Chapter 23: Language of Creation
Fear is strange, insidious thing.
Everyone has it, in one form or another. It lurks inside you constantly, even when you can’t tell it’s there, influencing your choices and actions, and occasionally springing up out of the depths to cause you grief. More often than not, in people my age, it manifests in the form of crippling social anxiety at college parties, or those nasty little jump scares you get while watching bad horror flicks at 2am with your best friend.
A little dash of fear, a little dash of adrenaline — you know, just in case you need some help mustering up the courage to ask that guy to dance with you, or to hypothetically run away from a madman wielding a chainsaw. Once upon a time, those had been the kinds of fears I’d been most familiar with.
A very tiny, weirdly calm segment of my brain wondered — to the sounds of a horde of bloodthirsty monsters charging through the trees towards us — what I would have said had I know that only a month later, I’d find myself longing for the days when Katie would insist on watching all three versions of The Ring in one night.
You heard me. The Ring.
The wondrous irony of that particular memory would not normally have been wasted on me, were I not suddenly neck deep in such bone-chilling fear that, for a few seconds, I almost completely stopped thinking. I couldn’t remember backing away from the trees towards the stone monument, or drawing my hunting knife — but it was suddenly in my hand and held at the ready in a reverse grip guard, prepared to at least make an attempt at defending myself.
The howls and snarls were growing louder, accompanied by the sounds of dozens of heavy foot falls. I tried to move, but my body couldn’t seem to decide wether to hide or flee — or even in which direction to do either.
Thank God Aragorn did.
Without a second’s hesitation, he seized my arm and tugged me behind the ancient stone wall of the monument, pulling me back against it beside him, and pressed a hand over my mouth. I didn’t resist. Were he not there, I would have likely done the same with my own hand, keeping the sounds of my sudden, shallow breaths from giving us away.
A crackle of branches and the clear sound of angry growls and snarls rumbled from right around the corner. We both held perfectly still against the stone wall, and I silently thanked God we were down wind of them rather than the reverse, meaning they hadn’t caught our scents yet. Although that still meant we could smell them, and the scent of the beasts hit me in a wave of rotting meat, body odour and raw sewage. I almost gagged and felt Aragorn carefully release his hand from over my mouth. He shifted just enough to get a look around the corner, and as a result, I got one too.
There were dozens of them, dark-greyish skinned, human shaped monsters and all over six feet tall, more beast-like than the orcs we’d encountered in Moria, and garbed in roughened, black armour of metal and thick leather. Each of them carried wicked looking blades that would have made a serial killer turn pale, and each of their helmets had been adorned with a large handprint — the mark of Saruman, I recalled — in stark white paint.
From the depths of my memories, the name of the creatures hunting for us floated to the top of my consciousness like a piece of driftwood off a wreck.
I felt bile rise up my throat, and pressed the back of my head against the cold stone. I shut my eyes, smothering the urge to vocalise my panic. Beside me, Aragorn took a gentle, but firm hold of my wrist just above my hand, and leaned close enough to whisper as close to silent as was possible.
“When I tell you, run back to the boats. Find Merry, Sam and Pippin, hide yourselves, and do not come out until one of us calls for you. Understand?”
It was a struggle to concentrate on what he was saying over the sounds of the Uruk-hai snarling incoherently to each other in the search for us. I nodded, biting my tongue hard to keep my voice steady and quiet.
He gave my wrist a soft squeeze and let go, his hand going to the hilt of his sword as he turned towards the corner the creatures would have to come around to see us.
I obediently crouched down close to the ground, bracing my foot against the stone wall like a starting block, forcing my shaking hands to the ground to support me. I could hear my heartbeat quickening and fought back the instinct to break into a sprint right then and there.
“Eleanor,” Aragorn breathed hesitantly. I looked up and saw his stark grey eyes for a moment. He clenched his jaw and looked back to the monsters hunting us. “Whatever happens, do not let them take you alive.”
I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. No jokes or tension breaking sci-fi refs came to mind or from my mouth this time, involuntary or not. I was terrified to the point of near thoughtlessness, but at the same time, I was vaguely aware that it was a very different kind of fear that ran through me this time. I could feel the adrenaline surging into my blood at those words, clearing away my panicked thoughts and sharpening all my senses, rather than pulling me down like lead weights on my limbs.
Aragorn unsheathed his sword in a single, swift movement, the sound deafening right next to my ear. The Uruk-hai went silent, and I knew they’d heard it too.
