this is a story that has been going around in my head for years. seriously. i cannot tell you how many times i have rewritten the opening chapters…and how many times i have changed my plans for the rest of the chapters. i’ve got several chapters written, but in order to keep my assignment to a manegeable length, i’ll just post the first two.
the general storyline is this: the king of moriwhen is captured by turamburian soldiers. his son and daughter (the queen is dead), wulf and aeowyn, respectively, launch a war to rescue him. because moriwhen is a small country compared with turambur, wulf joins forces with several other surrounding nations, and together they overthrow turambur. it’s meant to be remeniscent of lord-of-the-rings, but hopefully not so complex.
the king — the king of moriwhen, who is captured at the beginning of the story
aeowyn — the princess of moriwhen, whom the story centers around
wulf — aeowyn’s brother, and the one who leads moriwhen’s armies into war
glenweld — the brother of aeowyn and wulf’s dead mother, who acts as their advisor
iain — wulf’s lifetime friend, companion, and right-hand man
one more cool thing before you begin reading…i’m writing a soundtrack to this on the piano, though i doubt whether i will ever finish the story, let alone have a movie made of it! but it’s cool to hear the music and imagine the scenes. hopefully i will record it someday and post it here…we’ll see. enjoy!
Of Moriwhen and Turambur
Aeowyn laid her hands on the stone parapet, the night’s chill breath still cool under her touch. The first scarlet colors of dawn kissed the layered balconies behind the terrace upon which she stood, lighting the great palace-fortress of Moriwhen with golden rays. Aeowyn inhaled the balmy air, perfumed by the rosebush twining against the parapet. Absentmindedly, she plucked a red rose and let the fragrant petals fall over the low wall built on the very edge of the cliff of Moriwhen. The petals drifted downwards slowly, until they joined the beautiful sparkling waterfall springing from the cliff, some three hundred feet below her. Nearly a thousand feet lower, the flowers tumbled into a stone basin, worn out of the rock by the force of the plummeting falls. Then, as if to get away from the deafening noise, the brilliant, velvety petals were borne away on the currents of the river through the dark tangle of trees below.
A soft hint of a smile played in Aeowyn’s silvery eyes as she watched the sun cast off its crimson robe and replace it with a pale yellow morning-gown. How many daybreaks had she stood thus, watching the sunrise with her father’s strong arm circling her waist? Only one more week until he returns, the girl whispered to herself, with a sudden joy as pure as the morning dew.
A quick, staccato step interrupted her reverie, and Aeowyn turned, delighted, to greet her brother.
“Up before me, again, Aeyno,” laughed Wulf, reverting back to the name he had given her seventeen years ago. He kissed the golden glints in her dark hair with all of the playful, condescending superiority of an elder brother. “Where did you ride this morning?”
“Nowhere, yet.” Aeowyn returned coyly, pelting him with rose petals. “I was waiting for my brother to escort me.”
“And where did you plan to have me escort you to, little sister?” he bantered, leaning backwards against the low stone wall so that he could face her. He admired silently, as he had so many times before, the changing color of his sister’s eyes. Sometimes, when she was angry or worried, they were the color of steel; when she laughed and when she cried, they were brilliant emerald; and now, in the early summer sunlight, they were somewhere between silver and green.
“I didn’t have any place in particular in mind. I haven’t seen much of you these past few days, what with father being gone – just think, Wulf, only one more week until he returns!”
“Perhaps,” said Wulf, concealing a stealthy grin. “May we ride into Feldspar? The road is not so pretty as others, but Iain told me that his mother was asking for you yesterday. And I have some matters to arrange in town. We can come back by the river road, if you like.”
“I suppose. Well, then…?” Aeowyn backed toward the curtained doorway impatiently. Wulf laughed again, a rich, rumbling laugh, like the waterfall pounding on the rocks below.
“All right, then, Aeyno. Are you ready now, or would you like me to meet you by the stables?”
“Just give me…two minutes!” Aeowyn was already half-way across the terrace. The curtain at the doorway parted before her eyes, however, and a tall figure came out to the terrace.
“Good morning, Glenweld,” called Wulf respectfully to his uncle, pulling himself erect.
“Good morning Wulf, Aeowyn,” the man replied hurriedly, nodding to Aeowyn. Evidently something had upset him, for his heavy brows were drawn into a frown and the missive in his hand bore the seal of the king’s messenger. “Wulf, may I have a word with you?”
Wulf nodded slowly. “Aeowyn, perhaps we can postpone the ride until this evening.”
“Yes…of course.” She was startled by the anxious glint in Glenweld’s eye, but she answered graciously. “I will be in my room. Come and tell me when you’re finished, Wulf.”
Wrapped in the stillness of her own chambers, Aeowyn paced the width of her balcony nervously. Twelve steps, and then a turn. Her sandaled feet made no sound, for her step was light and swift. The only noise was the soft sweep, magnified a thousand times by the silence round about, of her flowing gown against the stone pavers. Time crept by slowly…ever so slowly…and still, Wulf did not come.
