The Land of Dreams

by Laiquendi

He stumbled awkwardly and fell sharply to the ground. The soft grass felt damp against his cheek, as he lay there, unmoving and silent. A soft, warm breeze played across his lips and through his hair in an effort to urge him onwards but he could not move anymore. He was more tired than he had could remember, his arms and legs weighed down with more than just fatigue now. With an exasperated cry he forced himself off the cool earth and drew up into a more comfortable position, his muscles crying out in resistance to the movement.

Gazing backwards over the gentle hills he took in the grand sight of the distant mountains, imagining that he could even see the high halls of Edoras. It had been several days since he had left there on this journey of his, and he still wasn’t sure if it had been the right thing to do.

Edoras had been so different than his home village, so busy and full of people occupied with so many different tasks. It had been a sight to behold, this great city in the sky, so far removed from what he was used to that he felt more of an outsider than a kinsman to these people. Yet all of it fell under the watchful gaze of the glittering Golden Hall, home of the royal family. Although he was there for only a few days the sight of the new king, Théoden, son of Thengel, had awed him. Despite only having been ruler for less than three years, his presence commanded great respect and he was held almost in reverence by many of the townsfolk for his charm and sharp eye.

Yet all this grace and majesty had been lost on him, the wonders and sights soiled by the pain he had carried with him. The dark cloud had cursed his steps and veiled his eyes more than he had realised, with everything covered in mists of grey. It was only now that he looked back that he could glimpse the brighter colours hidden beneath, the fading memories of a forgotten time.
He clenched his fists as thoughts of dark clouds invaded his memories, tempting him while he was still awake, lingering heavily on the horizon of his mind. He shook his head rapidly in an attempt to drive them away, throbbing pains spreading from his hands as his fists tightened involuntarily. His breathing became more laboured and heavy with each moment that passed, until finally his mind cleared and the dull greyness returned.

It was not only his mind that was growing dim, but the sky as well. The evening was quickly approaching and the temperature had chosen to assert its bitter side that night. His strength slowly returning, he set about starting a fire with whatever meagre resources he could find. As the flames sparked wearily into life, he edged closer in a desperate attempt to hold onto the warmth and keep out the suffocating blackness. Weariness warred with consciousness as the night grew longer, hoping against hope that he could stay awake until the light broke through again. But it was a battle he had never won.

He was standing in the lower field, the strong sunlight shining in his face and blurring his eyes, but he did not move. He stood there, gently smiling in the warm heat and feeling more content than he had been for several weeks. His troubles and fears seemed so distant now that they did not seem worth worrying about. He was home and that was all that mattered. Then he saw her.

She stood not too far away, just in front of their house; her long golden hair seemed to sparkle in the sun, matched only by the beaming smile across her face. His heart beat faster now that he knew she was here, the thumping rhythm ringing louder as if to prove he was still alive. She was his whole, at once both his opposite and his equal in a way he could never understand. Every moment spent with her lasted an eternity, yet passed in an instant. In her he trusted, and with him she shared until beyond all doubt he knew that she was the one he loved.

But something was not right; something here was terribly wrong. Almost immediately he turned round and saw in the distance a growing band of darkness as several thick storm clouds gathered. They blotted out the sun in their hungry desire to conquer the sky, the thick tendrils spreading further and further outwards. They seemed to be searching, seeking him out, determined to consume any joy he might feel.

In haste he turned back to his beloved, still standing there smiling at him, oblivious to the coming danger. With every effort in his body he tried to run towards her, to warn her and protect her from the approaching evil. But he could not move, his body would not respond to his wishes over his increasing frustration and anger. A feeling of dread started to fill his heart, a cold fear that he would not be able to protect her. He would fail her again, as he had done before, as he would always do.

Powerless to help he watched as two large black figures rushed out of the clouds towards her, their dull metal armour catching the fading light. Each held aloft a vicious sword ready to strike as she was engulfed in the dark miasma. His world became black and he fell into a fitful sleep.

The nightmares had begun shortly after the destruction of his village by unknown creatures, many claiming that they had come from the ancient Gondorian tower to the north-west. Yet others said it was men from the wastelands, or Elvish wraiths from the past sent as some sort of penance from the Gods. But whoever they were, the nearest éored arrived several hours too late and the village had been burned to the ground. He was the only survivor of the massacre, rescued as he lay dying in the dimness and in spite of his protests had been taken to Edoras to recover.

Each night became a struggle for him as the nightmares became increasingly worse, each night a battle against the darkness that held him still. Every time he closed his eyes he was back in the field, powerless to the dark clouds. There was never any release; no peaceful dream came to appease his mind. Only the continued black mass until it came that he could barely sleep each night. Food became sore in his mouth and no medicine could ease his suffering.