“When I tell you,” Aragorn whispered once more, and stepped out from behind the wall, sword raised to the sudden roars and snarls of gleeful monsters who’d finally spotted their prey. Then, they howled and screeched as Aragorn showed them that just because you’re big, ugly and scary, doesn’t mean you’re invulnerable to cold, sharpened steel.
The following sounds of the fight were horrifying, and I shifted to adjust my starting position, ready to break into a sprint the second I heard Aragorn’s voice. I only realised I still hand my hunting knife in hand when I felt the scrape of the metal against my leather wrist guard, and I looked down at it.
My knuckles were white, dirty and stained, but my hand had steadied. It was only then that I really realised it wasn’t just the feeling of fear that was different this time, it was me. I was different somehow. Something in me had changed since the last time I had felt this scared back in Moria. Since the last time I’d gripped my knife so hard my hands had shook and my body had refused to obey. Now, instead of the haze of confusion and panic clouding my head, my legs practically burned with the urge to run — the instinct to either fight and defend myself, or run like hell.
“Eleanor, now!” Aragorn bellowed, through the clanging of swords against swords.
I shot out from under the stone platform like a hare, racing for the trees so fast I barely felt my feet making contact with the ground.
One of the Uruk-hai gave a bloodcurdlingly livid roar, and I didn’t dare look back, no matter how much everything in me desperately wanted to turn and see if Aragorn was still alright. I just bit down hard on the frustrated stinging in my eyes and ran faster, disappearing into the tree line. I didn’t dare slow down even when I reached the bottom of the hill where the trees thickened…
…And slammed face-first into something tall, and very solid.
Shrieking, I tried to twist out of their grip, but strong arms bound around my waist, trapping me against them before I could escape. I kicked and thrashed, taking a panicked overhand strike at their vulnerable points with the knife still reverse-gripped in my hand. A restraining hand caught my wrist mid-swing, and the familiar scent of pine, grass and rain hit me.
“Eleanor, stop! It’s me!” Legolas cried sharply, though I didn’t quite manage to snap myself out of it until he forced me to look at him. My limbs went boneless with relief at the sight of those familiar blue-grey eyes and that ridiculously handsome face — drawn with confusion and alarm now. My knife nearly slipped from my slackened hand and Legolas carefully let me go, but kept a steadying hold of my upper arm as I took in gulps of air. Gimli had been only a few steps behind him, barreling through the trees like a short, redheaded battering ram, axe in hand and looking frantically around the second he saw me safe but alone.
“Aragorn?” he demanded sharply. I forced my ragged, panicked breathing to steady enough to speak and pointed back up the hill they way I’d come.
“Top of the hill. He told me to run,” I got out, my throat tightening, though I wasn’t sure whether it was from the run, or out of fear for whom I’d left behind. I could still hear the distant sounds of crashing metal, and heavy footfalls through the trees suddenly appeared not far away. I fought down the urge to break into another sprint in any direction as long as it was away from those sounds.
“The hobbits, where are they?” I managed, remembering what Aragorn had told me to do. Legolas on the other hand, looked like he was resisting the urge to sprint towards the sounds of the fighting, but his eyes kept flicking back to me.
“Still at the camp,” he said with complete calm that belied the tension I could feel radiating off him. The forest around us went suddenly, eerily silent, and he abruptly let go of my arm and stepped past me towards the direction I’d come from. “Go, now. We’ll come back for you.”
When I hesitated just a second too long, Gimli gave me a reprimanding growl and a gentle, but firm, push in the direction of the camp.
“Hop to it, lass. We’ll keep th—, down!”
The three of us had less than half a second’s warning before an Uruk-hai came barrelling out of the trees to our left with a snarl. Its blade slashed through the air right where my neck would had been if Gimli hadn’t seized my forearm and all but thrown me out of the way down the hill. I instinctively dropped into a roll — one of the first things Boromir had insisted I learn while training — and came up in a clumsy crouch with my back against a tree just in time to see the dwarf take his axe to the Uruk-hai’s shoulder with a furious shout. The creature howled, and two more flew out of the trees just in time to see Legolas draw back his bowstring.
It was the last thing either of them saw before two arrows found homes buried in each of their skulls.
The bodies had barely hit the forest floor when six more came charging through the treeline from different directions this time, trying to surround us. Gimli was fast, especially for a dwarf. So was Legolas, but they were both much heavier than me, and having to carve their way through viciously attacking monsters. I didn’t. I barely let myself look directly at any of them as I dodged around and under the blurs of howling Uruk-hai and their slashing blades, like I was avoiding swings in a bar brawl. For once, my small stature was a real blessing. I was too quick for them as they rushed us, too small a target to hit with their heavy swings.
