To be a great eagle, wings in the sky, banking over the plains of Hollin, looking past the crags ahead to the gleam of the river Silverlode. Rivendell is far behind me, and beneath, the peak of Caradhras, a mountain of cold moods. It cannot touch me. The clouds are limned with gold, and the winds are warm. Carry me. Carry me south where a strange candle burns with the fever heat of dreams. What need the passes in stone? The paths of Moria were made for lowly, earthbound creatures, crawling masses. Not for me.
A bright tower rises, forged rather than built, and all of brass. An open mirador beckons me and I land, folding my wings at my side, then folding them again until feathers have become skin and I stand denuded above all the world. The wind prickles me, but it is not unpleasant. There is warmth inside the tower, a well appointed room of state, the comforts of wealth, but not obtuse luxury. It is not an elf home, for it is worked of steel and stone and nothing grows or sings, but it has an attraction of its own. I hesitate on the cusp of entering, though the amber light and warmth beckon me. I have begun to be troubled by my nakedness and consider turning back to the sky. The winds were simpler than this choice.
There is a man within the tower. He is aware of me and I of him, though we cannot see each other yet. His name is...I do not know his name. But I believe he would like for me to enter.
There is more here than what is visible. This place represents something, for it is not of elves or humankind. Men could not build something so grand, an impossible spire, this brass needle into the sky. Who dwelled here, in this place? How had he called me from afar?
An archway, and a darkened hall, a pale orange light, drawing closer to the high room in the tower and the threshold where I stood.
My eyes opened on Beren, his concerned face hanging over mine. He had sewn the wraith wound on his cheek closed with his own hand, and hurriedly. Blood crisped its edges. He was also thoroughly bruised from his scuffle with Thumper, but he wore all of it lightly.
"You're alright," he said, the tension draining from his shoulders.
"I am." Groggily, I took stock. We were still on Weathertop, and the sky was heavy with impending rain, but they had built the fire up into a formidable blaze. Both the hobbits tended it. Both?
The little one rounded on me and gave a glad cry. Sam joined him, devotion in his eyes. Devotion to me.
"How?" I remembered our fight with wraiths and scoundrels, remembered the horrible wound. But Frodo was standing and moving as if it did not sting him at all.
"You healed me, Lady Arwen," Frodo said. "Look." He lifted his tunic so that I could see his stomach. Beren's stitching was still in place, but it had become unnecessary. While the area was awash with grey and green discoloration, the gash itself was sealed as if it had been healing for a month already. It was incredible, and all the more so that I sensed no corruption.
"You saved him," Sam said, eyes bright. "I'll never forget."
"We are companions," I said, and rose with a little help from Beren. One question did not need answering. Though the ring was once again concealed beneath Frodo's clothing, I could feel its gravity as surely as if it had been nestled in my own palm.
"What time is it?" I asked. My head throbbed as soon as I was upright, and there was a spot of tenderness at the back of my skull. My internal clock was at odds with itself. Had a day passed, or an hour?
Beren shrugged. "It is only the next morning. I'm sorry, Arwen, I didn't know what else to do."
"What?" Oh, he had struck me. "You did the right thing. I still have all my fingers, and Frodo will live to see Rivendell."
"Are you well enough to travel? We could rest here until tomorrow."
I didn't want to delay any more than was absolutely necessary.
"Let's go," I said. "The wraiths will be recovered soon. We can outrun the Witch King at least."
We had lost a pony, but its partner and Carfax were sufficient as long as Beren stayed on foot. I wasn't in any condition to travel, my body felt drained and lifeless, and the head wound pulsed with every placement of a hoof. I hid it well enough, and for reasons known only to hobbits, Sam named the remaining pony Butterscotch. We went on.
It was thirteen days of hard travel between Weathertop and Rivendell. We met no new monsters and heard no nightmare screams, but the journey was difficult in other ways. While my head recovered quickly, my more general malaise refused to lift. The hand print of a wraith was a dead space on my shoulder, and the scar on my arm from where I had been scratched by the Nazgul blade would turn cold as ice in the evening and early morning, though rarely in between. I took to carrying the Witch King's dagger at my hip, though Beren was opposed to my doing so. The fact was, at least two of the Nine were in pursuit of us, and it was the only weapon we possessed which could do them real harm. Often, I would catch sight of a cape or a silhouette upon a hill, if only for a moment. They did not accost us, but I knew Khamul was watching.
The hobbits, with the resilience endemic to their people, settled into a jolly camping spirit. They cooked for us, laughed and ate well, and generally behaved as if they were on an adventure and that hope would see them through. Frodo was fitter than ever, and we soon removed the stitches.