It was there, between demons and clouds that he first heard the tale of the Elven Sorceress, ruler of the Dwimordene. She controlled her land with mysterious powers that distorted and twisted men to her will. It was told that in her anger she had once ensnared the Lord of Shadows, manipulating his mind and tricking him into becoming her husband after he had refused her advances. She was not one to be refused, and neither to be ignored. She had even cursed the borders of her land with a whistling death, for anyone that attempted to cross into her wood was certain of swift punishment.

However, for all this folklore there was one thing that had caught his attention, captivating his mind as if the Sorceress herself had bewitched him. One of the older women that had tended to him had sung a song about the Land of Dreams, a place where nightmares vanish and time slows down, of blissful sleep where even the darkest hearts will melt. The vain hope of such a place had stuck in his mind and heart, a place where he could be free of guilt and remorse, pain and suffering. Where he could finally be with his love and no storms could take her away from him.

The old woman had said this land could be found in the heart of the Dwimordene, for even among the greatest evil you will find the greatest dreams, if the Sorceress of the land would grant your wish. And so it was that several days later he fled from his convalescence, running from his nightmares and fears to find freedom, haunted by the ever-looming storm clouds.

He had been travelling north from Edoras for six days now, the last of his scraps of food having gone the day before. Sitting alone by the fire and holding off the darkness until it felt like he could go on no longer, yet the idea persisted and fuel his journey. Thus far it was not all in vain for when the new morning rose he finally saw that which he was seeking, the hazy green mist of a deep forest. This was not the gnarled wood of Fangorn that had tempted him some days before, for these trees seem to shine with a serene silvery light as if beckoning him onwards.

Nevertheless, he still recalled the warnings of the whistling death and the Sorceress that dwelt within those eaves. He still feared death, if only because he knew there would never be a release from the darkness, could never awake from it and break the nightly hold on his spirit. His fears wrestled for control over his body, asking himself if this fabled place was worth the risk it entailed. And, as it had done each night since learning of this realm, the image of his love would settle the debate. She was worth all the pain in the world for one last moment of joy together, for one last attempt at finding her.

That day he spent on his long and slow march towards the trees, sitting there just beyond his reach but urging him ever onwards. The sun had started its downward path by the time he sat, exhausted, at the feet of the great trees, gazing in wonder at their leafy roof.
As he studied the memory of seasons each tree untold in its gentle sway, he caught the briefest sight of movement in the branches, wisps of light and shadow that jumped between the silver arms towards him. The whistling death approached. He at once recalled the dark tendrils of the clouds in his nightmares, that swirled and reached around him, bring with them fear and death. It was a strange sensation, looking at the impending doom that approached but yet he felt none of the terror it usually produced. He was calm and controlled as he tried to discern its erratic movements, small glimpses out of the corner of his eye, first there too the left, now closer on his right. All the time oddly silent.

Then he saw her, slipping between the trees, a woman in a vibrant white dress with long golden hair that sparkled in the dying sunlight. At first he thought he was imagining it, his weakened mind conjuring up his heart’s desire before the ultimate end, but the woman appeared again, closer now. The brilliance of her being seemed to outshine the silver trees, the light sending vast shadows creeping up every branch. Then gone again, hidden from sight like the flickering of a candle. Was she calling him? Was she leading him into the Land of Dreams?

With a renewed strength in his bones he rose from the ground, standing before the wooden barrier that separated them, drawn towards this one last dream. He began to falter as he took a step forward, then finding his footing he pushed ahead into the tree line.
A high-pitched whistle suddenly filled the silent void and stopped his advance towards her. Uncertainty began to build up within him as the light faded and the darkness grew closer. It was only then that he noticed the icy touch upon his chest, the lingering doubt that he had erred in some unfathomable way. Except that it was not cruel emotion that had struck in him but the carefully carved shaft of an arrow, its tip now embedded within his body. Though this knowledge took time to reach his consciousness, the toll fell swiftly upon his frail being and he fell to his knees beside the flora. His breathing became longer and harder, while his legs grew heavy with the cold. Still holding on to the fading light he collapsed backwards against the trees, but he never hit the ground. He fell softly onto smooth silks, the warm touch of another’s body against his as he looked up towards the sky into her serene face. She had not deserted him in the woods as he thought but now sat beside the silvery trunks, cradling his failing body. He gazed at her radiant beauty; her deep blue eyes seemed to sparkle with the light of a thousand stars, her long hair ablaze with rays of gold and yellow. And yet always smiling, matching his gaze as she eased the bitter depths of his pain.

Live free now; find the peace within your dreams for which you have sought. Go find your love, for I shall guard you here and keep the dark clouds at bay.

Her words resonated throughout his mind despite never opening her lips to speak. Her warm and inviting smile still spread wide across her face, the gentle fragrance of summer blossoms filling his senses with happiness that he had not known for many days. The vision of her beauty slowly faded from sight as the warm glow she emanated bathed his body. Until finally he let go, slipping beyond her grasp and into the endless dream.