Disclaimer: From this point on I will be referring to Middle-earth and many familiar characters from both the Silmarillion and LOTR, therefore I should now state that I own none of Tolkien’s original characters or concepts. All other characters and the basic plotline belong to me.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldiers knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
From: The Charge of the Light Brigade
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The bedside lamp cast a muted glow over the face of the woman lying pale and still on the hospital bed. One small hand lay over the sheets and rested on the counterpane, but was not unmarked. Major Gary Matthews could see, even from where he was standing, that it had been scored by long sharp branches during her haphazard flight of terror out of one of the more deserted areas in the Forest of Dean.
She had stumbled into the village of Whitecroft at the southern end of the forest in an extreme state of shock and practically incoherent. Unable to make any sense out of her hysterical tale, the police had then taken her to Lydney for hospital treatment prior to proper questioning. She currently lay in a small side ward with a police constable sitting outside the door.
“How is she?” Gary kept his voice low since it was only three in the morning and most of the hospital was asleep. The corridors were softly lit and silent. Only those staff unfortunate enough to be on night duty occasionally made an appearance walking with soft footfalls.
Detective Inspector Alun Davis, who had been waiting for the British Army representative who was also the Adjutant of Sergeant Freeman’s unit to arrive, spoke in soft tones. “She’s not badly hurt. More bumps and bruises than bad injuries, but she is in shock so they’ve given her a sedative. She’s mostly been asleep since they did that.”
Gary sighed heavily. “Do we know what happened to her?”
Davis shook his head. “Apart from the hysterical garbage she was spouting about monsters in the woods killing the instructor which nobody could untangle, we haven’t been able to make head nor tail of her story. We were hoping to get some sort of statement when she regains consciousness.”
The quiet of the dim hospital corridor was momentarily disrupted by the clatter of an operating theatre trolley being pushed by an orderly and accompanied by a nurse with a clipboard. Gary assumed that they were fetching someone to theatre. He and Davis moved out of the way and the nurse smiled at them in thanks.
“Is there anywhere we can talk quietly, preferably without being disturbed?” Gary queried.
Davis nodded and gestured back along the corridor. “The chapel is just down there. It should be quiet enough.” The Major’s cautious and slightly reluctant attitude had got his curiosity aroused. Obviously there was more to this whole thing than the police were aware of.
Once in the chapel Gary waited until the chaplain had left before turning to the policeman. “The thing is Inspector, Sergeant Freeman was only one of a training group who had gone into the forest. There are twelve more trainees and five Staff Instructors unaccounted for. Divisional HQ Training Wing can’t raise any one of them and they were starting to worry. When the message came through about Sergeant Freeman we had hoped…” His voice trailed off.
Now it was Davis’ turn to sigh. “Nobody has reported any other people coming out of that part of the forest. We did assume that the lass wasn’t on her own, so the local force who know that part of the forest went out about two hours ago with a representative of the Forest of Dean and a member of the Forestry Commission to see if they could find anyone or anything. I’m waiting for them to report back to see if they have been able to locate anyone else.” There was an undertone of irritation in his voice at the military’s apparent unwillingness to keepthe local authoritiesinformed of the movement of their personnel.
Gary opened his mouth to speak however the soft, but insistent, shrilling of the Inspector’s mobile phone forestalled him. He sat quietly while the policeman listened to the person on the other end and watched with a sinking heart as the man’s previously mildly worried expression turned grim. He didn’t need to be told that whatever the policeman was hearing, it wasn’t good news.
Davis finally switched off his phone and stared at it for a moment as if wishing it could ring and tell him something different. Finally he looked up at Gary. “There has apparently been some kind of incident in one of the deeper reaches of the forest. My lads have found where your trainees were setting up camp but…” He stopped and swallowed convulsively.
“But what?” Gary prompted gently.
“There’s no easy way to say this.” Davis looked awful. “All the lads found were a pile of charred bones and some severed heads. You said there were seventeen soldiers out there? Well they found sixteen severed heads littered around the area, which would make the young lady’s hysterical outpourings possibly feasible.”
Gary’s head was reeling in shock. One part of his mind had instantly been benumbed by the horrific news, but the other was frantically trying to recall which of the trainees had been from his own unit. “What are you trying to tell me?” He asked. His lips felt frozen. “That someone killed and dismembered seventeen soldiers of the British Army and then burnt their bodies?”