I dodged, and the moment I saw an opening, I ran.
I ran so fast away down the hill that I left them both behind as I sprinted towards the camp.
I could hear Legolas shouting my name, but I didn’t dare stop to hear if he was yelling for me to slow down or run faster. I went with the latter and kept running like my hair was on fire. A look over a shoulder showed me the sight of couple of Uruk-hai not weighed down by so much heavy armour managed to split from the attacking troupe, slip past Gimli and Legolas’s defence and gave chase after me.
‘Oh, shit. Boss, I strongly advise you to run faster!’
‘You think?!’ I fired back silently.
I could hear their heavy footfalls and guttural snarls within spitting distance right behind me, and they were only getting closer as I forced my legs to move faster. Thinking fast, I veered sharply to the left between some narrowly spaced trees. It bought me a few seconds as my two pursuers had to swerve around to keep pace, but it wasn’t enough.
‘Any ideas?’ I asked frantically, scrambling for a plan. I could feel Tink furiously searching for an escape rout through my eyes, but we both only saw more trees, fallen leaves, and nowhere we could run or hide. But then…
We both spotted it at the same moment — a second bit of ruins raised up out of the hillside slope just a little further down the hill. I charged towards it, my feet barely seeming to hit the forest floor or stone as I raced over the ground and up half the weather beaten stairs; half expecting to feel the Uruk-hai’s rancid breath on the back of my neck as I reached the top. They were catching up.
Being the more motivated (and possibly the less sane), I didn’t slow down even a little as I sprint over the ruin’s top. I felt the scrape of one of the monster’s finger’s graze the back of my neck, just as I took a full-speed leap feet first off the platform edge like I was doing the long-jump — minus the sandpit at the bottom.
A blurred glimpse of the two furious Uruk-hai screeching to a halt on the ledge flew by my vision as I plummeted down, then the ground rushed up to meet me. I tried to keep my momentum moving forward, falling into another roll, but it might have worked better if my legs hadn’t got tangled on the way down this time. My ankle twisted, my shoulder banged into something hard and I grunted with pain — but I managed to clamber to my feet again and keep going, barely slowing down.
The Uruk-hai chasers howled their frustrations as they watched their prey escaping, and I grinned ferociously along with Tink through laboured breaths as I flew down the hill out of sight. I didn’t dare slow down until I finally reached the clearing at the bottom, and my smile gone and my breathing laboured by the time I did.
I could see the half set up camp and the unlit fire, the boats and packs just a little way ahead — but there was no sight or sound of Merry, Sam or Pippin at all.
I spun in a frantic circle, called out each of their names into the trees, my voice hoarse from the shock and long sprint. No one answered. I called louder, my throat tightening with panic.
“Sam! Merry! Pip!”
Nothing. Then another sound answered me.
The low, loud blare of an unfamiliar battle horn coming from not too far away. For a long moment, I couldn’t understand what I was hearing. It made my insides go cold with dread, even more than any of the bloodthirsty Uruk-hai roars had, but I didn’t understand…
In a rush, I finally realised what it was I was hearing.
It was the horn of Gondor. It was Boromir.
The realisation of what I’d been trying to remember all this time suddenly crashed down on me — the understanding of why I had never been able to remember Boromir’s place in the rest of the story no matter how hard I tried. Every drop of blood in my body froze, and for a terrible fraction of a second, I couldn’t move or breathe.
“Oh God, no…”
The horn sounded again, more frantic and desperate this time. It wasn’t a battle sound. It was a cry for help.
‘Boss, don’t…’ Tink pleaded, though she sounded far away as time all but slowed to a crawl around me while my mind raced. I could all but see the metaphorical fork in the road appearing, and knew I had only seconds to choose.
What could I do? I wasn’t a warrior. I wasn’t a threat. I was barely capable of defending myself, let alone anyone else. If I were to charge heroically to the rescue, I would be likely be doing nothing more than signing my own death warrant.
It would have been the smarter to hide. To ignore the sound of the horn, of my companion’s call for help. To just run and hide myself. To cover my ears and not come out until I knew it was safe. It’s what Aragorn had told me to do. It would have been sensible, smart, and…
The horn blared through the trees again, one last time.
And as it did, I understood then that there are times in life when the only thing you can do is choose between doing what is smart, and doing what you can live with. So I chose.
