The Glittering Caves by Caladhiel Thranduiliel
Scýne (pronounced Skee-eh-nuh…I know…Rohirric pronunciation is weird…)
A shiver shot up Scýne’s spine as the cold of the caves met her. A dank smell flowed into her nostrils: the damp odor of the underground. Torches threw their light around the stalactites, casting an eerie glow into the depths of the cavern. The shadows of the other women and children slinked up the walls, morphing into almost grotesque blobs of blackness. The cries of the guards echoed through the tunnels.
“Into the caves! Hurry! We have no time to lose!”
Because somewhere, trampling Rohan’s golden fields, was an army.
Its soldiers: huge, hideous servants of Saruman. The Uruk-Hai.
And Scýne knew that when they arrived, they would spare the lives of no one. Not even the children.
Hastily Théoden’s men herded the remainder of those unable to fight into the caves. Now they mingled into the crowd, pulling together a rather rag-tagged army. It seemed that as long as a person was male and breathing, he was an instant recruit. An elderly man. A boy that could be no older than fifteen. Even that boy’s younger brother. And those whom these “soldiers” were snatched from could already be labeled as widows and orphans.
An armor-clad soldier even stopped in front of Scýne, but at the sight of him, a smile spread across her face. “So now you must even resort to recruiting the women?” she teased, trying to lighten the mood. “Are we that desperate?”
In response, her husband chuckled, used to her sarcasm and ready to playfully throw it back at her. “No, I have come to recruit him,” he said, taking a step towards her and laying a hand on her stomach.
As if on cue, the child inside her kicked.
He laughed. “And he is ready!”
“Are you so certain that it is a boy?” Scýne giggled.
“Yes,” her husband replied. “The force of his kick proves it!”
“Well, Deorwine, perhaps she has her grandmother’s spirit,” Scýne said.
Deorwine shook his head. “No. It is a boy.” The smile faded from his face. “And I fight to protect him. And you.”
Scýne’s voice was stone cold. “You will be here to help me raise this child. That is an order.”
“One that I will assuredly follow,” Deorwine replied gently. He took his wife’s face in his hands. “Do no doubt that for a moment.”
“But there are so many of them…and so few of us,” Scýne whispered, her voice catching on the last word. Tears began to fill her eyes; she cast them downwards in a failed attempt to hide her sorrow.
“Scýne, look at me.” Deorwine’s words were grave, but gentle.
Hesitantly her eyes locked with his.
“I will come back for you,” he continued. “That is a promise. This child will have a father.”
No longer able to hold them back, tears spilled down Scýne’s cheeks, sparkling like dewdrops on a leaf.
“Scýne…you must believe me,” Deorwine whispered.
Furiously Scýne nodded. No matter how hard she tried, words could not escape through her tears. Despite her efforts, she began to sob.
Instinctively he wrapped his arms around her, holding her close. Once again the baby began to kick, and upon feeling the motion, tears welled up and clouded his vision. He closed his eyes, resting his cheek upon the top of her head. A lone, hot tear spilled down his face while Scýne steadily wept, fighting to keep her sobs under control. Terrible voices hissed to them that this would be the last time they would ever see each other. And both of them sensed that the end of this moment was fast approaching.
Slowly, reluctantly, they separated from the embrace.
With a tender hand Scýne wiped the tears from his face and ran her fingers through his sand colored hair. “I love you,” she whispered.
Deorwine took her hand and kissed it. “And I love you,” he returned, caressing her hand in his own.
He stooped and kissed her, wrapping his arms around her waist. With the same gentle passion she returned it, and more tears spilled down her cheeks.
To the chagrin of both of them, the commander’s voice shattered the tender moment. “Move out, men!” he barked. “If you are unequipped, go to the armory, if you are, head to the battlements! Hurry!”
Unwillingly Deorwine broke the kiss at the sound of the officer’s voice. “I love you, Scýne. And I am coming back for you. I promise.” He planted one last kiss on her lips before turning and leaving.
The cold of the cave attacked her as soon as he left. A new deluge of tears came forth. Her shaky voice cried out to him. “I love you! And I will be waiting here for you!” She choked on the last phrase.
