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The Return

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Late Summer, FA 473

1

The night isn’t quiet, not to her. Even without the looming threat of the invaders said to lurk now on the outskirts of Dor-lómin, there would have been a million things to listen for in the house and in the world outside it (though there is no doubt the threat is what keeps her alert to the sounds, surely in more peaceful times she would not hear so much). Morwen will not find sleep for some time, not until she paces herself to exhaustion as has been her routine for many months now; ending the night not in her own bedchambers but in the kitchen chair where she once watched through the window the departure of her husband on his beloved horse, Arroch. She wonders sometimes if Arroch got away. She has seen skirmishes, villages in the wartorn aftermath, but never the sort of battle Húrin left for. She doubts the horses fare much better than the men even if they manage to flee the battle itself. There are two horses still in the stables though nowhere Morwen will ride them to. 

Somewhere above her footsteps sound in the corridor and she pauses in her pacing. They draw nearer to the stairs and stop. Morwen can actually hear the gentle creak of the wood as the young boy sways on his feet. The candles have gone out already, she does not bother to light them when she is the only one there. Nevertheless she doubts that the others know not of her wakefulness. Morwen waits, silently willing Túrin to return quickly to his bed. It is foolish, she thinks, to feel more afraid for her son at night when she knows full well that the day brings with it no assurance of safety. But when the house is quiet, the servants asleep or on guard somewhere out by the woods, there is a sort of fear that grips her when Túrin is not where he should be. It eases somewhat when she hears the receding footsteps that mean he has returned to his room. It will not ease altogether. It is not as though his bedroom is any more a sanctuary than the rest of the house is. 

Morwen has nearly reached a fitful sleep herself when more footsteps wake her. Not from the floor above but from the outside. Frantic, running footsteps that chase away any vestiges of sleep, leaving her alert but harried. Her eyes adjusted already to the dark, they find the source of the sound easily,  landing at the windows just beside the front door. Two servants approach it quickly paced, their expressions somewhat obscured by the dimly lit lantern, still the nearest point of light to her now that she has allowed the candles to burn out. The two reach the door and linger there. Morwen waits and watches but they do not enter. 

She recognizes the two as having been on guard that night, she watched them for some time circle the outer gates while the sun still allowed it. Her unease grows, an anticipation bordering on dread for what news they will bring. Already she has the house, its contents, its exits mapped out in her mind if the day comes when they must flee again. Morwen rises from her chair and walks to them (she had fallen asleep yet again in her working shoes). Her senses are more alert than ever, almost dizzying her. The two seem to be in conversation. With each other but one signals to someone who stands outside of her vision, somewhere closer to the gates. 

“What is it?” her voice is hushed as it must be at such an hour (not out of courtesy but simple sense), “What has happened?”

“My lady,” the younger of the two pants as Morwen draws nearer and she notices with a thrill of alarm that there are tears in his eyes, still she cannot tell with certainty the emotion that causes it. “My lady. He has returned. The lord of Dor-lómin. Lord Húrin has come back.” 

2

The man at the gate is Sador and he is not alone, Morwen observes as she steps out the front door and follows the hazy light of the lantern that the servant who had spoken holds out for her. She is uncomfortably aware of her heartrate as finally a patch of light falls more clearly on the two approaching men. 

Sador limps as always but it is he who is supporting the other in standing. The servant lowers his lantern once they are close enough to stand under the light hung above the door. Morwen watches mutely as Sador pauses. The other man’s face is marred by several long gashes, one still dripping blood but they do not render him unrecognizable. Her eyes fall not to any of the newer scars but to the one Húrin had bore when he had left the previous year, a thin, jagged line over his left eye from an unfortunate mishap caused by his younger brother in accident. She is not naive, she knows the tales from the elves, of strangers who wore the faces of friends and family, walking from the stronghold of the Enemy. 

Long has she been described, not always kindly, as cold and worse. Morwen knows this, has known this since her youth. But she is not, it seems, as cold as perhaps she ought. As she looks at her husband, her mind questions as she knows it should but her heart will not.

It is him.

She leads him and Sador over the threshold, acutely aware of how the other servants will speak of this. 

“If you will allow it, my lady,” Sador speaks slowly once he has helped the other man into a chair, “I will impart what Lord Húrin managed to relay to me before he became unable, exhaustion I do not doubt, to continue.” Morwen nods, still unable to speak. She helps the other two servants gather what rudimentary supplies for healing they possess. She doubts it will be enough. 

“The fortress of the Enemy came under another attack, as you and I have heard in rumor. It is not fallen but neither was it fully able to function as the Enemy wishes. A number of prisoners managed to escape. Though he was kept separately as he was held for information, he was aided by several elven prisoners during a time the fortress had, alas temporarily, fallen into a state of disarray. Lord Húrin is of course aware of how his return may look. He will submit to more questioning as soon as he is able. I admit his tale was rather disjointed but I believe this was merely because of his state of injury, not anything more sinister.” Morwen looks to him, pitcher of clean water in one hand where she has frozen, listening. He does not look aware of anything at the moment. She isn’t even sure if he’s asleep or not. Perhaps unconscious would be more accurate. Morwen swallows as the bandages, salves, tonics and water are placed on the table. This will not be adequate in addressing his wounds. He has barely been examined but she is sure of this. 