‘Eleanor, no! Stop—!’
But I wasn’t listening anymore. I didn’t stop to think, to plan, or even to consider what I was about to do, or why Tink was trying so desperately to hold me back. By the time the final blast of the horn of Gondor fell silent, I was already running.
There was no thought involved in the moments that followed. There was no hesitation or so much as a flicker of a plan in the hour long seconds it took for me to sprint back up the hill through the trees, following the echo of horn of Gondor that had gone suddenly and terrifyingly silent. I was still dimly aware of Tink all but screaming at me to stop, to turn around and hide. To save myself and leave Boromir to what I knew now was coming for him.
I didn’t listen, or think, or stop.
I just kept running, until finally I heard the sounds of what I’d been dreading up ahead. The sounds of feral growls, snarls, and heavy footfalls.
And shallow, painful rasps — as if their maker was struggling to draw the breaths that created them.
The world around slowed even more as I hurtled out of the trees, skidding to a halt into a clearing littered with the bodies of mauled Uruk-hai. There were dozens of them scattered over the slope, leading down towards a small clear patch of forest like a trail of breadcrumbs — all of them bearing the distinctive horizontal slash wounds of a sword blade.
I already knew who had made them, but my insides still plummeted as my eyes finally found him just on the other side of the clearing.
Boromir had collapsed to his knees in the dead leaves. He was struggling to breathe, his chest heaving from the two wicked black arrow shafts jutting out, one in his middle and the other in his shoulder, but still stubbornly refusing to pitch over. I could almost hear the blood in his lungs from twenty feet away, and I wanted scream even though my voice had left me.
His sword had fallen from his hands and been kicked out of reach by the monster that had done this to him. Another Uruk-hai, bigger than the others and not bothering to shield it’s head with a helmet, stood before him, towering over the fallen man with a distinct heir of triumph. It was faced away with it’s back to me, but I was still at an angle to see it’s blackened bow — the same one it had used to shoot those two arrows into Boromir’s chest — was drawn back, a third arrow nocked, and aimed at the middle of his head.
I can’t remember if I actually screamed the word aloud or not, because all I do remember doing was yanking a knife from the pouch at my hip, and flinging it with all the strength and speed I had in me — barely taking time to aim.
It blurred fifteen feet in a pinwheel of silver, and hit the Uruk-hai chief squarely in back of the hand with a wet thunk. The bow snapped back from its deadened fingers and caught it across the nose with a sharp crack that I heard from across the clearing.
It howled, and the arrow fell harmlessly to the ground at Boromir’s knees.
Shock painted itself over both the man and monster’s faces, but it was Boromir who was at the correct angle to see me. We met gazes, and I had little doubt that the look of horror and realisation on his was a direct mirror of my own.
“Elea…” He managed to choke out, his hand instinctively going to his punctured chest, and something in my own chest cracked and broke at the sight.
He looked directly at me from across the forest floor, his mouth formed the order for me to run, but the words never made it past his mouth. He collapsed to the ground on his side, choking and gasping on the blood in his lungs, just as the Uruk-hai I’d attacked finally turned to face me.
Master Elrond had once explained to me what orcs were. They had once been elves, tricked and taken in by Melkor, the Great Deceiver — the Valar’s very own Lucifer — who had twisted and corrupted them until they’d turned on their original nature and became… something else.
I never truly understood what Lord Elrond had meant until that moment as I met the thing’s fiery yellow eyes, unhidden by a helmet.
If this creature had once been descended from the elves, there was absolutely nothing left of it now. Technically the Uruk was male; but something deep inside me absolutely refused to acknowledge it with the same pronoun that I did my male companions. There was nothing humane left in it. Nothing but malice and sadistic joy in it’s eyes as it looked at me past the white painted handprint covering it’s face, leering with it’s blackened teeth exposed, like a rabid dog that had just spotted a rare piece of meat.
This thing wasn’t a person, it wasn’t anything close.
It had just killed one of my friends, and I knew now looking directly into it’s eyes, it was going to kill me too — if I was lucky.
The Uruk-hai chief raised it’s hand, still run all the way through by my throwing knife, and without breaking it’s gaze from mine, it yanked the little blade out as if it were nothing but a bee-sting, letting it fall to the ground.
It smiled widely at me, baring a carnivore’s teeth.
Then it came at me.
It’s probably with mentioning at this point; real fights aren’t anything like fight scenes in movies. They happen much faster for one, and they don’t last half as long. They’re also far messier, far less fair, and far less pretty, thanks to the lack of decent choreographers on standby.