It was an ugly healing, leaving a puckered scar and discoloration of the skin. It was not infected, but the area around the scar was mottled; I had never seen the like. Was this staining the consequence of an evil weapon or the evil power that had allowed me to achieve the miracle? Frodo didn't seem affected, and it was Beren who concerned me more.
The poison of the Nazgul blade was a burden that settled upon him more heavily with each passing dawn. It did not seem that any sliver of the weapon had been left behind in his flesh, but there was no need of a physical fragment to enact the curse. Beren's light would falter day by day until he was cleansed or he faded to something less than what he was. An elf wraith would be terrible to behold, for our spirits are more durable and more brilliant than those of mortals, and it is said that in every potentiality or light there lies the seed of ten fold greater darkness. Mortal sorcerers and kings like Khamul and Angmar are dread figures, it is true, but they are nothing compared to what would come of an Elrond or Galadriel were they corrupted by their rings.
My dreams as we journeyed grew stranger and more persistent. Over and over again I visited that tower of blazing brass in a land far to the south. Logically, I knew that it must be Mordor, for that is the direction in which Mordor lies, but it did not look as I imagined that dark realm to be. From the sky I saw rough land, yes, but rich with life. And the tower was not Barad-dur. I had been younger than Beren during the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, not playing any part in the war, but what memories I did have suggested this place was different. Could it be Orthanc? The citadel of Saruman the White? Surely, after what Bombadil claimed he had done, Saruman would require a new title other than "the Wise." That was another mystery for my father to pursue. Could the wizard have grown strong enough to influence my dreams? Why would he? Saruman and Sauron, both obvious culprits for these visitations, seemed equally unlikely. I did not feel as if I was under assault. It was possible that the Ring itself had done something to my soul, unhooked it, in a sense, so that when I slept I could soar over the pathways it had opened in my mind as a spirit freed, searching my own ways. I watched myself for signs of corruption, and though the presence of the Ring was still strongly felt, I did not perceive any overwhelming desire. It's true, I had not relinquished it willingly, but neither had I been given the chance. Was it so awful a treasure? The first brush of the Ring in the house of Frodo stood out strongly in my mind. I knew, of course, that I could never take it up again. That would be folly. Had the Dark Lord not come to the elves in the guise of Annatar, the Gift Giver? Sauron knew how to be a seducer as well as an autarch. The idea of what I could do with the Ring might be seductive; to cure disease, restore lost realms, or banish darkness wherever it arose. I had to remind myself that these were false promises.
The forests of my homeland were a welcome relief from these thoughts. Frodo and the Ring would go to Elrond, and Beren would be made well. The heavy bruises under his eyes and the bandage across his face made him seem a different person, but he still laughed and sang with the little folk like a proper diplomat. It grieved me to think on what had happened to him, what his parents had done. If it was a marvel that he could remain so lightsome with such a wound on his face, it was no greater than the wonder that he could be who he was in spite of what had gone before. Despite his extreme youth, I found that I admired him. How was it so difficult for me to make merry that way? I had known so little hardship in my many centuries. I asked him as much.
"Lady Evenstar," he said, "it is not in spite of the darkness, but because of it, that we must laugh. Our joy is our greatest weapon against all the tricks that the Shadow employs."
I envied him that confidence, but I also treasured it. In the short weeks we had spent together I felt myself having grown closer to him than I had any elf of Rivendell beside my father. His deference to me hid something else, a type of regard I was afraid to clarify, but which nevertheless brought a warmth to my heart and made me forget, if only for a moment, the mark upon my shoulder.
"Is it true what is said of you?" I asked him.
"You mean my name?"
"I was not abandoned, not intentionally," he said. "My youth was spent traveling with my parents between Rohan and Gondor, acting as liaisons for Thranduil and the Woodland Realm of Mirkwood. Then we undertook a more serious expedition to the lands of the East."
This much I knew, for there had been much talk when it occurred. Contact with the Romenildi had always been minimal. Historically, wars among men were without end, but we elves had not distinguished them except insofar as they made pacts with Sauron and Morgoth before him. One human was much like another in any case, so it was rarely thought meaningful or worthwhile to expand our relationships to foreign communities. Rivendell did not employ diplomats at all in this era, and most mortals lived their lives without ever hearing our voices raised in song. Thranduil had been of a different mind, and out of innovation or naivete tasked his diplomats with seeking out the mortal kingdoms from beyond the Sea of Rhun.
Beren grew somber in remembering. "They received us kindly at first," he said. "What we call Easterlings are actually a family of races.
