Scars: Chapter 1 -Darkness Follows


She had reached the Black Gate. Dark clouds rushed across the sky, driven by a parching wind, but now and then they broke apart and revealed the gibbous moon. By its light she could make out what lay before her, and all hope remaining was quenched. High cliffs upon both sides, and ahead were two sheer hills, blacked-boned and bare. They were the Teeth of Mordor, two towers strong and tall, and they were not left unguarded. They teemed with Orcs, sleepless with eyes watching everywhere.

     Her fingers sought and found the gash where the blood still seeped through her sleeve. All her other injuries, the bruises and grazes she had amassed during her wild flight in the darkness, were nothing compared to this. She felt pressure, as if a heavy stone lay on her arm and beneath it the dagger was still piercing, digging deeper and deeper. So strange how painful such a simple metal could be, she thought.

     She must not. She must not become as one of them. But she would have to address her disquiet on the matter in a safer place. First she had to find a way to pass through the gate. She glanced up at the Black Gate and frowned as a grim thought came to mind, but she quickly abandoned it. To climb the Black Gate was no wise choice, nor would she dare make the attempt.

     A faint noise filled her ears, pulling her from her thoughts. Turning, she looked ahead and was uncertain whether to be joyous or fearful. She ducked behind the nearest sarsen. Haradrim, two hundred strong at least, were marching towards the Black Gate, each row carrying one lit torch. They remained far and it would take some time for them to arrive at the Gate, and thankfully the glow of their torches helped her discern the pace of their approach. She still had some time, but she would have to be swift to act. Blending with the Haradrim may be her sole chance of escaping, and it was a chance burdened with many a risk. But she had come this far and she would not give into her doubts. She had to be free, even should death take her in the effort. And if so, she would lie on soft, green grass. But she feared what might become of her.

     No! It would not happen. She would fight the darkness as long as she still drew breath.

     She had little enough to disguise herself, but what she had would serve her well. She shrugged off her cloak and examined it. It was long and the fabric thin and the grey dye had mostly faded, but in the twilight it was black as nightfall itself. It would hide her well and even if it did not, her garments were black to match the Haradrim’s and would scarcely be noticed. Her hood could be wrapped about her head in such a way as to resemble their veiled faces. The gold jewelry she wore would serve to make such a mask convincing.

     Her eyes drifted to the distance. The lights of their torches still glowed dimly and the sound of their footsteps faintly reached her ears. She lowered her eyes to her hands, and for a moment she stood there in silence as shadows filled her mind. Then she shook her head, breaking herself from her trance quickly. She donned the jewelry and then draped the cloak about her head so it covered all but her eyes. With a sigh her eyes closed and she leaned heavily against the stone. The events of the past days were at last beginning to weary her body, and weighed heavily upon her.

     She moved her hands to adjust her veil, but stopped when she felt a lump within the fabric. She furrowed her brow. With care, she pulled it out without disturbing her disguise. It was a piece of parchment. She immediately recognized the order requesting her to slay an enemy. The order was from her lieutenant—the last she was given before her imprisonment. She had seen it before but had forgotten about it when she was taken away as a prisoner in Barad-dûr. Rankling as the sight was to her eyes, she was smiling. Not only could she disguise herself as one of the Haradrim but she could pose as a messenger as well, a commander of the Haradrim host, even.

     As far as the guards in the towers knew, she was a figure of authority over a host of Haradrim seeking passage through the Black Gate, with a mission to execute for their Master. It would be granted to her. That would be her advantage. But with it came a risk of being unveiled as a deceiver.

     Readjusting her head garb, she tucked away her hair so it only flowed down her back. Thankfully, her hair was dark enough to make the disguise believable. She looked back at the marching host one last time before sliding out of hiding. Bearing what little hope she had, she strode forward to the tall and looming Black Gate and gazed at the Teeth of Mordor, its towers just as tall and strong.

     In her best Harad accent she yelled to the towers above, “Open the Gate! We are to go through!”

     She did not have to wait long for an Orc to peer over the parapet. He snarled down at her. “Who demands it?” He was larger than the rest of the Orcs and wore heavier armor, staring at her with black, piercing eyes.

     “A messenger sent by the Master himself,” she called back. “I lead a host.” She gestured behind her shoulder at the marching warriors advancing to the Gate. The words were like poison on her lips, but she contained herself.

     The Orc sneered and turned to another next to him and spoke in the Black Language, which she understood, however much she loathed it. After he finished speaking, the Orc he spoke to growled.

     “Do not just stand there! Go down, maggot!” the commander barked. His bright, evil eyes scanned the messenger. “This one is suspicious I say…”

     The Orc grunted and begrudgingly did as he was bid.

     Her heart began to beat rapidly. She quickly recovered herself and stood as straight and tall as the Orc in front of her, and hoped her eyes betrayed no fear.

     “Where is your order?” he demanded.

     She was grateful for the parchment in her possession. Without hesitation, she retrieved it and held it out for the Orc.

     He snatched it from her hand and gazed at it before giving her another look. “Wait here.”

     The Orc returned to his superior. Her attention was drawn to the marching Haradrim. They were closer now, and continued to draw even closer, faster in pace than she remembered. Or mayhap it was the fear in her heart making it look so? But the bright flare of their torches confirmed her fears. They would soon be at the Black Gate, and upon a glance at the tower, she saw no sign that the Gate was about to open.

     She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. They would see. The Haradrim would see upon arrival that she was not one of them. Her face was unmarked, bearing no punctures of black-hued ink. They would see her hair draped down her back and would think it odd, and they would push back her veil. She knew, for she had seen plenty of inspections of Haradrim take place to know what they would look for, and the first appearance to reveal her deceit would be her pale skin. She might pass muster in the dark, but as soon as they shone a torch in her face, they would know all.

     “Open the Gate!”

     Her attention was brought back to the tower. Before she could register what had been said, a great noise filled the air. It echoed so terribly loud that it hurt her ears, and it took great effort to not cringe. The Orc who had demanded to see her order approached her and returned the parchment. He bid her no fair look before returning to the tower. She gave no regard to him and raised her head. Her heart leapt.

     The noise was coming from the Black Gate, as its blackened walls slowly parted from each other. Relief flooded her. Was it true? She had no time to dwell in her thoughts. The marching of the Haradrim no longer was a mere, faint sound. The noise came to an abrupt stop and the Gate in front of her stood open. She blinked once, then again, looking ahead. But the sounds of the marching Haradrim quickly withdrew her from the haze she was beginning to enter, and she took her first step.

     At first, it was a small step, slow and cautious. She feared that, despite her success at fooling the Orcs, they would suddenly see her disguise. Or worse, the Haradrim behind would recognize her. But neither happened, and she was soon walking away from the Black Gate as it grew smaller in the distance.

     And then she ran.

By Aelineth