Tink and I reacted at exactly the same time, and in exactly the same tone of utter horror as the Uruk-hai chief rushed us in a huge blur of jagged armour and snarling teeth:
The bright thing to have done at this point would have been to dodge elegantly to the side as the armoured monster drove a mammoth fist directly at my face, just as I’d been practicing for weeks with Boromir and Aragorn. Alas, as we’d established only minutes before I’d gone charging off into the trees after my friend’s cries for help, smart ideas designed to save my own skin were not my strong suit — and I was beginning to believe they likely never would be.
Instead, I shrieked and fell straight over backwards onto my behind just as the Uruk-hai’s gauntleted fist sailed right over my face, barely clipping the tip of my nose. I hit the leaf strewn grown with a thud, and immediately rolled to the left. It was a bloody good thing I did too, because the Uruk-hai chief’s foot came down on the spot where my head had been with enough force to leave a small crater in the earth.
It spun after me, snarling and spitting incoherently, but I was already back on my feet again, scrambling back.
You never, ever, stayed on the ground in a fight, Aragorn had repeated endlessly, not unless you wanted to stay down there forever. I could almost hear him drilling those words over and over as the Uruk-hai chief came at me again, its swings and punches suddenly far more precise and calculatingly.
It had obviously realised that I was not as easy prey as it had first thought, but that wasn’t saying much.I was small a fast it was true, but the towering Uruk-hai chief had a long reach, and when it did manage land even a glancing blow on me it was enough to rattle my bones. I slipped on a dead leaf spinning out of the way of another punch, and it was just enough to slow me down. The Uruk-hai’s knuckle clipped my chin, sending a spike of pain through my lip and face, and I instantly tasted blood in my mouth.
Somewhere deep inside my head Tink was shouting at me, trying to yell out warnings and commands, but I was having a hard enough time surviving each swing, with no chance to slow and think about what I could do to escape, let alone win. I hadn’t gone into this fight with a strategy, or a plan of escape like I’d been taught. There hadn’t been time to plan or weigh the consequences — only react as best I could.
Yet, despite that, it still might have been too late, Boromir might already be gone. He’d collapsed and I hadn’t seen him move.
It had been fool hardy and rash to charge into that clearing without a second thought — I knew that. But even as the Uruk-hai landed another blow, this time against my left shoulder, and I screamed as pain speared down my arm, I knew that I could never have willingly turned away. I couldn’t left him there to this monster’s mercy any more than I could have severed one of my own limbs. I’d had to do something.
But if I couldn’t figure out a plan of survival within the next few seconds, I wasn’t going to live long enough for Aragorn to give me an earful about it.
‘Aragorn…What would he say in this situation? What would he tell you to do?’ A disjointedly calm part of my brain asked through the pain and panic. I didn’t have time enough to ponder an answer before I found myself being thrown backwards against a thick tree trunk. My spine rattled as I slammed into it, the back of my head cracking painfully against the bark, and for a second my vision swam with a hundred stars.
‘He would say you’re not strong enough to win this, and you’re not quick enough to escape this time. So what do you have left to help you survive?’ I asked, answering my own question with another question. My vision came back into focus just in time to see the Uruk-hai lunging for me again, both massive hands raised to latch around my comparatively tiny neck. I dropped as quickly as I could into a rather clumsy forward roll past it’s thick legs, and I heard it’s fist slam into the tree trunk with a dull crack.
I came up on the other side into a staggered crouch, and as I did my hand latched around the hilt of my hunting knife at my hip, pulling if from its sheath and slashing it across the Uruk-hai’s exposed calf with as much strength as I could. It howled furiously as the steel bit deep into thick skin and muscle, but I was already stumbling back out of the way by the time it spun to take another swing at my head.
‘I have my mind, the one weapon that can never be taken from you,’ I found myself saying inside, answering my last question with something I’d heard years ago from Master Elrond.
If I couldn’t overpower, or outrun the Uruk-hai brute on my own, I’d have find a way to outsmart it.
In a bizarrely euphoric rush of hope, I realised suddenly that I didn’t actually need to beat this monster. I just need to survive it, just long enough until one of the others could arrive with help. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli couldn’t have been all that far away, and I knew Legolas would be able to hear the sounds of the fight from a mile off if he was paying attention.
They’d come. They had to.
