Tightly bound rope bit into the flesh of her wrists as two Angmarim priests tied the other ends to the pillars she knelt between. A small trickle of red ran down her arms and it surprised her, for she didn’t think she hand any blood left to bleed.
How many weeks had it been since her capture? Or had it been months? She had cursed herself for being careless, but not for the lives that had been spared. A gathering party, deep in relatively safe territory had been ambushed and Eruviel had been struck down as she helped the last Trév Gállorg woman to safety. She had been drug away by the enemy’s horses and thrown into a small, cold cell below the crypts of Imlad Balchorth. After three days without food or water, and only beatings to fill the time between, she had been led out, and had nearly escaped before they brought her to the general of Himbar’s tower. Only the cursed man was not there.
A Black Numenorean man stood unnervingly calm by the throne-like seat at the head of the long banquet table. Her stomach had sunk as every orc and Angmarim left the room. He is going to break me, she thought hopelessly. She sat in the seat he pulled out for her, and drank the water he poured her, but as soon as he spoke it took all the will she could muster to guard her mind from the venomous words that spewed from his mouth. The echo of his sorcery still reverberated through her limbs. Two days and nights they talked, bickered, and finally fought. It was her own fault for physically retaliating, being exhausted to the brink of collapse. The Numenorean Alagos, had touched her, hoping for a reaction. He had gotten it, and Eruviel was sure his healers had had plenty of mending to do. She was able to fight him off for a time, but in the end she laid crumbled on the floor, beaten and bleeding.
Since then sleep had come in short spurts. She had been questioned, tortured, forced to fight, deprived of rest, and the night before she had been the decoration for a feast. A small occasion to congratulate Alagos for finally capturing the elf maiden who had been a thorn under his foot for so long. The thought of death tempted her as she hung in the cage above their cruel laughter.
Twice she had nearly escaped. First from Himbar, and they moved her to Carn Dum, then two agonizing weeks later from there. It haunted her, the darkness and cruel hands dragging her back from the hope of daylight. Eruviel had abandoned trying to keep her strength, putting all her effort to withstanding the sorcery that threatened to engulf her mind. Enraged that she still resisted him, Alagos had ordered her to be flogged, and so now she knelt, slumped over, waiting, the last remnants of her dress that had been returned to her hanging from her like a wights’ shroud. Dirt and blood and bruises served better in covering her and gave color to her skin that had lost all of it’s glow.
He will come, she told herself without a hint of doubt. It was the one hope that she still clung to. It did not matter when. Either he will make it, or every one of them will die by his hand. He will be my wrath.
“Worthless scum,” growled the deep voice of the Numenorean that made her insides twist with fear and rage. Alagos crouched before her, moved her hair out of her eyes and grinned wickedly at the hate-filled glare that she gave him. “Still holding out, hmm? You will cave, Eruviel. You will be torn and then turned to serve our great master. Or . . . maybe I should hand you over to my brothers?”
The starved remnants of her shivered at the thought. Then a slight, fresh wind blew across the ruined courtyard. She felt it glide over her and she knew it would not be long. Finding a lingering wisp of strength she righted herself and pulled tight the ropes that bound her, staring the cruel man in the eyes. “Not before I rip the black heart from your chest,” she growled. How she hated him. She imagined it; her bonds snapping and her hand tearing through his black silk robe and the flesh beneath it. What a terrible, wonderful thought it was to envision her cold hands being warmed as his life drained away. There would be nothing left of him for them to resurrect.
Smirking, Alagos rose gracefully to his feet and motioned to the waiting orcs. “Flog her, but not too much. When you’re through take her to my chambers. It is about time she is finally broken. And after? I suppose we can hand her over to the men for the night.” A sharp pang of fear twisted in her gut as Alogos stooped and kissed her cheek. Then his brisk, confident footsteps echoed down a side corridor in time with his cruel laugh. Orome, anything but that. All this time she had been spared that, the one failed attempt ending in four broken, throatless orcs rotting in her cell for… two weeks? In retrospect, any one else would have done that at the start. But not Alogos. He liked pain and feeling his victims break beneath him as his final triumph.