Davis cleared his throat loudly. An elderly man in a dressing gown who had wandered in quietly while they were speaking turned in his pew near the altar and frowned in disapproval. Davis smiled an apology at him and continued, keeping his voice lowered respectfully. “The Forensics people and the Crime Scene Investigation team are on their way as we speak and your Divisional HQ has been notified. They are sending their own forensics people and some Brigadier whose name I can’t remember. We won’t know exactly what happened until forensics have been over the crime scene.” He cast a glance in the direction of the ward where Kim Freeman lay. “Or until the young lady in there enlightens us.”
Something in his tone told Gary that the police considered her to be a suspect and he immediately felt drawn to defend her. “Are you implying that Sergeant Freeman is responsible for this atrocity? I mean we aren’t even sure that the bones are human are we?”
“If they aren’t, then where are the bodies the heads should have been attached to?” Davis’ tone was even. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag, which he laid on his knee. Through the clear plastic Gary could see that it was some kind of ornate weapon, a dagger with what looked like a gold handle carved with symbols and a curved lethal looking blade, also with some symbols carved into it. “Sergeant Freeman was carrying this when she ran into the village.” He handed the plastic bag to Gary who stared at it dully.
“It’s not military issue.” The statement sounded pathetic and not even remotely funny, but he couldn’t think of anything to say.
Davis didn’t laugh; instead he raised one eyebrow. “I didn’t think for one minute that it was. We dusted it for prints and found nothing but the young lady’s prints and another set that the database hasn’t been able to identify. So far she hasn’t been able to give us a statement of where she got the weapon and where it fits into all of this.”
“I’m pretty sure that Sergeant Freeman couldn’t, wouldn’t have been capable of fighting off seventeen large trained soldiers, decapitating them and then putting them on a bonfire.” Gary asserted stoutly. “There had to be someone else there. A number of someone else’s in fact.” He handed the bag back to Davis who put it back in his pocket.
“As it happens I agree with you.” He said slowly. “I don’t think for one minute that the lass did it, but in the absence of any other explanation you must understand that we have to consider her a prime suspect. The ground around the site was apparently disrupted to a large degree. There were many footprints and the CSI people will have cordoned it off by now to make casts. However, if you want I can take you out there to see for yourself. I understand that they found a few dog tags. They’ll have to be dusted for prints of course, but they should serve as a form of identification. The sad and worrying fact is that all we have at present is a crime scene, some bones, sixteen heads, a dagger with Sergeant Freeman’s and anunknown person’s prints on it and a huge fucking mystery. Not to mention where did the seventeenth head go to.”
Gary tapped his fingers on the back of the pew thoughtfully. Finally he turned to Davis. “Perhaps Sergeant Freeman might respond better to someone she knows? Like me?”
Davis nodded. “It’s possible. Do you want to talk to her now? I can speak to the nurse and get her current condition assessed.”
“Yes, please do so Inspector.” Gary stood up with a determined look on his even features.
Davis left the chapel and was gone for a few minutes, a time that Gary used to try and collect his scattered thoughts. The mobile phone in his pocket began to play the theme from the Dambusters and the old man in the dressing gown turned around with a ferocious scowl.
“Sorry.” Gary called over softly, his cheeks reddening with embarrassment. He went outside the chapel to take the call from his Commanding Officer who was now in his car with his driver on his way to Lydney. Finally he shut the phone off with an inward groan. It was bad enough that this was a major incident that would devastate the families of the dead and the unit as a whole, all they bloody needed was for the Old Man to get his knickers in a twist and jump up and down.
Davis tapped Gary on the shoulder making him jump. “She’s sleepy, but a lot more coherent. The nurse says we could try to talk to her now, but not to upset her unduly. I’ll have to stay in the room with you though.” He warned.
“I have no objection to that Inspector.”
They made their way to the small side ward where Kim Freeman lay, now awake, but with those hideous scenes from the forest swirling unchecked through her exhausted brain.
Somewhere in West Beleriand, Year 553 First Age
“Speak.” The golden-haired figure at the table looked up wearily as one of the scouts returned and stood hovering in the doorway of the tent.
The young warrior’s face was streaked with dirt and his expression was grim. It occurred to Ingwion that the last time he had seen the young ellon was at one of the festivals on the slopes of Taniquetl. Only then he did not look lean, dirty and exhausted, he had looked happy, leaping high and joyfully in the dances with the beautiful young ellyth. The mane of golden hair that he had tossed in a carefree fashion on that day was now tied back in warrior braids, something the young Vanyarin males would not have usually considered doing in their peaceful daily lives.