What has happened, Aeowyn whispered to herself. Why does Wulf not come…Why this fear, tugging at my heart? It was not her uncle’s abrupt interruption that impressed her that something was amiss. His request to speak privately with Wulf seemed natural enough. Especially since Wulf was acting as regent during the months of their father’s absence. But though reason strove to reassure her, it could not quell the fear in Aeowyn’s heart. Gradually, the sun took on that grim, dull hue that comes before a summer storm. The rough, harsh cry of a lonely crow rasped on Aeowyn’s nerves. A fly buzzed noisily on the ground. Twelve steps. Turn.
A knock boomed loud and hollow in the stillness of the room. Cold swept through the suddenly-darkened chamber as Aeowyn went swiftly to open the door.
Wulf and Aeowyn stood for a long moment, enveloped in silence. There was something in her brother’s face – a flash in his eye that was stronger than anger, deeper than fear – that Aeowyn could not penetrate. Her steps echoed as she turned toward the open window, hoping that perhaps the sun would reappear. It did not. The sky remained grey. Forbidding.
“Aeowyn…there’s something I have to tell you,” began Wulf, haltingly, “…only…”
“What’s happened to father, Wulf?”
Wulf looked up sharply at his sister, who replied to his glance with a twisted smile; something between a grin and a grimace.
“You never could hide anything from me, even when we were little.” The knot in her throat tightened, until she felt she could not breathe. “Tell me what happened, Wulf.”
“Father left two months ago to arrange some matters in Cairn Duides, near the Turambur border; this much you knew already. He left a detachment there to complete the transactions and started back. Before he left, he told me…” Wulf very nearly broke down, but he steadied himself for his sister’s sake. “He wanted to be back in time for your birthday, tomorrow. It was going to be a surprise.” Again, the crow outside the window gave its gravelly cry.
“And…?” she said. Her face had paled like death, but her voice was steady, and the hand that gripped his did not tremble.
Still Wulf hesitated.
“Wulf, just tell me. Please.”
“Aeowyn, father was attacked in the forest of Melor. The bodies of nineteen men were found, scattered over the ground. His was not among them. Glenweld says that it is likely that father was taken…south.”
Meeting his gaze with steel grey eyes, Aeowyn grew paler; but still she did not tremble.
“We must face it, Aeyno,” Wulf said grimly, his own face set and hard with grief, “it is not likely…The chance of them ever returning out of that – that cursed land — is very slim.”
In a daze, Aeowyn nodded slowly.
“I understand,” she said, her voice unnaturally strained and high.
Wulf paced the terrace in agitation. Finally he stopped directly before her. “Aeyno, we have one chance to get him back. They cannot have reached the border yet. If we ride hard today, we might reach Melor’s Pass first. Their numbers will not count against us in the narrows. We have a chance. We must have a chance.”
Suddenly everything became clear. The whirling vortex of the last twenty minutes lifted. Her brother’s jaw, set in determination…his eyes blazing with that indescribable flame…everything stood out to Aeowyn in sharp relief. Slowly she nodded.
“I understand,” she repeated. “I’ll help you pack. You need to leave within the hour if you hope to reach the pass by dawn.” She squeezed her brother’s hand, hard, and swiftly left the room.
The steady, rhythmic pound of twenty-two sets of hoof beats going over the bridge echoed up the cliff, sounding even above the thundering falls. Less than an hour had elapsed since the interview related above, and Wulf had ridden off moments ago, with twenty warriors, an extra horse, and a grim countenance. And Aeowyn was left to wait. Again. I know that this is the woman’s part, and I would not have it otherwise. But it is so hard sometimes, just sitting here, not knowing. With some surprise, she realized that she had not had her daily ride yet. Could it really have been just this morning that she and Wulf had been laughing in the early summer sunshine? It seemed so long ago now.
“Ahern,” she called to the aged man who was the master of the horses at the palace. He had held this position ever since Aeowyn’s grandfather was a boy, and Aeowyn could hardly remember a time when the little old man had not been shorter than herself. Although, she reasoned with a wry grin, he is bent almost double from age. Perhaps in his youth he was taller.
“Ahern, saddle my horse, please.”
Once in the saddle, the pent-up tension within her heart began to relax. The breeze that flowed over her, lifting her hair off her face and neck, seemed also to sweep away the strain she had sustained over the last few hours. It was as if, in the familiar motion of her grey mare, Aeowyn was able to face the reality of her father’s capture at last. Not that the danger of the situation was lessened by any extent – but she was no longer afraid to look it in the eye. And, when she saw it thus laid bare, Aeowyn felt that it was both greater than she had hoped and lesser than she feared.
It was one of those beautiful, warm summer nights. A handful of brilliant stars pricked the velvety blue-black of the sky, but the moon hid behind a distant mountain, stubbornly refusing to light the way for Wulf and his followers. Perhaps it was just as well, for Wulf’s party could only hope to win the impending skirmish by element of surprise. And the darkness made no difference to the horses, for they were as agile on their slender legs as mountain deer. Wulf and his followers allowed their mounts to pick their own way, only guiding them when a look at the stars told them to change course.