A light glinted in the distance . . . how far, she did not know. Raising her chin in defiance, she kept the ropes pulled taunt as two orcs unraveled their long whips and brought their arms back to strike.
One, two. They paused, then three, four, the whips cracked through the air. A pained cry escaped from her lips before she could catch it. Seven, eight . . . . eleven, twelve, she counted, hot tears trickling down from her blood-shot emerald eyes as she clung to consciousness. Where are you?
As if hearing her desperate thoughts two bolts whistled through the air, cutting through her ropes and sticking into the plaster behind her. Her tormentors distracted, Eruviel took the split second advantage to reach back and wrench the iron arrows from the wall. Give me strength . . . just a little more strength. Lunging forward, she plunged them into the eyes of the two orcs and ran forward towards the tall figure that fought his way towards her. Daran!
Dodging an Angmarim who dove to tackle her, Eruviel used her falling weight to drive the man’s head into the stone floor. Rolling away from the body she scrambled forward, stumbling as she struggled to rise in spite of the pain that tore through her.
Killing the last priest, Daran dropped to his knees to catch Eruviel as she tripped over her own feet, her legs finally giving out. Red splatters covered his arms and his voice was filled with a mix of concern and relief. “I have you, dear friend,” he whispered as he set her down, pulled off his shirt and gently fit it over her head. “You’re safe now. I’ll take you home.” Scooping her up in his strong arms Daran set off in a run, leaping back over the broken wall the way he had come.
How ironic, she thought to herself. “A-Aughaire . . . is everyone safe?” she asked as she let him pull her close, clinging to his warm chest. She watched back over his shoulder, praying that she would not see the iron helm of Alagos appear over the rise.
“You have been in this wicked place for two months and you worry for us?” Daran inquired, his voice filled with amusement as he dodged through empty streets towards the lower gate. “The tribe is fine, though the hunters have been in a rage since you were taken. I have not seen them fight back the enemy with such zeal in a long time.”
“G-good,” she managed, weariness overcoming her. Everything hurt, and nothing hurt. Shock numbed her limbs and she prayed that she would pass out before it wore off.
A commotion arose from the mountain behind them as Daran rounded the last ruined house on the outskirts of Himbar to take a hidden path south. “Sounds like we made it out just in time. I cannot deliver you to Milloth dead, now can I?”
Eruviel managed to raise her head to look up at him. “M-Milloth is back from Dale? When did he arrive?” She wanted to weep from relief. Between Daran and Milloth, she would be safe. Her brother could heal her, mend the fractured pieces of her mind and spirit, and set her to rights
“He was half a day’s ride south when I departed to find you. He has a band of men from Gondor with him, as well as a dwarf.” Daran ducked under an outcropping rock and pulled them into a shadowed corner in time to avoid being detected by warg riders. Tense minutes passed as the enemy ran by one way, then back from where they’d come.”I — I am glad that I did. If . . . .” his voice caught and trailed off as he looked down at her. The gleam from overwhelming emotion that flooded his amber eyes caused her’s to widen.
“Daran, no-” The words were halted as he suddenly pressed his warm mouth against hers. She couldn’t stop him or even try to pull away. She had no strength to. Years of longing and months of rage-filled grief poured out of him through that kiss. He had told her once how he felt, but then kept it to himself. She loved him fiercely, but as a brother and a friend. He never complained, never protested, being a stern, hardened man, but she knew it tore at him. Bringing a frail, pallid hand up she cupped it gently over his cheek as she kissed him back, letting his lips discover hers. Since he had finally given in, and her being in no capacity to protest, she could at least give him this; only this.
Finally pulling away, Daran hung his head, unable to meet her eyes. “Forgive me,” he whispered, his voice weak. “I . . . .”
Looking up at him sadly, a hint of regret in her eyes she simply nodded, pursing her lips together. “I understand, Tithdaeron. We shall not speak of it. But let us be gone from here.”
A smile creeping up one side of his face, Daran peered out of their hiding place. Nodding that the way was clear he shifted her in his arms and set off on in a run.