•¤†¤• Chapter Two •¤†¤•
The moon hung heavily in the night sky as the owl looked down into the forest. She espied a young hobbit frantically hammering the door of a small wooden hut. Immediately beneath the owl ,the night creatures were gliding towards the little hobbit making such a noise that they could wake the dead. The owl hooted in the night sky to see if a mate was within calling distance. Receiving no response she started to preen her wing with her beak, keeping clean was always a priority in this season. The hobbit below pounded with his fist again on the door of the wooden hut. In that instant the owl heard the clicking chatter of a bat, she could not see it, but could guess where he was from the frequency of his chatter. The bat scythed through the night air with impossible ease, catching small prey floating in the breeze. She looked below; those creatures were still passing underneath, and scaring away any chance of a midnight snack of rabbit or other small mammal. It was times like this that she instinctively required to release the day’s collected waste, and this was no different from any other time. As she looked down, the mess she had caused to one of the creatures was simply casually ignored as they continued underfoot. They were closing in on the the hobbit now, and she could see that the hobbit had almost resigned himself that he would also be a tasty morsel for his pursuers. He pounded on the door of the hut again, Westron words screamed in an urgent way from his throat- it was clear all of this commotion had scared away her prey. This neck of the woods however was her haunting ground, her marked territory, that she fiercely guarded and she would not be giving this up because of a few minutes of commotion- she was far too wise for that.
She was a wise old bird, not as young as some, but still of chick bearing years, though her mate had died last spring. The noise of the crashing creatures assaulted her senses and hurt her delicate hearing. The Hobbit appeared to start to hunch and looked as though he was about to collapse. The owl started preening her other wing, trying to keep a close eye on the events being played out before her beady eyes. There was a flash of amber as the door opened- the sight of fire streaking through the night sky always caused her to shudder. “Stupid humans” the owl thought, “they should not walk through the woods at night. Twit twoo, human twit” Still preening her wing she watched the creatures reach the hut and gather together in a huddle as though waiting for a signal. They stood together for some time; she was transfixed, waiting to see what would happen next.
So intent was the owl watching the events below, stretching all her senses in the direction of the small hut, she failed sense the rock until it came hurtling towards her. With the thump the rock found its’ target and all went dark...
“Yes, my dear” said the old woman, as she stirred the pot of bubbling broth, “this should taste rather nice, owl does have a certain flavour to it”...
The wind whistled through the trees, no sound of birdsong could be heard. The Dark Lane was silent.
"The Old Oak"
During his long slumber, the ancient Oak had rarely roused. Time simply passed him by, as the long unending years wove around him. His boughs rustled in the breeze, and fragile cobwebs that hung from them precariously strained against the force of the wind. He was conscious, though not aware of all around him as though he was sleep walking through time. His long memory stretched back over countless years, back to the time when his kind were active, when Illuvatar and the Ainur first breathed life into the world. He dreamed of those long memories, imprinted on the ancient wrinkles in his bark. That was the time when Ents walked the forests speaking to their flock, and the Elves took residence in the forests of the world; preserving and nurturing the beauty around them. Sadly, things were different now. The Ents had long since left his forest, driven away or burnt in the destruction that fuelled inexorable expansion by the denizens of Middle-Earth. The whispering chatter of his slumbering kin hinted that his kin were a shadow of their former self, decimated by the genocide that his kind had suffered. There were few now left as old as he. The elves had named him “Derw” long ago when they tip-toed under his boughs, respecting flora and fauna; each blade of grass sacred in the canons of their beliefs. There was a time where he could communicate to his thoughts to the shepherds of the forest, the Ents, where he could spend a long age conversing about the beauty of life and scent of the newly formed Dawn. Day and Night, Sight and Sound, were muted now, blanketed by the half waking dream through which he sleep walked as time marched on.
He could vaguely sense that it was night; during the day he could feel the sun bathe him in its warm aura. Even when a bough or branch would break, it felt no more than a little tap beating in his consciousness. One of the fallen branches crackled out through the night air as it was stepped on by one of the night creatures in pursuit of their quarry. He neither sensed nor cared what was happening, he was slumbering his deep dream of endless time. He felt a tap which stung his consciousness, like a tap of someone trying to rouse him from his ancient slumber. It persisted until he felt it constantly sting him, slowly drawing from slumber to the world around him. The pain was increasing in ferocity and frequency, a rhythmic beat penetrating his senses and awakening him as the pain increased. Derw was aware that he was under attack, but unable to anything about it. The pain grew in intensity, as inwardly he screamed, a silent scream which no one now could hear. The pain was unbearable now and all his being screamed out in pain as his life was being severed at its source. His whole consciousness shook and shuddered under the strain of the pain, as his sap bled weeping tears.
