The meadows were his place to be, out in the fields of his parents and their friends was where he used to play. It had never occurred to Marcus, the son of a righteous Gondorian farmer, that anything should change about this. Together with the other children he would climb in the hay barns and clash their wooden swords beneath the warming sun.
His parents told him: don't go away too far and return by sunset; he would never dare to disobey them. Why would he want to go far away when there was so much to discover in the fields right before their doors? The smell of hay, corn, earth and dust was his life, why would he leave it to strive towards the looming mountains in the East?
It was the East that his parents looked towards with a dread that he never understood. The mountains were dark, but hadn't both heroes and cowards of the past days conquered the large rocks? They were rocks, they could not be alive was what 8-year-old Marcus knew. He couldn't understand why the adults and the older children would fear them.
That was until one fateful afternoon in late summer; the day that did not help him understand but made him fear.
The sun was a glowing ball hovering above the horizon, about to go down in roughly two hours. It was the time of harvest when the air above the fields would always be heavy and filled with thick dust; the brooding heat only adding to the effect of tiring everyone who was up and moving that day.
When Marcus had left for the fields at the hour of noon his parents had been casting looks into the East that held more dread than he was used to. Upon his request what it was that made them so afraid his mother had shook her head and gently patted his head.
“Something very distant you don't have to be afraid of, dear,” she had said, shushing his father who had clearly wanted to disagree and start a lecture. From overheard conversations Marcus knew that his father wanted to make him 'tougher', as rough times were coming. Marcus couldn't tell what times he should be talking about; and besides, he thought he was pretty tough already.
The little sword-fight with Aldor, the neighbour's boy, had quickly made him forget about the incident. How could you worry when you were chasing a friend out into the fields, with a triumphant grin on your face when you managed to make them surrender and wrestle you into a pile of fresh hay?
The two boys, soon joined by the smith's daughter Mya, exhaustedly lay on the dusty ground and watched specks of dirt and dust around their heads as the crickets started their beautifully obnoxious chirping. It was Mya who first blew her nose and sniffed the air.
“Where could that smoke be coming from?” she thought loudly.
“Mya, where should there be smoke?” asked Aldor lazily. He was chewing a stalk of grass that had somehow not dried away.
“There is smoke, I can smell it!” Mya announced and sat up.
“Look, it's coming from over there!”
“You're seeing phantoms, Mya!” exclaimed Marcus. Smoke was for fire and fire was for crispy winter nights and feasts. She was only five years old, not to be trusted in her perception anyway. But Mya kept insisting.
“Look, over there!” she cried out.
“There's fire! There's a feast for sure! Can't we go?”
“Mya...” the boys sighed in the same second. Marcus sat up with a sigh.
“Why would they be feasting now?” He had wanted to add something, but his words stuck in his throat as he beheld a thick column of smoke rising up from the roofs of their village. In the second he turned his gaze towards it flames burst out from the gable of the largest house in the village.
When Aldor shot Marcus a questioning look they could hear the first screams.
“We have to run!” Marcus exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. Aldor came up behind him, dumbfounded when he saw the fire. Marcus' grabbed Mya's hand, who was staring at the village like paralysed. He pulled her with him, away from the village over the dusty fields where they could hide in hay piles. Her little legs couldn't keep up with his longer ones and so he picked her up as he ran, followed by Aldor.
Recalling this moment in the future Marcus wished he would have been afraid, scared to never see his parents again or about their future. He wished he would have had a plan but none of it was true. He couldn't even think as he was running, except the one thing: you have to get away.
They were running too fast and their legs would give in soon. Back pressed against a pile of dried hay Marcus breathed and listened and pressed the loudly crying Mya to his chest. The little smith's girl was shaking in fear and Marcus could not do anything about it. They hadn't even gotten far away from the burning village, so they could still hear the screams sounding from there.
After what seemed like an eternity Marcus suddenly froze and his breathing ceased. The sound of thundering hooves was coming close to them, accompanied by voices and cries and screams that sounded like...
“Mother! Father!” he cried, gently putting Mya into the other boy's arms and jerking up.
“We're here! Mother!” He waved and screamed and his parents came closer and closer without noticing them. The hay piles were high enough to hide his little figure, but from high horseback they had to see him.
Finally they stopped, abruptly, to change their course towards the screams of their son. As Marcus' mother jumped from horseback tears were trailing through the dirt on her cheeks. Her dress was singed and partially ripped and as she wrapped her arms around Marcus she smelled like smoke. His father's arm was bandaged, blood was on his face.
“We're going to Minas Tirith, dear,” she whispered into her son's hair.
“There we'll be safe. We'll tell you everything when we get there.”
“But what about Elen and Ben?” Marcus asked confusedly. His mother's eyes filled with tears at the instant, and to Marcus' bewilderment there were tears shaping in the eyes of his father as well.
“You sister and brother unfortunately can't come with us, my dear,” his mother whispered.
“Will you... will you take us, too?” Marcus could hear a tiny whisper behind them and turned around to see Mya and Aldor, who were staring at the incomplete family with fear.
Five people rode towards Minas Tirth a mere minute later to seek shelter, in their backs their burning homes below a fiery sky.