The Uruk-hai was coming after me again, and I with a surge of determination and gritted teeth, instead of running away, I turned and ran straight towards it at full speed with a snarl all my own. For a split second I honestly thought I caught a glimpse of surprise in the creature’s fiery eyes, but it was quickly replaced with fury as it took a grab at me. I ducked at the last second, going into a baseball slide right between it’s legs, raking my knife across the inside thigh of it’s uninjured leg. I’d been hoping to knick the femoral artery, but I’d been moving too fast to aim correctly, and it only left a gaping but non-fatal gash on the Uruk-hai’s thigh. It’s howl of furious pain blasted through my ears, and the shock of the sound momentarily disoriented me as I came out of the slide onto my feet.
It was all the creature needed. I might have slowed it down with my feeble attacks, made it harder for it to stay steady on it’s huge legs, but it still had it’s massive arms. It spun in a furious half circle on it’s less wounded leg, it’s fist coming around like a wrecking ball.
I didn’t have time to get out of the way.
The Uruk-hai’s bare fist slammed straight into my cheekbone and the world flew sideways.
For what felt like minutes but must have only been a couple of seconds, I knew nothing but pain. My vision had gone, my ears rang with white noise, and its took several moments of mentally curling into a ball and whimpering feebly before I was able to finally come back to myself. I’d landed about a dozen feet away, sprawled on my back with my legs twisted awkwardly beneath me, though not broken, thank God. My left arm on the other hand — no pun intended — had somehow become wedged underneath a heavy dead branch as thick as my waist. From how the entire left side of my body felt, I realised I must have hit the tree hard enough to cause it to break off, falling straight down onto me and effectively pinning me in place against the forest floor.
Bleary and head still spinning, I tried to tug my arm free, but the heavy branch had trapped my wrist and elbow between some thick roots, and I couldn’t move either without breaking something.
The Uruk-hai’s howls of furious pain turned abruptly to snarls of rage, and I twisted my head to see it staking towards me, livid eyes locked on my terrified face.
I abandoned all decorum and frantically tried to push the branch off with my free arm, but it wouldn’t budge, and I was already shaking with fear and fatigue. The Uruk-hai growled low, closer, and I almost sobbed, trying again to lift the branch with my shoulder to no avail.
‘Dig!’ Tink’s voice splintered through my panic, her own voice terrified but just about holding together. I didn’t question or stop to think, I just sank my fingers into the dirt under my arm and hurriedly started pulling the earth back from my trapped limb.
Another snarl only feet away, and I had to force myself not to look.
Gritting my teeth, I braced my free hand against the branch, and pulled as hard as I could. A scream of frustration and pain came out through my clenched teeth as I twisted my arm enough to make the joints burn and wrenched it out from under the log. Bark and splintered wood scraped through the fabric of my sleeve, leaving long scratches down my arm — but my hand came loose and I was free.
I just hadn’t managed to do it quite fast enough.
I barely had the foresight to roll sideways out of the way as a heavy armoured boot stomped down right next to my face. Frantically I tried to roll the other way, but the Uruk-hai’s huge fist came down in my path, it’s horrible face snarling only inches from my own — and now, instead of being trapped under a branch, I was caged between its leg and its fist.
Whether it was God, karma, or my own dump luck that was responsible, I still don’t really know; but in that split second my hand suddenly closed around something familiar I’d dropped in the leaves when I’d been thrown against the tree. I gripped it with white knuckles, my arm moving so fast I didn’t have time to think about where I was aiming. The tip of my hunting knife’s blade found a gap in the plates covering the Uruk-hai’s torso, and sank deep into it’s side between the ribs.
The monster roared like an animal straight into my face, and for a moment I thought I’d managed to wound it badly enough that it would release me. It didn’t. Instead, it jerked back, pulling my blade free of the wound, and sent another furious punch straight down at my head. I choked on a shriek and twisted sideways, the punch hitting only earth and missing my head by inches. Screaming in fear and frustration, I took another desperate stab at it’s face, aiming for the exposed jugular that was just close enough to reach…
But I bobbled it, the blade hitting the blackened shoulder armorer at an awkward angle, and my knife went skittering out of my hand into the fallen leaves.
My heart sank to rest somewhere around my feet, and the hideous face of the monster staring down at me stretched into a triumphant grin.
I wasn’t given a chance to shout or scream before the chief of the Uruk-hai picked me up by the front of my riding greens, and hurled me backwards like a rag doll into a tree. I tasted blood in my mouth again as I crumpled into a heap at the base, sure I was in agony but my mind and body to stunned and disjointed by the impact to feel much beyond a dull ache from everywhere.