There are dozens of tribes, more varied than the men of the West in appearance and culture, and we visited a number of them in search of an authority. We came into the court of a brutal warlord, and he was most pleased with the novelty of elves. Thranduil thought that the hatreds of old were forgotten by mortals, that with the Necromancer banished from Mirkwood we were entering a time of peace, that there was a possibility the Easterlings might be redeemed. You should know that though he has often been envious of the wonders of Lothlorien and the scholarship of Rivendell, he sees that both kingdoms look down upon the Wood Realm as an inferior."
"That is not so," I protested, though inwardly I agreed with him. There was no one cause of it, perhaps it was simply that Thranduil and his people had allowed Mirkwood to fall so far from what it could have been. But I had never imagined he would have taken the initiative to send diplomats to the east. It was not a very elven thing to do.
Beren allowed a sidelong glance that suggested he knew my thoughts. "The warlord was pleased to have us in his court. Our presence granted him a legitimacy that would elsewise have had to have been won by brutality alone, for that is the nature of those peoples. We exchanged stories and songs and promises of good will, and for a time that was well enough. My parents declared the mission a success, and announced we would be returning to the West. But the warlord had no interest in establishing relations with a world across the waters. We were merely ornaments to his court that added to his prestige. He killed my father for his impertinence and declared my mother to be his bride. She went along with the arrangement on the promise that I would be allowed to return home. I wasn't safe among them, and even that promise, so preciously won, was only half kept. As soon as I left his territory the warlord aired a bounty for me, and I was pursued until I passed the northern horn of Mordor and returned to the lands of the West.
It was not a painless journey, but all that mattered to me was confronting Thranduil and calling upon the might of my people to enact vengeance on the Easterlings who had treated us so cruelly. Instead, not wishing to soil the reputation of his own judgement in sending emissaries east, Thranduil declared my parents traitors, claiming they had chosen not to return, and bestowed on me the moniker Beren the Abandoned."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"The name is true in its way. I was abandoned, but not by my parents. By Thranduil. By the Wood Realm."
The story brought up a tide of bitterness in him that I had never guessed at. The wound of the Shadow on his face doubtlessly contributed to his mood and tone, but wound or no, his past was darker than I could have imagined. Truly, I had been sheltered in Rivendell, if other elves knew such agonies as these.
So deep was I driven into thoughts of regret that I did not notice the growing chill in my body, or hear the hooves behind us.
"Hobbits! Fly!" Beren slapped Butterscotch to spur it forward, but the effort was hardly necessary. At his cry, the nightmares that had been creeping closer behind us let loose their own mangled shrieks, driving even Carfax into paroxysms. He bucked and reared, I could barely control him, and dark shapes were gathering on the trail and in the trees behind us, dropping the glamour that had concealed them.
There were nine.
Frodo and Sam were having trouble controlling their mount, bounding as much sideways as forwards and nearly leaving the trail. I spurred Carfax ahead and cut them off.
"Get down!" I ordered, dismounting and grabbing Frodo by the arm when he didn't move fast enough. They would never outrun the Riders on a pony, so I forced them up onto Carfax as quickly as I could and sent them off. The wraiths were closing in.
"But what about you?" Sam asked piteously. He was as panicked as his pony.
"I do not fear them," I said, and Carfax took my cue to gallop. If any horse could outrun the darkness, it was her.
Beren was firing arrows at full pace. Having learned that they were useless against the wraiths, he targeted their mounts, forcing them to take what cover they could, or else charge into death. Though the wraiths were largely interchangeable in their flowing cloaks and wax faces, I knew the Witch King on sight. We were connected by the mark he had given me, and when our gazes met, I could sense his amusement. This chase was a game for him, and his brothers had brought him a new horse. As further proof of his preeminence, Beren's arrows went awry when he was their object, and his nightmare showed no fear of the whizzing bites. My companion could slow their advance, but not stop them. Even if all the nightmares were slain, the wraiths would still pursue.
There was a weight in my hand, the Nazgul blade. I did not remember drawing it. The glimmer of ghostly names patterned the steel and could be felt graven in the hilt. Its hunger was palpable, and a hunger rose in me to answer it. I feared that feeling more than I did the Riders.
We had mere moments before we were overrun, but this was Rivendell in daylight, and my own power should have been at a zenith. But when I called for that power, no radiance answered. I felt nothing at all, and I knew that I was doomed.
Beren began to sing.
"O harken to me, knight at arms
bright sword and gleaming habergeon
a fire has kindled in my heart
and carries on"
Five of the Riders simply moved past us in the wood, pursuing the hobbits. The Witch King and Khamul came together down the road, along with two others whose mounts had been wounded. One had lamed itself when it was struck, and the other had an arrow in its neck but labored on. They would have been fine animals were it not for their source, and it pained me to see them suffer, but there was hardly another way to hamper the wraiths.
"We meet again, ssssweet princessss," the Witch King said. "I sssee you have my dagger."