The old woman stoked the fire, in readiness to add more wood to keep the embers burning. “Yes my dear,” cackled the old woman, “it is nice and cosy, and warm. Firewood burns so easily nowadays”
The wind spiralled through the forest. The wind break that once towered strong was now merely a gap between the trees. The Dark Lane was silent.
“You mistake my vernacular dear,” remarked Amelia, “I mean you should find more constructive things to do with your time” “If the sisters are gathering then I will join them” Amelia sighed “Sisters are doing it for themselves, or rather they should be” Mistress could be heard gently snoring in her comfy chair, the dancing embers of flames cackled as Amelia giggled to herself knowing that this socially inferior creature did not even understand what she was saying. “As I was saying”, Amelia continued “you really do need to preen yourself more dear, you look like a sewer rat” “I am what I am” replied Cathy Uncivilised and filthy, no class or decorum, mistress will soon tire of the wretch Amelia thought. “Anyways pretty cat I am off now, I will see you later Amy. Oh, Amy?” “Yes” replied Amelia flatly, continuing to preen her beautiful coat “You really should get out more, you know, experience the thrill and smells of the night, sing with us and fight, try to catch bats in flight…” Cathy was rudely interrupted “When I want to demean myself by entertaining the company of lower feline species I am sure that I will be suffering from dementia. If I wanted to smell like a sewer I would bathe in it like you and your filthy kind. If I wanted to caterwaul like an uncouth kitty then I am sure that someone would have scooped out half of my brain. If I wanted to look as tatty as a ball of fur that has been gathering cobwebs and ridden with fleas then I would be as dead as a dormouse” Cathy was particularly taken aback by the cattiness of Amelia de Ville, but had come to recognise that she was probably very jealous of her, Cathy was of course the top cat in these parts and no-one would dare challenge her authority. Amelia sniffed the air and remarked, “Hmm smells as though the hunt is on tonight Cathy, well I hope you have fun with your little sewer friends”
Cathy simply turned her back on Amelia and walked in the direction of the door and its’ specially designed cat flap, she turned her head to look directly at Amelia, “Are you sure you are not coming Amy?” Amelia de Ville simply turned her nose up at Cathy and continued preening her beautiful coat. Cathy remarked, “Why do you preen yourself? I reminds me of something mistress often says, “Keeping her face in a jar by the door… who is it for?””. Amelia simply continued to preen herself. At that moment just as Cathy was waiting for a response from Amelia, mistress stirred from her light slumber and woke up with a start. Stretching awake, mistress in one swift motion kicked her right foot in the direction of Cathy Cat, who was startled by the sudden movement and bolted out through the cat flap, her ears back, eyes wide and hair standing on end. “Get out you mangy cat", shouted mistress after her. Amelia de Ville purred and licked her left paw, staring knowingly at mistress as she awaited mistress’ prompt to jump on her lap. Mistress beckoned in the usual way "Come here my little pretty”, and Amelia jumped into her lap purring loudly to feign her appreciation. “What will I do without you Amelia de Ville?” said mistress in a warm, kind tone of voice, all the while softly stroking the beautiful coat of her favourite pet. “What would I do if you ever ran away or grew old; I would miss the touch of your beautiful fur” “I have a wonderful idea…” said mistress and Amelia knew she was in for a treat...
“Yes she is quite cosy”, remarked the old woman in dulcet tones, “she is always curled up by the fire like that this time in the evening” On her lap, the old woman stroked a beautiful coat of perfectly preened fur, the form she was stroking sat upright and motionless. "I had this one stuffed because she was useless and never caught rats, but I do like the touch of her fur” said the old woman The other cat by the fire had straggly hair and was somewhat unkempt.
Cathy Cat stalked her midnight prey, padded footsteps oblivious to the dormouse nibbling on a piece of fruit dropped from a nearby fallen tree. No midnight animals could be heard, no sound of bird or call of any of her sisters. The Dark Lane was silent.