However this was not a time of peace. The Valar had decreed that Morgoth was to be captured and returned in chains for judgement. To that end Lord Eonwe, the Herald of Manwehad caused the trumpets to be sounded for the gathering of the Host of the Valar and many a young Vanyarin would not see their home again until they were released from the Halls of Waiting by Lord Namo, the Doomsman of the Valar.
Ingwion could see the utter weariness in the young man’s face. He gestured to the chair beside his map-strewn table. “Sit and rest awhile. You are exhausted.” He poured some wine into a goblet and the young warrior stared fixedly at the deep purple liquid spilling into the vessel. He sat down in the chair and Ingwion handed the wine to him with a reassuring smile. “Drink, and regain your strength. Even the greatest and bravest warrior should not be ashamed to admit that he needs rest. What is your name child?”
The young ellon pushed some loose strands of his hair behind his delicately pointed ears with a weary hand. Ingwion noted that his hair no longer shone like strands of living gold, but instead hung lank, greyish and damp with sweat around his shoulders.
“Rion, my Lord Ingwion.” He answered respectfully and took a gulp of the powerful wine which immediately went straight to his head, especially given the fact that he had been travelling four days straight without stopping.
Ingwion hid a smile when he saw the young ellon’s pale blue eyes glaze over slightly. He reached out and put a restraining hand on the youngster’s shoulder. “Not so much and not so fast little one. This is a powerful brew.” He cautioned gravely, but his eyes twinkled with merriment.
“No my Lord. I mean yes, my Lord.” Rion flushed and bit his lip in irritation. Being almost two hundred years old, he considered himself to be an adult and was annoyed with himself for behaving like an elfling in the presence of Lord Ingwion.
Ingwion sighed and poured himself some wine. He sat down and studied the young warrior. How long ago had it been since he was such a callow youth and prone to blushing? It seemed like longer than all of the Ages of Arda put together. “This is not a test Rion. It’s just a goblet of wine. Drink and release your cares, at least for the moment.” He sipped his own wine and ran his finger along the rim. “Tell me. What of my brother?”
Ingwion happened to ask this most important question just as Rion was taking another sip. The wine went down the wrong way and he ended up bright red in the face with a coughing fit. Ingwion waited patiently until he had gathered himself together.
“We searched along the coastline my Lord and then travelled along Lord Melannen’s path east as far as we dared. The forest there is thick and full of ancient trees. They spoke to us of a small party and an ambush by a party of Orcs, but we could find no sign of our kindred, other than a small stack of kindling set to one side under a tree. Of Lord Melannen and his guards there was no sign whatsoever. It is as if they disappeared off the face of Arda completely.” He glanced anxiously at Ingwion whose expression was now grim. “We did not dare delay our return any longer my Lord, the Host moves so swiftly, we were afraid that we would be cut off. However we did meet up with one Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finarfin, or so he maintained.”
“Gildor?” Ingwion jumped up with a look of pleasure on his face. “I am acquainted with him from the time before the kin slaying. I had no idea he still lived, but am glad for it.”
Rion gave a hesitant smile. “Then the grace of Elbereth must have been shining on our meeting for he asked for news of you. When we told him that you were here among the Host of the Valar he sent his greetings to you. We asked if he had seen your brother, but he said he had not and that he was heading to join up with the forces of Ereinion Gil-galad and Lord Cirdan, but that if he came across himhe would point him in the right direction and send him to you!”
Ingwion’s silvery laughter floated out of the tent at this and those nearby smiled to hear it. Since Lord Melannen’s disappearance whilst on a patrol, Ingwion’s usually ready laughter had been absent.
“That rascal.” He chuckled. “I wager he would do that too and paddle Melannen’s backside into the bargain. Did he say aught else?”
Rion shook his head and put his now empty goblet on the table. “Only that he would keep both eyes and ears open for sign of Lord Melannen.” He glanced at his Lord apologetically. “I am sorry my Lord, we did all that you asked of us.”
Ingwion’s fair face grew sad and grim again. “I know little one and I thank you for it. My brother is either alive and trying to find his way back or he is already in the Halls of Waiting. Either way, I will see him again, Namo willing. We will have to trust to luck and our kindred here in Middle-earth. I cannot afford to send anyone else in search now. Lord Eonwe orders us to move camp tomorrow.” He glanced over at the exhausted and now rather sleepy Rion. “Go now. Eat and get some rest. We have an early start on the morrow.”
Rion stood up and bowed low. “Goodnight my Lord.”
Ingwion smiled absently at him, his mind already moving to the maps of the area and thinking about the strategies outlined in Lord Eonwe’s meeting between his senior commanders.