A gentle arm slipped around Scýne’s slim shoulders. When she turned, the kindly countenance of an elderly woman met her. A heartbroken smile stretched across it.
“I am Freya,” her soft voice said. “My husband has left for war also.”
“Scýne,” Scýne managed, her voice barely audible.
Freya’s eyes popped. “My dear girl,” she whispered. “You carry his child, do you not?”
“Well, that gives him all the more reason to fight harder,” she soothed. “He is young and strong. He will come back.”
Scýne managed a smile. “Thank you.”
Seconds crept by as hours. Silence plagued the halls of the Glittering Caves, only ever interrupted by a woman’s soft whimper or the wail of a crying baby. Some dared to whisper back and forth, but fear sewed Scýne’s mouth shut. Staring at the cavern floor, she could only think of what Deorwine must have been seeing at that moment.
She pictured the fields skirting the keep, made foul with the presence of the stinking, snarling enemy. Soon enough they were slinking up the walls, while the anxious men of Rohan clutched their weapons and shook in their armor. When their hideous, burly forms made it over the battlements, a slaughter-fest ensued. And Deorwine was among the first to fall…
With a start Scýne shook herself from her reverie. I fantasize about his death when the enemy has not even arrived yet…
As if on cue, the clear sound of a horn rang through the empty dells. Immediately the women began to stir, worry and terror masking their features. But confusion mingled with the fear when the loud cry of an officer met their ears.
“Open the gate! Open the gate!”
Open the gate?! Scýne queried internally. Has their fear driven them mad?!
The same thought seemed to be registering on the faces of all. Scýne and Freya exchanged perplexed looks. Suddenly a great commotion began towards the mouth of the cave. A young guard appeared, his features washed over with relief.
“Aid has come!” he shouted, barely able to contain himself. “The Elves are here!”
At once the cavern bubbled with the amazed voices of its inhabitants.
“How did they get here?”
“Who sent for them? The King sent no riders!”
“It is a miracle!”
“See?” Freya said, her face practically glowing with optimism. “There is hope for us yet.”
A smile played on the corners of Scýne’s mouth. “Deorwine will fight alongside the Elves,” she murmured, still astonished herself.
Soon enough the chatter died down as angst crept back into the hearts of the women and children. Dead, awful silence hovered over them, but to each and every one of them, the pound of their own heartbeats was deafening. In the dank chill of the caves, they waited.
Doom doom dudoom doom.
“They are here,” Scýne whispered, her words shaky with fear.
After another agonizing moment of silence, the racket of battle broke the quiet. Swords clanged. Bows hissed. Victims of the slaughter cried out in pain. Officers barked orders. And chaos ensued.
Scýne’s mind lingered on Deorwine. Ardently she tried to set her thoughts on the pleasant memories of him: the summer days they had spent together as adolescents, running through the golden fields without a care in the world, the spellbinding night under the stars where he whispered that he loved her, the unforgettable day of their wedding, where their pledges of fidelity to each other brought happy tears to the eyes of their family members. When her mind traveled to the first time she kissed him, the images of his sheepish smile and crimson blush pried a laugh out of her.
But her reverie shattered when a deep, rumbling boom rocked her to the core. Her blood froze in her veins and her heart leaped into her throat. Silence screamed terror.
The wall had been breached.
They were coming.
And it would only be a matter of time before they arrived.
The ruckus of the siege intensified greatly, and to the horror of all, the shouts and clangs slinked closer and closer, a viciously poisonous viper slithering in the shadows. With every second, Saruman’s grip on the people of Rohan tightened; his pasty, bony fingers dripped with more innocent blood. As the nightmare wore on, even Freya’s quiet hope began to falter. In a matter of seconds, Scýne’s would completely shatter. For the shrieks of the Uruk-Hai became unbearably prominent.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Upon the sound, a terrified voice screamed, “They’re breaking in!”
Panic and horror immediately seized all. The wails of the women and the hopeless cries of the children echoed through the caves. Scýne’s jaw clamped shut; a whimper arose from her throat. Uncontrollably her hands shook. Tears welled up in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks in little torrents.
Deorwine, where are you? her pounding heart cried out.