My vision flickered like a broken tv. One moment I saw my attacker limping towards me, the next it was looming over me. It kicked me in the stomach, hard, and I heard ribs crack and my own cry of pain.
They weren’t going to make it.
I wasn’t going to be able to keep myself alive and keep the monster distracted long enough. By the time either Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli got here it would be too late — for me and Boromir both…
If it wasn’t already too late for him.
The Uruk-hai kicked me again, snarling, and I whimpered, slipping and rolling backwards down the slope. I landed hard on my side in the dirt, the damp earth and fallen leaves cool against my bruised cheek. My eyes swam with pain, going in and out of focus, but I could see just enough to catch a glimpse of Boromir lying only feet away. He was sprawled on his side in the leaves, those two hideous black arrow shafts jutting from his chest, eyes half-shut, not moving…
Pain that had nothing to do with any of my injuries lanced though my chest, and I wanted to scream, but only a choked sob found it’s way out.
Shaking with pain, I tried to push myself up onto all fours, but my weight was suddenly taken off my arms, and I was being lifted up off the ground. The sight of Boromir’s broken body vanished from my blurring vision, only to be replaced by the fiery yellow eyes and predatory teeth in a blackened face, bared in a triumphant leer. The Uruk-hai leader had picked me up by the neck, but it was only when my brain started frantically reporting the lack of oxygen that my body acknowledged the problem.
I started kicking and struggling frantically, grasping and scratching, trying to pry the Uruk-hai’s thick fingers from around my throat. I might as well have been kitten struggling against a lion for all the good it did. I tried to scream, but all that came out was a strangled choking rasp. The Uruk-hai snarled, and even though I couldn’t breathe, its breath was still enough to make my stomach turnover.
I’d been wrong. This was no Disney film. No one was going to come charging in heroically to my recuse, not in time to make a difference. Either I found a way to save myself, and fast, or I was going to die one of the more horrible deaths I could have imagined.
The chief of the Uruk-hai’s terrible face stretched into a horrible, lecherous mockery of a smile, and drew me closer, still holding me several feet off the ground. I was close enough to smell the rotting flesh on its breath.
“What are you going to do, little she-elf?” It all but purred at me through the blood staining his teeth, it’s growling, grinding voice somehow the most horrible thing about it. A strangled choking sound came out instead of a scream as I kicked frantically at it’s wounded side, but I couldn’t reach.
It laughed. It was laughing.
It had just murdered one of my friends, it was going to murder me… and it was laughing.
Rage boiled through my blood, completely eclipsing my terror. The feeling made no sense, but it didn’t matter. I was dying, being asphyxiated to death by a monster, but it didn’t matter. The feeling came so suddenly and so irrationally fierce that for a moment I completely forgot that it was still holding me by the throat. I felt heat building in my belly and pressure behind my eyes as lack of oxygen started to make my vision blur.
I opened my mouth to hurl one last curse at the thing, or maybe just spit in its face. But the word that surged though my head and came shrieking up my throat was no curse. It wasn’t even my voice.
The sound tore through my head like a surge of lightning, charring my thoughts to cinders as it did. It wasn’t a word. It was a force all it’s own, and the only thing it left in it’s wake as tore it’s way out of me was a simple meaning — no, a command — left seared into my thoughts like a brand.
The sound of that one simple yet unfathomably complex word in a language I didn’t know howled through my head and out of my mouth in a storm. It cracking and booming like thunder, and sent a shockwave of force through me that was so strong it shook the hand still clamped around my throat, turning the world red, then white…
And the Uruk-hai’s arms and face burst into flames.
It shrieked, a high pitched howl like an animal in sudden, agonising pain, it’s entire body convulsing into a spasm of pure shock. It dropped me at once, and I fell onto my back in the leaves, heaving and gasping for air as the world tilted like a capsizing ship.
For a long moment, I couldn’t see. I could only feel the swaying of the ground beneath me, hear the frantic sounds of the Uruk-hai agonised howling, and smell the nauseating scent of burning skin and hair.
‘Boss, get up! You need to get up, now!’ Tink screamed through my head. She sounded suddenly weaker than she had before, far away, even though I could finally hear her clearly again. My thoughts and head swam once again, and I had to fight to stay above the blackness. I tried to move, but my limbs felt heavy — far too heavy to be purely from shock or lack of air. It was deeper than that, and while I could slowly feel the effect of whatever had just happened receding, it wasn’t going fast enough.