•¤†¤• Chapter Five •¤†¤• "The Mother" Dawn seemed reluctant to shake off the shackles of night and soar above the rim of the world, and when it did, the rays it sent spinning across Middle-Earth were bitter and pallid. Dawn moved swiftly on, stretching her long fingers of light through the streets bathing them first in a deep red glow, and then bleeding to amber. Through her bedroom window Rebecca felt the first warming rays caress her cheeks, and delicately whisper the first murmurs of a warming sunrise. She looked across her bedroom; a cage of light and shadow danced on the wall, filtered by the cloth curtains that hung loosely from the window frames. She was young at heart, but not of body. Her mind was always in with her beloved, who had gone to war many months before. She was looking after their three children alone. Each of her children acted as a form of crutch, each of them propping her up when the weight seemed too heavy to bear. Her youngest, Bow Bangles, was always the first of her children to rise; she would already be preparing the morning breakfast of cheese, ham, cornflower seeds and milk for the rest of the family. Bow generally helped her mother to tidy the house, and tend to some of the crops in the small holding that the family owned in the town square allotment. Bow was generally too young to actively help to support the family by her own endeavours and supported her mother whenever possible. Rebecca loved her dearly and she always felt uneasy that her daughter was far too mature for her natural years- innocence had been ripped from her heart before she had the opportunity to enjoy her childhood.
Her middle child, Medwyn Maleciss, had always been a disruptive child. Always rebelling, even from a very young age, Medwyn always was the child who was fighting in school or generally getting himself into trouble with his teachers; he always looked as though he had been dragged backwards through a hedge when he came home. Medwyn had also grown in a very short space of time and Rebecca was proud of her son. Medwyn spent his time gathering the precious white berries in the heart of the wood- he had a certain knack of being able to find the elusive berries which were highly prized by the local apothecaries and herb traders in the town marketplace. Medwyn was effectively a man by military standards, but to her son, he was still her little boy- he was soon to be drafted into the military campaign on his next birthday. Her eldest child, Herbert Hannigan, had suffered from a club foot ever since his birth, but this had caused few him problems in the way of mobility. He was nearly seventeen years old, easily reckoned an adult by the military, but because of his disability deemed unfit to serve in the army ranks. He was an adept hunter, able to use a catapult to shoot prey one hundred yards distance away from him, and well respected in the marketplace. Rebecca’s two eldest children’s produce, together with their small holding of vegetables in the allotment meant that their family always had a surplus of food available for meal times, and considering the general economic situation, their family lived quite comfortably. The surplus of what the family caught and produced was sold in the town marketplace to provide a comfortable standard of living for the family.
As she stretched her arms to wash away the raiment of slumber; she knew that this day would be the same as any other- but still, she had her family around her and knew that they loved her dearly. Rebecca nonchalantly picked up her gown and placed it about her shoulders, the chill of dawn still lingered on latch of her bedroom door as the shock of its touch stung her fingers as she depressed the handle. She walked down the bedroom stairs, the old floorboards gently sighing under her weight. Her shadow danced on the wall and followed her like a ghostly familiar. “Good morning Bow” yawned Rebecca as she sat down at the breakfast table “Good morning mother,” replied Bow, “would you like a drink?” Mother and daughter conversed a while about the day’s chores ahead and Medwyn tentatively pushed open the door, his gait revealing that he may not have had a full night’s sleep. “Look at the rings under your eyes Medwyn”, rebuked Rebecca “what were you doing last night? You know you will have to gather as many berries as you can today if we are to stand any chance in the competition. You spend too many hours with your friends- they do not have to rise as early as our family. You really should know better.” “Err, yes Mum” murmured Medwyn, wiping sleep from his eyes, “it won’t happen again” “If I had a penny for every time I have heard you say that Medwyn I would be able to afford to buy a pig!” said Rebecca slightly rising her voice in an effort to rouse her son. Medwyn simply dropped his head in his heads and yawned loudly.
