Sweat blinds my eyes. Frozen air sears my lungs. Dodge. Swing. Parry. Attack. Again. And again. The white lumbering beast is slow; thank the gods, because only this damn cold stops the bleeding from the times his aim has found its mark in my flesh. He hits hard, but this hated cold is saving my life. I hear a groan of deep pain and dimly recognize it as my own as I fall to my knees. Fresh warm blood rushes down my arm and warms my hand before it congeals in the trampled and dirtied snow that fills my vision. I long to sink into that snow, to let the cold numb me completely and take me finally in its never-ending hunger for warmth. I am so tired. My eyes close, lids too heavy to hold open. Strength ebbs and follows my blood down into the cold. What seems a whispered voice flutters through my torpid mind, pray Eva, pray. Will you choose to die like this? Food for a corrupted beast? Alone in the cold with no one to know? I force my mind to move, shaking off the haze of weariness and agony. The whisper demands, remember! Remember faith? Remember warmth? Choose it!
I have fought alone for weeks, afraid to pray, afraid to find I was more alone than I knew; afraid that my gods now found me unworthy. I no longer had such luxury of cowardice. I must face my soul or die this day. Pray Eva, pray.
And it happens. Familiar warmth flickers over me. A small creeping strength returns and courses through my battered body. I am not alone! My Gods watch me still. For the flash of an instance tears of gratitude threaten to fill my eyes, but are pushed aside savagely; I’ve no time for such indulgence.
I struggle to my feet as the enraged beast growls and swings his great claws at me once more. Destiny rises, barely held aloft by my weary uninjured arm and slashes cleanly through the creature’s white furred arm. The muffled thud of the limb falling at my feet seems some soft nightmare sound from the things we fear in the dark. Screaming in pain the creature lunges wildly for me. The sound echoes off the rocky hills. Swing. Slash, Destiny finds her mark again. I stagger. Dazed. But the creature is slower now, nearly spent. As am I. A pause, another hesitant moment of prayer, small warmth trickles through me, I slash, rend, the smell of hot organs fills my senses. And, it is over.
How long have I laid here? I struggle to open my eyes. Only one will obey my need, the other is swollen and crusted closed with dried blood. The sun is setting now. I am cold, so cold. All warmth has left the body of the creature lying dead beside me. Birds have landed and are eating. Soon larger predators will arrive and I will become the prey.
I pull myself up a little, my vision a whirlpool of disjointed images, and I crawl for a distance, the carrion birds yelling their complaint to the hills around us. My head feels too heavy to raise, my body an impossibility. I stop and force myself to stay this way, hands and knees freezing in the snow, knowing that to lie down again would mean I may never rise.
Do my senses betray me? My weary mind conjures warmth and I feel hot air on my face. In time – my exhausted mind tries to consider how much time it has been – I realize that Thorendil stands beside me blowing gently on the side of my head. His loyalty has overcome his fear of the stench of entrails. I lean my face against the hard heat of his foreleg and this touch with life infuses me, grounds me, and brings me back from the frigid brink of extinction.
I must try to stand.
Using his solid leg I struggle to pull myself upward, arms wrapped around him. Nausea overwhelms me and I can only lean on him and await its passing. I try again, inching my hands higher, pain searing through my savaged arm and hip, tearing open clotted wounds and I smell fresh blood again. Stretching my uninjured arm I grab for a stirrup and pull myself up. Grasping the stirrup leather as the lifeline it is I lean heavily against Thorendil’s side. Tears of despair fall freely now, because I know I am beaten. Whatever grace and strength I possessed was used in standing; I will never rise to his saddle again. Salivation is a mere few feet from the ground and a universe from my ability to reach it.