Tink’s voice turned to a frantic, almost sobbing plea, and I could feel her desperately trying to pull me back from the edge of unconsciousness.
‘Eleanor, please get up! Please!’
I got up.
It was hard, so bloody hard, and it took far longer than I can remember it ever taking. But I did it. I slid clumsily onto all fours in the dirt, shoving myself back up onto my knees with almost all the strength I had left in my arms. My whole body wobbled drunkenly, the world still rocking and I dared not stand properly for fear of falling again, looking up through foggy vision to face what I’d done. And at the same time, reaching with trembling fingers into my left sleeve…
The Uruk-hai was still howling in agony just four feet away, swatting at it’s horribly scorched face and chest and head. It’s burning skin and matted hair had died down to soldering cinders, leaving it’s already black armour charred with soot, and it’s greyish skin patched raw with back and red. It was still obviously in huge amounts of pain, and still furious.
And still alive.
It saw me only a moment after I saw it, and with a surge of utterly insane rage I’d never seen on any creature before, it rushed at me — battered and broken and smouldering, and no less intent on killing me horribly.
Just like it had killed Boromir…
I waited until it was only a foot away before I let the anger I’d had pooling inside me turn to strength, my arm shooting out like a striking snake — driving the little throwing knife I’d hidden up my sleeve hours before directly into it’s exposed knee.
The monster stumbled and crashed to the ground from its already injured leg onto it’s remaining knee, roaring in agony as the breaking bones and joints made a horrible wet sound beneath the skin.
My arms shook and my muscles protested furiously. I was all but spent and barely had the strength left to move, but I didn’t care. I was too far gone with fear, confusion, and fury to care. All I could think of was the memory of Boromir lying still in the dead leaves with two black arrows in his chest just feet away…
Just moments too late.
The Uruk-hai roared again, straight into my face as it fumbled furiously to pull my little knife out of it’s leg, but before it had time to realise what was happening, I’d forced myself up onto my feet with a livid cry of my own. The second knife I’d hidden in my boot earlier than morning left its sheath as I tumbled forward, plunging it to the hilt in the vile creature’s left eye.
The leader of the Uruk-hai shrieked as it died, the blade twisting and jerking in the socket as it struggled to get away. Sticky black blood erupted over my hand, but I hung on like a rabid monkey, screaming and cursing it in every language I knew until finally it stopped moving, collapsing back in a twitching heap to forest floor, my knife still buried in its skull.
Gasping and trembling all over, I let go and fell back into the dead leaves on my butt. My heart was roaring a hundred miles an hour, and my breath was coming in shallow little gasps through my burning throat.
I stared at the dead monster before me. I just stared.
I didn’t have the strength left to move, think, or do anything more. I just stared and stared at what I had done, not quite able to believe or understand what had just happened. What I had just done.
The last of the adrenaline began to fade from my blood, and it wasn’t until my heart and breathing had slowed that I realised I was silently crying. I blinked furiously, I lifted a trembling hand to cover my mouth, holding in a sob, and forced myself to look away. Instead I looked around at the forest around me, and my horror and shock was quickly replaced with confusion.
Everything within a five foot radius on the forest floor that had been green and alive minutes before had died. There were no burns, no scorch marks on the earth from whatever had happened with the flames; but the grass, flowers, bushes and small trees all around me had shrivelled, curling in on themselves like blackened husks — as if they’d had every ounce of life pulled from them at once.
I just sat there in the centre of the deadened forest, too stunned and too horrified by everything to move…
Until a flash of auburn hair flickered at the corner of my clearing vision.
I was getting to my feet before my brain could catch up, staggering upward as quickly as I could. I fell over twice before I was able to keep upright long enough to walk — well, stumble really — back up the slope. It hurt, everything hurt, but I made it over to where Boromir still lay on his side in the leaves, dropping onto my knees at his side when my leg muscles refused to take me further.
My throat was tying itself into a knots I couldn’t undo, and my chest hurt from both lack of air, and from complete dread. He wasn’t moving, or breathing, and I didn’t want to see what I’d let happen despite my best efforts. I didn’t want to do my usual check of the wounded only to find nothing I could do would matter.
But I knew I needed to regardless of what I wanted.
Biting my lip and steeling myself as best I could, I took a gentle a hold as I could on his shoulder and side, heaving with all the meagre strength in my upper body until I rolled him onto his back…
Only for the his blue eyes to fly wide, sucking in a ragged but determined inhale of breath.