Within ten hours of setting forth, the party gained the Pass of Melor. Wulf swung from his saddle and knelt next to the path. Carefully, almost tenderly, his hand swept over the earth, reading the signs left by former travelers.
A tall, curly-haired warrior struck a light and held it down to the ground, shielding the tiny flame with his hand.
“What do you think, sir?”
Wulf took the match and examined the ground thoroughly, his grey eyes catching every detail that his skilled hand had missed.
“They have not passed this way yet, Iain. The men of Turambur are heavy-footed, and there must be a large number of them if they overcame my father’s troop. The only creatures that have trod this road since the last rain were two deer, a skunk, and a family of raccoons.” He looked up, scanning the rocky walls of the pass.
“Duines, take the horses to the north side of the mountain, and fasten them there. Or stay – let Durien go,” Wulf corrected himself, thinking that perhaps he might spare the lad the sight and danger of the coming conflict. Durien was only fifteen years old, and had never yet seen a battle. “Durien, stay with them and keep them calm. If they make so much as a sound, our plan shall fail.” The boy nodded eagerly and did as he was bidden.
“All right, then, men. It will be arrows first, for they are silent and deadly, and we may hope to rid ourselves of a few opponents before the others take alarm. Try to pick off those around my father. I hardly need tell you to be careful not to hit him. When I give the signal, rush down upon them with your swords. Iain and I will make for my father; the rest of you hold off the main body. Do not try to overcome them by force, their numbers are too great for us. Just make enough of a diversion for Iain and me to release my father. When we have him, I will sound retreat. Once in the rocks, they will have no chance of overtaking us. We will make for Durien and the horses, and ride for the cover of the forest.
“Duines, you and Arnoc station yourselves on either side of the entrance of the pass. When you see them coming, raise one hand. Iain, take half the men and range them against the north side. The rest of you, follow me.”
In a matter of seconds the warriors melted into the shadows and all settled down to wait for the approaching battle.
The stars had traveled a three hours’ journey in the black sky. Far from putting the men off their guard, every passing minute only served to increase the high-strung tension in the air. Suddenly, the silhouettes of two hands blocked out the whiteness of the stars. Every man put arrow on string and waited, tensely.
Though Wulf could hear the steady tramp of their feet, it seemed like an eternity before the first line of Turamburs entered the narrow pass. He noted with satisfaction that only three men marched abreast. That meant that he and Iain would only have to deal with one man apiece before they reached his father.
Wulf began counting the lines of marching soldiers: seventeen…eighteen…nineteen… there were more men than he had counted on. But wait! There was his father, riding blindfolded between two guards with his powerful hands tied behind his back. Wulf drew his bow to the ear and sighted down the shaft. Fifteen years of forest training had sharpened his senses to precision. He knew that ten more seconds would bring his father directly below him.
An instant before he released the bowstring, however, the unthinkable happened. A startling howl-like noise rose from the north side of the pass, drawing the attention of every one of the Turamburs. What happened? Who among my men dared give away our cover? Wulf recovered his coolness of mind quickly, and released his shaft, felling the man closest to his father. Twenty other arrows sped out of the darkness silently, seeking their marks. Only five found them – already the Turamburs had lifted their great horny shields and raised a shout of alarm.
Knowing that to wait longer would only give the Turamburs more time to organize themselves, Wulf raised the battle cry and leaped down the rock face. Two of the Turambur soldiers anticipated his move and stepped in to meet him. In an instant, all was in confusion; shouts and clanging metal, men appearing from behind every rock. For a time, it seemed as though Wulf and his followers might have a chance, despite their disadvantage. But then, as the enemy soldiers outside the pass realized what was happening, they too joined the melee. Iain made his way to where Wulf stood battling his father’s guards.
“My lord,” he shouted, “the battle is turning against us – their numbers are too great! We must turn back now!”
Wulf glanced around him, and in his heart he knew his companion was right. But a fierce wildness had taken hold of him, one that pushed back all rational thoughts; and though he vaguely felt that this strange sensation was dangerous, he found with surprise that he did not want to subdue it.
“I can almost reach him, Iain! Can you hold them off for another two minutes?”
Wulf turned back to his opponents with redoubled fury. A final slash, and he was through to his father.
“Father! Hold on for another minute – be ready to run when I shout!” He drew a dagger from his boot and began sawing through the bonds. It was taking far longer than he had bargained for. There! One layer of rope snapped, and he went to work on the second, but already it was too late. Too many of his men were down, and the Turamburs were pouring into the narrow pass at an alarming rate. Wulf reached up to yank away his father’s blindfold, thinking that he might run with his hands still tied. As his hand came away with the scrap of cloth, the ground seemed to exchange places with the starry sky, and everything went black.