She pulled her knees to her chest, rolling up in the fetal position. Freya’s warm hands could be felt on her shoulders, but unlike the first time, the peace that resided in the elderly woman did not flow into her.
This is the end, her conscience hissed. We are all going to die…
She lay there on the cavern floor, the rock cold against her, waiting for the moment when the burly forms of the enemy would pour into the mouth of the cave.
But it never came. In its place, hope rode in on the dawn, and the soldiers of Rohan rose up with the Sun. The low drone of a deep horn bellowed a warning to those on the outside of the keep. The Riders of Rohan were coming. And they would unleash unrestricted, untamed fury on those who’d dared to harm their people.
Still Scýne lay motionless on the rocks, hardly daring to breathe. Only when victory was assured would fear free her from its sadistic clutches. And only when she rested in Deorwine’s strong arms would the victory be complete.
Suddenly the same young guard who had delivered the news of the arrival of the Elves reappeared. All eyes turned to his countenance, which wore the most genuine, hopeful, relieved smile that Scýne had ever seen.
“Lord Éomer has returned!” he cried joyously. “Victory is ours!”
Relief washed over the crowd. Hoots and cheers bounced off the walls, and the beaming faces of the women and children lit up the entire cave.
A huge, broad grin stretched across Scýne ’s face as she leaped to her feet. Freya immediately embraced her. Both of the women jumped for joy, hardly able to contain their elation.
Soon enough all of the guards returned, ushering the throng away from those now hated caverns. Golden sunlight drowned Scýne in warmth, kissing her clammy cheeks. All around her families reunited, and tears of joy spilled down Freya’s face when her husband miraculously returned to her. But others would not be so lucky.
Scars of the late battle still rested heavily over the keep. The battered corpses of Men, Elves, Uruks, littered the battlements. The ghastly reek of blood hung stubbornly over Scýne’s head, adding a repulsive weight to the air. As more brave husbands returned to their wives, fathers to their children, sons to their mothers, one question lingered in Scýne’s mind. And the more it stayed, the more dread’s icy hand crept up on her heart.
Where is Deorwine?
Instantaneously a moan rose up from the floors of the battlements.
“Scýne,” a weak, agonized voice moaned.
Scýne’s heart stopped.
Slowly she turned towards the sound.
A beaten form inched itself towards her. “Scýne…”
With everything in her she fought to stifle her outcry, but utterly failed. Her sanity snapped when she recognized the blood-smeared face.
“Deorwine!” she cried, rushing to his side. Trembling, she knelt beside him. Tears immediately pooled in her eyes as she removed his helmet and gently took him in her arms.
Pain was a mask that covered his features. His skin was ghastly pale, and his steel-grey eyes held none of their usual sparkle. Two gruesome, black feathered arrows protruded from his heaving chest. The shadow of death was upon him.
“Scýne…” he moaned, raising his shaking hand to her cheek. His touch was pitifully light.
“I am here, Deorwine,” she tried to soothe, taking his hand and gently kissing his fingers. “You are not alone, my love.”
“I…I am…fading…” Deorwine gasped.
“No!” Scýne protested. “No! I will not let you go!” Frantically she looked around her, her eyes wild with fear and shock. “Help!” she cried. “Help!” Sobs once again attacked her. “Someone…please! Help…”
“You would prolong my death, Scýne?” Deorwine whispered. “I am broken. But you and the baby are safe. My task is complete…” Even as he spoke his eyes, which had been glued to Scýne’s face, began to wander. His breathing weakened more and more by the second.
He was slipping away.
Slowly Scýne shook her head. Tears flooded down her cheeks. Taking Deorwine’s face in her hands, she leaned in and tenderly kissed his lips, long and lingering. So weak was his return that she could barely feel it. Reluctantly she pulled away.
“Scýne…” Deorwine now fought a whole new battle as he strove to speak. “I…I love you…” On the last word, his voice trailed off on a long exhale. His body went limp in her arms.
Scýne’s lower lip trembled. Lament ferociously attacked her as her sobs poured forth, along with the occasional shriek or wail. Grief and pain thrashed inside her heart, threatening to rip it clean out of her chest. Completely alone, wicked emotion poisoned her soul. Agony brutally murdered something inside her.
Deorwine was dead.