As the folds of night recoiled from Medwyn, like the wave of an ocean of awakening, his senses started to clearly focus rather than be clouded in a misty haze of tiredness. His mother said to him “I hear that young Tabatha Bridges has been missing since yesterday, she was last known to have been playing in the woods before sunset” “Yes I heard that too” remarked Medwyn, relatively disinterested in the line of conversation “I am sure that she will turn up- she is probably hiding to get attention- you know what she is like mother” “Medwyn…” his mother smiled as she poured milk over her cornflower and fruit breakfast, “yes for her age, considering that I bore Herbert at her age, she does act like a little child. I cannot believe that she still carries that old tatty teddy bear with a missing ear around with her, even to the marketplace when she is running errands” The conversation continued on. Herbert sat down at the table as the family discussed the usual breakfast banter. Motivating himself to start the new day as though it was really a new day, unlike any other day when he had collected berries, Medwyn smiled at his mother and said “I will collect more white berries today than Silas or Trent- just watch me! And I will win the prize! I will win roast hog for the family mother, just watch me!” “I really hope you do son” his mother replied with a strained smile across her careworn face “Just remember not to linger too long in the woods please, you have heard the stories” “Mother!” replied Medwyn “I will be fine”
Rebecca handed her son his satchel to hold his precious white berries. She had packed it with a selection of two cheeses, some ham, bread and a flask of elderflower juice to keep him refreshed throughout the day. “Your luncheon is in your satchel Medwyn, and do remember it is getting much darker now Winter is nearly upon us” “Thanks mother” said Medwyn, affectionately kissing his mother on her cheek. Rebecca then waved goodbye to her son. She always watched him walk to the bottom of the street before he turned out of sight, and as he did so, a sharp gust of cold wind whipped up and the iciness bit at the tips of her nose, neck and collarbone. Instinctively she drew her gown closer around her to shield her from the penetrating cold.
……………………………………………………… ……………………………………………………… The old woman glared at the teddy bear resting on her mantelpiece. “Yes” said the old woman “it is strange how I have never thrown that tatty old thing away, I can’t even seem to recall why it only has one ear” She stared at the young man in front of her, who was still pale with shock and did not completely digest what she had said. “Do not worry my dear, all will be well” ……………………………………………………… ………………………………………………………
The wind of winter wound his horn and whistled through the tall towers of green with boughs of hanging blades. On the floor lay a satchel, with dozens of white berries strewn around, some trampled underfoot. The Dark Lane was silent.
•¤†¤• Chapter Six •¤†¤• "Emily”
The muted glow of the emerging dawn bathed the horizon in deep amber, and then faded imperceptibly, into a garish haze shimmering beyond the confines of the world.
Dawn streamed through the iron bars of her window, penetrating the confines of her darkness, dancing like a cage of light and shadow on the walls. As the shadows retreated into their daylight slumber, she awoke from her deep sleep. Flickering flames wove their shadowy dances like transient memories lost somewhere in time, as the first glimmers of consciousness spirited her senses to awaken.
Emily Shawfane looked at him. Her searing hatred had long since subsided into a stoical acceptance of her numbing confinement. She discerned that his heart was fragile, like the fractured beauty of the brittle dawn.
Today the usual chores would be her lot. Another ordinary, nothing day.
Time had etched its’ time on her, bleached the suppleness of her bones, now arthritic and decaying with age.
He was still sleeping, a gentle murmur sounding from his lips.
She smelt the subtle fragrance of the pink orchids on her bedside table, a brief scent of heaven in the awakening gloom.
“How are you, this fine morning?”
She turned with a start, finding that he was awake. Emily said nothing, merely sighed and prepared herself to rise to attend to her chores.
Dimly lit, although to him it was a beacon of hope in the tapestry of night, the warm comfort of the small hut rallied his soul.
“Yes”, said the Emily calmly “You will be safe now”
“I really must find a way to get home” he said.
“All in good time” was the reply
The night arched over the crippled day, casting its fingers of darkness into the hollows of the brittle towers of grey. It penetrated through the woods, casting night’s deathly shadow over the footpath. The wind whipped up leaves into the air like a wave of a friable ocean.
This day would not be the same as any other Emily had experienced.
The Dark Lane was silent.
•¤†¤• Chapter Seven •¤†¤•
Darkness penetrated the deep of the cave. He was conscious as though sleep walking through an endless nightmare. His consciousness numbed, his senses muted, he followed instinct now and was lead by the wolf-pack mentality which characterised his existence.
In a former life he was known as Estrayal, but those memories were hidden so deep now; he could vaguely sense their whisperings in his mind’s eye. Imagery of darkness informed his being, and once in a while whilst sleeping in the dark depths of his dreamless sleep, glimpses of a former life quickly sparked into his consciousness- it was quickly extinguished by his waking nightmare.
