fem Challenge

Eruviel remembers.

It would be a night she would not soon forget. The sky remained the same, painted black, laced with red-tinted clouds as was usual in southern Angmar. The ground of the valley remained barren, and the sounds of wargs and hill-beasts echoed from the rocks across the valley. No, what made this scene different were the dozens of Trév Gállorg gathered behind her and the dozens of Trév Duvárdain gathered on the valley floor half a mile from Aughaire. A small group gathered half-way between the two groups, Eruviel among them. Both tribe chieftains stood on their respective sides of some invisible line. Both leaders had two representatives to their left, and one warrior to their right.

Looking over to the young man next to the Trév Gállorg’s chieftain, Eruviel mentally checked over his appearance and weapons one last time, keeping hidden the feeling of pride that washed over her. He had sharpened his weapons as Milloth had taught him, and had painted his shoulder and bare chest with red symbols of the honorable hill-men. Today had been meant to be Daran — Tithdaeron’s name-day after the final challenge of his Fem. Her little one would finally be an official member of the great tribe. The chief had told her what Daran’s new name would be if he succeeded. She had laughed, feeling it fitting, but knew Daran would think it to be a mouthful. But he would always be Daran to her.

Plans, though, changed as they always seemed to do. The Trév Duvárdain had grown bolder and as rumors of Black Numenorians joining the Angmarim lines, the fallen men demanded blood. Tithdaeron had interrupted the meeting of the elders in the boldest, yet most inoffensive way he could have, and told them that he would represent the strength of the Trév Gállorg in the Fem challenge. His offer had been unanimously accepted. Later, when Eruviel had teased him about it, Daran quickly retorted that he had learned it from her.

Eruviel felt almost certain that he had the blood of Númenor in his veins, for he had grown be a handsome, strongly built man with broad shoulders since she had found him fifteen years ago. Daran had been disappointed that he had not grown to be as tall as Milloth, though his six-foot-five frame towered over nearly every man in Angmar. His amber eyes gleamed dangerously as the two chiefs cast insults at each other, working out the final demands before the Fem challenge began.

Daran’s opponent stood a foot shorter than him. He looked lean yet impressively toned for his slight build. Eruviel suspected that he was one of the Trev Duvardain’s best fighters, chosen for his agility and quickness. Looking back to Daran she could see the muscles in his back flex as the two men faced off. It took all of her restraint to keep back a smirk. In spite of his height Daran proved to be as lithe as an elf. Milloth and Eruviel did not spare the lad in his training, mostly because he had insisted on learning to be the best. Now he fought to the death against the opposing clan of hill-men to prove his loyalty and worth. Though she did not doubt his skill, Eruviel kept a watchful eye open for foul play. The footing of the other fighter was precise — careful. The match would not be an easy one, and Eruviel muttered a prayer to Oromë that Daran would not perish so close to his goal.

The Trév Duvárdain warrior made the first move, testing Daran’s reaction. The former Angmarim countered the attack fast enough to avoid the crude blade, yet not so fast as to reveal his true speed. Striking back, just a hair faster, Daran returned the gesture, testing his opponent. Eruviel saw his triceps twitch, moving the blade away from the other man’s face, only cutting a few hairs with the quick move. Pivoting, Daran brought his lead foot behind him and leapt forward, the real fight beginning. Every slash he threw, every calculated step he took Eruviel knew, her mind moving in sync with the man’s attacks. She knew how his mind worked, and the habits he leaned on, him having gleaned many of them from her, Cade, and her brother Milloth.

Memories trickled through her subconscious as she watched the fight grow with intensity. She recalled the day she had presented Daran, then called Ge’bar, to the tribe. The nine year old had hid behind her as she presented his case, clinging to her left hand. But, as soon as the Trév Gállorg elders began to accuse him, the boy had released her hand to stand beside her. His eyes blazed in defiance, unafraid of their hate for the Angmarim. Eruviel remembered walking him beyond the edge of the main camp to the home of a Trév Gállorg hunter and his wife who had wanted to adopt the boy, unable to have children of their own. She called to mind the many times in his first few years with the clan when she’d wake in the night to feel him crawling onto her pallet and curling up against her back, trembling from nightmares.

The fight had finally drawn blood. Daran had taken a risk, and it had paid off. Allowing his opponent in close enough, Daran let the other man drive his dagger into his bicep. As the blade cut into his arm Daran flipped his dagger in his hand and punched the Trév Duvárdain man in the face. Eruviel almost felt pity for the man as he flew a yard back from the impact. He landed hard at the base of a makeshift Trév Gállorg flag, blood spurting from his mouth and nose. Daran glanced back to Eruviel, nodding once to her before he approached the man, stopping to tower over him.

“This fight is over,” his voice rumbled as he pulled his opponent’s dagger from his flesh. Looking down to the enemy clan’s leader he dared him to protest. “I will not kill him. The Trév Gállorg are better than that.”

The Trév Gállorg chieftain nodded his head in approval, but before he could address the matter the Trév Duvárdain chief turned and pointed to a trio of fighters standing behind him. “How dare you mock us, traitorous filth! You three, kill both of them!”

Pulling out hidden daggers, the three fighters sprinted up the hill towards Daran. The man’s fallen opponent, still clutching his face, looked up, and the two men’s eyes met in a moment of understanding. Daran ripped the spear-like flag pole out of the ground, and Eruviel noticed that both ends were tipped with blades. Clever. In one swift turn Daran plunged the flag-end of the pole into the first Trév Duvárdain’s heart, pulled it back out as he spun around, and in one sweeping motion dropped the other two attackers, their throats cut open.

“Is this what you want?!” Daran bellowed down the hill, planting the flag pole back into the ground. “If you want more blood, then by all means, I can relieve your men of their lives.”

The Trév Duvárdain’s leader looked wide-eyed up to the bodies of his fallen warriors. “No, you have won, Tithdaeron. I will not forget this night, but my people and I will retreat from Trév Gállorg lands.” His voice trembled, but his eyes disagreed with his words.

Daran stopped his advance, glaring past the chieftain to the anxious gathering of Trév Duvárdain now only a dozen yards away. “I hope you never forget. I will hold you to your words, for I will not allow mercy to any of your warriors who step so much as a foot into our hunting grounds.”

Puffing up his chest, the enemy chieftain looked as though he might protest but a look from Daran deflated the man’s pride just as quickly. Turning away he barked orders down the hill for his people to leave, not caring to gather the bodies of their dead.

As Daran walked back up to his opponent, offering the man a hand, a victorious roar rose from the Trév Gállorg camp. Their chieftain motioned for two others to take the wounded Trév Duvárdain to the healer before beckoning Daran to his side. The young man looked across to Eruviel rolling his eyes as she glanced at his arms. She nodded to him with an encouraging smile as he arched his brows as if to ask if he had done well. She knew the adrenaline had begun to wear off for Daran looked drained from the fight.

“He is now one of us!” said the chieftain in a loud voice for all to hear. “I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of our brother. The Eldar brought him to us and taught us humility as Tithdaeron grew with our own children, living honestly and fighting loyally by our sides against the orc and Angmarim scourge.” Shouts of approval rose again and were not quickly silenced before the chief could continue. “His Fem is complete!”

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