"I will return it to you shortly," I said, planning in my mind the best route to his immaterial heart. The nightmare was tall, but not insurmountable.
Beren still sang, and he readied another arrow. Even the sorceries of the Nine would be unable to foul his aim at so close a range, but Khamul made an arcane gesture with one hand that caused Beren to loose too soon. He clutched at the wound on his face, and his voice was muffled.
"You have led us on a merry round," the Witch King said, "but now the time for games is done. The sun is going down."
That was not true, but when he spoke of the sun, the day did seem to weaken, and the multilayered canopy contracted to drown us in its shade. All thoughts of a heroic leap left my head, leaving only recriminations in their wake. How could I ever have thought to challenge Angmar in his fullness? It came clear to me then that I had been allowed my small victories only to bring us to this moment of surrender. The Witch King extended his remaining corporeal hand to accept the dagger.
"The sun is going down," he said again, and I found myself moving to comply. The Nazgul blade quavered, eager to regain its master.
"Harken to me, knight at arms
why do you tarry coming here?
Our day has risen in the east
I shall not fear!"
It was Beren's song, but not his voice. The elves of Rivendell had come. From all around us, in the trees, there came their light and song. They lit arrows doused with sacred oils, and cut a line of fire between us and the wraiths. Immediately, I felt the weight of shadow lift from me, and daylight burgeon. My weakness had been the influence of Angmar upon my heart. Now in its place was anger.
I sprung past the protective line laid by my countrymen, holding the dagger high in an overhand grip. It was an artless attack, hardly becoming of the Water Dance, but it did not matter. The Witch King was busy contending with sacred fire and managing his startled nightmare; he had dismissed me. Nazgul blade met Nazgul unflesh, plunging into the point just below the center of where a rib cage should have been. They had bodies, these wraiths, but they were almost entirely ethereal. Mortal weapons could not give them true harm, but their own knives were enchanted so as to cut into the soul as well as its mortal coil.
The Witch King shrieked more horribly than his mount, and as I refused to relinquish the blade, I pulled him down with me to the dirt. His fury buffeted me like a wind, and I felt both his hands fighting to tear mine away from the cursed hilt, but I would not relent. I do not know from where this anger rose in me, a determination that was beyond reason, but I knew that I had to kill this thing, that it needed to be done. The dagger pressed deeper, and the deathly chill of wraith blood spilled out over me. It was not material, it was spiritual, and my own spirit was soon coated with it.
Words of power and pride spilled from the mask of wax and washed over me in waves of searing heat, but they could not find purchase. Confusion replaced fury, and the shrill hiss of his cries receded into the whine of an animal betrayed. Khamul watched all this, the work of mere seconds, and he could have killed me with his own spinning knife, made me a wraith in his service, but he did not. Instead he nodded to someone beyond the line of fire and turned to ride away. The other two followed him, displaying no interest in the proceedings one way or another.
Soon the cloak was no longer full, and the dagger had cracked against the soft ground. Its blade was broken at the hilt, pitting and rusting before my eyes. The Witch King of Angmar was gone.
His nightmare, jet black coat and wicked yellow eyes, had watched this all bemusedly, and now he snuffled at my hair.
"Arwen!" The voice was well known to me, but it was long moments before I could pair it with a name, and I seemed unable to move, even to turn and see by who I was addressed.
Glorfindel was tall even among our kind, mature and powerful and wise. He looked at me with an expression I could not name, and effortlessly took me up in his arms. Other elves were helping Beren, who had been stricken by Khamul.
"The hobbits?" I asked, suddenly hoarse.
"Safe," he said. "The wraiths tried to pursue them over Loudwater ford, and your father was waiting for them there. They have been washed away, and will not trouble us for a time. I am not concerned for hobbits now."
"Angmar..." I didn't know how to explain.
Glorfindel shook his head to still me. "It was said "not by the hand of man will he fall." Perhaps this is a prophecy fulfilled. We will not know until he returns, or fails to."
But I knew he would not return. In my hand, against a hilt without a blade, I felt a ring.
Okay, so I'm just going to go into the whole thing.
I dropped out of high school, and a couple of years later I was in prison for robbing banks. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I was diagnosed as bipolar and started seeking and participating in treatment and taking medication. After nearly 13 years in prison, I was granted a conditional pardon by the Governor of Virginia, and my sentence was reduced to time served.
While I was incarcerated, I was published by REED Magazine, CURA, and the Carolinian. My work appeared in several PEN Anthologies, and I was awarded seven different prizes in various categories by the PEN Prison Writing and Justice Program.
I'm currently working with Shadow Alley Press to publish my Gamelit novels, and I one day hope to be able to support myself through my writing. Until then, I work at Subway.