As nocturnal creatures slowly rose from daylight slumber, their woodland noises echoed through the forest. Estrayal was no different. The shadows of his former life melted away as instinct daggered his heart, consumed his being. All he knew was to feed. No other thoughts drifted into his mind’s vacuum.
Daylight hurt his eyes, and the moon’s rays in the night sky were no different to him. He did not rely on sight anymore and had long since lost the ability to focus in his instinctive malaise. The soft murmur of rustling leaves echoed in the distance as the guttural signs that his brethren were awakening pierced through the leafy lullaby.
As their moans clamoured and grew in cadence, a song of decaying menace rose in night sky, blurry stars imprinted on the tapestry of night like a memory of a long forgotten yesterday. An augury of crescendoing clamour, a portent of the last few breaths of life being slowly drained.
Instinctively his limbs swayed as the moans increased in pitch and tone, as the opening buds of a flower glimpsing the first rays of a dark dawn, his being was awakening. He did not control his reactions. His was not a brute intellect. His fibre was consumed by instinct- no other rationale or motive accentuated his actions.
Time ticked as though an endless pendulum had swung and stuck in place like a guillotine unable to perform its headless blow by being trapped in the threads of a timeless web. Meandering through time, he had no concept of this, or of life, or of death, nor of beauty or hate, light or dark, instinct breathed life into a being consumed by death as though his actions reflected a rigor mortis reflex to his being.
No soul, no waking conscience, no reason, no purpose other than an instinct to feed resonated through him- an instinct shared by a dozen or so trapped souls as their guttural calls of awakening shattered the brittle beauty of the fractured Estelhedin night.
Seemingly with no purpose they staggered into the night, making enough noise to wake the dead. The only sense they could rely on was smell, as the sweet scent of life called to them carried on the putrid night breeze. Such a scent breathed a fetid life into an otherwise vacant soul.
Shimmering, flashes of previous lives somehow broke through and seared his fervour, not long enough for a rational though to penetrate the shroud of instinct that informed his being.
The swoon of a feeding frenzy bloodied his sight as hunter tracked down its prey, guttural calls swarming the stillness of night.
The old woman opened the door.
“Come in my dears” said the old woman menacingly, “there is someone here you should meet.....”
To all else he was blind, turning death into this art, as the pounding in his mind beat in rhythm with his heart.
The Dark Land was silent.
•¤†¤• Chapter Eight •¤†¤•
“The Whisperings of the Winding Wind”
As the night drew in she gently caresses him, whispers in his ear a watchword of warning. As daylight embers die on the horizon, all She can do is remind him with reserved repose as she had done many times before.
As enlightenment streaks through his consciousness, She is silenced as the stillness of the gloom gradually descends like a blanket of awakening. She is muted by the gradual unease he feels in the approaching night. He is not cognisant of Her presence.
As the sense of disquiet builds in his mind, a nervous excitement sparks life to his limbs and nudges him forward along the lane. She is a sense he feels very much as a past tense, her message shrouded in the morass of exited emotion.
As the strain on his muscles burn warmth to his body, She bites at the tips of his ears and nose to remind him of the cold breath of the night. He is unaware of Her consternation, oblivious to Her as the silence of Her whisperings fall on deaf ears. He soldiers on through the darkening presence of night, as she prays a prey’s lament, drifting through the tall trunks of green.
A crack fractures the leafy lullaby. She holds her breath in fright, aware that Her calm counsel has had no effect, that on this night her whisperings will not avail him as silence thus descends.
He stands rooted to the spot. Fear binds him like prey too terrified to bolt from the jaws of certain death. Fear shatters his heart.
As terror shudders down his spine she urges palpably to breathe courage into his madness. She urges him to filter some semblance of rationality into the darkness of his emotions, to urge his spirit to wriggle free from the paralysing fear.
She spirits the image of horror into his mind’s eye, of an outcome that would rip out his heart. Rationalisation breathes into his consciousness, and mixes with his paralysing emotions. He bolts onward with the fury of fear and flight of survival.
“The wind does often quiet down about this time”, cackled the old woman “it is as if it is saying “It’s the calm before the storm””
She stared out of her window, her brow furrowed, concern lining her face.
She howled through the tall trunks of trees snapping all that stood in her way, her fury flurried in a deathly dance of turbulence and force. She continued on passing through the forest boughs, her violence dissipating so soon as it had arrived as She sighed over the edge of the hill.