A small, tense silence follows Sador’s words. Morwen cannot help but to agree it is not enough to allay what suspicions she too knows are coming. But it is long past nightfall and there is little they can do now on the matter. Sador stands beside Húrin, looking cautious. 

“My lord?” he prompts softly, “Are you able to understand me?” Another pause before the man nods, eyes closed. As his head lifts from the back of the chair, Morwen sees that his long hair is tangled and matted with blood. His tunic is even more torn on this side and before he goes still again she catches sight of still more lashes and other unclear injuries. 

“Do you know where you are?” Sador looks to Morwen, apparently asking for permission to take the lead in this line of conversation. Morwen nods to him again, she still cannot make her voice work properly. When they return their attention to Húrin they see his lips are moving silently, forming a word, a word they can recognize...They wait until there is no movement or noise and the sound when he manages speech hangs in the air like a spell. 

“Yes.” Húrin’s voice is cracked, hoarse, barely above a whisper. Morwen wants to hold the word in her palm. Sador breathes out.

“You need water,” he says and Morwen is able to move again, her hands do not tremble as she pours from the pitcher into a glass that she doubts her husband will be able to hold himself. She returns to his side, closer than she has been to him in over a year, far closer than she ever thought she’d be again. Though she does not touch him yet, when she leans over to hand the glass to Sador, she feels the brush of fabric against her skin, pieces of torn cloth that have been tied haphazardly around his wrists. Blood has seeped through them though it appears now to be dry. The cloth around his left wrist has become loose and revealed the raw, damaged skin underneath bearing clear imprints from shackles. 

His eyes have been closed since he first approached the door and Morwen feels another pang of alarm at her inability to speak. With great effort she swallows again, trying to collect what words she can. 

“I am here.” 

His face is difficult to read, not least because of the injuries, but his lips twitch in what might be an attempt at a smile or perhaps an expression of sadness. He too seems to be collecting what energy he can but before Morwen can tell him to save it, she is hearing his voice again. 

Yes.” Húrin blinks rapidly, too quickly for her to see into his eyes. Likely with water he cannot afford to lose, a few tears start to spill down his face. 

3

Húrin manages about half the water before raising one hand to attempt to catch Sador’s who sets the glass down. One of the other servants has laid out blankets upon the daybed, presuming that Húrin would be unable at such a point to climb the stairs. But they and their companion have left, Sador and Morwen alone with the exhausted, injured man. Morwen was still painfully aware of their lack of adequate healing skills. Try as she might to bar such thoughts from her mind, she thinks fleetingly of that dreadful period when her children were so ill. Though even the most skilled healers among them would have been of little use, there was no cure for the Breath of Death save luck. 

The candles have of course been lit once more though Morwen thinks vaguely that they will need to be replaced before the dawn, they are already dripping wax steadily, unused to such extended burning. Húrin’s eyes finally open and remain open for more than a blink. One of them is glassy, unfocused, what should have been a bright blue was faded, spreading into the milky surroundings. The area around the eye appears normal however. Morwen raises her own hand and sets it lightly upon Húrin’s cheek. 

“Has sight been taken here from you?” she asked quietly. On the other side of her husband’s chair she heard Sador exhale again but does not know why. Húrin’s eyes close as Morwen feels his face, the ways it is the same and different to what she knew before. He is cold to the touch. She has never felt him so cold before though the night is quite warm. Her eyes fall to the clothes he is wearing, torn tunic and trousers that fall to his knees, both stained with blood. She wonders how much of it is his own. There is an oddly wild smell to him, pine and frigid water and the earth but that does not obscure completely the other, darker, metallic smells. 

Morwen takes her hand back, studying the faint tinges of blood on her fingertips. Sador looks through the supplies that had been brought before the other two servants left and found night clothes one had thought to include. 

“My lord, when you are ready, these should fit,” he says, folding them on the side of the chair. Húrin does not open his eyes but turns to the other man and inclines his head slightly in thanks. He does not set his hand down however but instead extends it towards the other side. It takes Morwen a short period to realize he is asking for her. She blinks and replaces her own hand atop his. Húrin nods again, his lips making the same fleeting attempt at a saddened smile though this time there is something else there too, something almost apologetic, she thinks. Morwen does not know for what he is sorry for and indeed wonders if she is misreading before her husband manages a feeble verbal confirmation. 

“I am sorry, Eledhwen,” he murmurs, his fingers twitching minutely. Sador, who had been walking towards the door for more supplies, pauses momentarily. Morwen sees him make a strange movement as though flinching. 

“For what do you apologize?”  

Húrin shakes his head, eyes cast downward as his hand shakes under her own. They wait in silence, Morwen standing solemnly beside him until Sador returns, looking more exhausted. 

“I spoke to Tinna,” he says in a low voice, “She will seek a healer. Even assessment of such injuries go beyond my meager skills.” 

Morwen doesn’t like the thought of a stranger coming to assess Húrin in such a state (and less so does she like one calling for a stranger without her leave) She doubts he will either. But she knows that someone must come if his injuries are to be treated and so nods briefly to him. 

“Thank you, Sador.” Her voice is as stern as ever but he actually smiles at her, a tired smile that takes her slightly aback though she does not show this. 

“I doubt I will find sleep tonight,” he says, “But Lord Húrin should try if he can. Will you be well in aiding him into night clothes?” 

“Of course,” Morwen says somewhat coolly. Sador looks on the verge of speaking again but says nothing, only bowing and taking his own leave.