THE NIGHT THE DRAGON FELL
Every sensation and cell inside her became numb to the scolding water after a minute and she ceased to breathe. Deep redness gradually started to fill out the corners of her eyes until all she could see was a fraction of hellfire just at the surface of the water. Bubbles continued to leave her opened mouth and float upwards towards the top where she could still make out everything that was going on. The muffled screams of dying men and women, and the dragon's horrendous roar that could bring the world to a standstill.
Jeanne wanted to move. She screamed at herself to move but she couldn't fight through the paralyzing numbness as her body drifted deeper and deeper under the black water. She was still able to keep a death grip on the arrow though, which was the only thing that didn't grow numb. The iron heated up and fused against the skin on her palm. The pain was the only thing keeping her awake and eyes open. Not without suffering though because the hot water was only making her eyesight worse.
Just at the surface, Jeanne could make out a dark figure diving into the spot right above her, steadily growing bigger and bigger as it approached. She couldn't tell who it was due to how damaged her eyes were, but she could feel an arm grab her while another wrapped around her waist. The water started to rush by while this person swam as fast as they could, finally breaking the surface. At last, she was pulled from the water and just laid there, sprawled out on the ground, gasping yet crying at the same time.
Jeanne wanted to scream in total pain when oxygen entered her lungs once again, the agony of having her skin boiled returning in a flash. She felt like someone had taken a white-hot iron and shoved it deep into her throat and just left it there. Her wounds were festering against the heated air which only made her feel worse.
"Hey? Hey! Can you hear me?" a rough voice said to her, looming over Jeanne's body to look her over.
Jeanne blinked a couple of times to get the water out of her eyes and saw Bard peering down at her. His face was scrunched up with distress like a father looking at his child. Jeanne's body was bright red with discolored blisters all over her exposed skin. Her insides must've been damaged because of the intake of scalding water, and the blood vessels in her eyes had popped too and caused them to turn red.
Bard pulled his hand over his mouth and felt his stomach wrench from the grisly sight. It wasn't so bad for him when he first jumped in, so the water must've cooled down after some time. But for Jeanne, he's surprised that she was even still alive. "I have to get you out of here." He pulled his arms under her body but she suddenly shoved him away, making him stumble back. His eyes grew wide and he let out a sharp gasp when she slowly began to get up, shaking just as much as a newborn deer. "What are you doing?"
And uneasy growl bubbled up from the back of Jeanne's throat while her body swayed side to side. She slammed her foot into the ground to steady herself but also caused bright red sparks to flare up from under her foot. Gray veins emerged from beneath her skin and started to crawl up her arms and legs until they were totally coiled around her body. A shimmer of redness radiated off her until it took the form of scarlet flames, lighting up the tips of her fingers and the ends of her hair. Her eyes were nothing but two black pools that were firmly focused against the sky and the dragon flying around.
Taking the black arrow up in her hand, she started to aim with perfect focus. Multiple cracks appeared around her mouth as the most ungodly words fell from her red lips. "Your kingdom has fallen, firedrake. Your tyranny, your arrogance, your rule. Vanish from the skies...and disappear from my sight!"
She leaned her body forward and chucked the arrow into the sky, releasing a burst of fire that propelled it at a high rate, making the air vibrate and rupture. Smaug turned to where the sound came from just as the arrow made its mark and struck his body, under his left wing where one of his scales were loosened all those years ago. The dragon howled from the pain and squirmed around in the air as the heated arrow burned up inside him. He flapped his wings and ascended high up in the starless sky as if he was wanting to touch greatness one last time. He soon stopped struggling though and his wings ceased to move, the molten gold of his eyes, terrifying and bright...cooling off.
Jeanne's breath was rough and pain-filled. Blood dripped from her cracked lips and trickled down her neck while she struggled to keep her eyes open. She watched with deep desperation as the great dragon descended from the sky. And just as his large body struck the earth, Jeanne collapsed.
The Dwarves all jumped simultaneously when the sky crackled like lightning. There wasn't any light in the sky though, not even the sound of distant thunder. It was almost if some mighty deity had clapped their hands together, loud enough to make all of Middle-earth stop what they were doing and look to the sky. The world fell silent after that and not even a heartbeat was heard against the gentle wind.
"What was that?" Ori asked and stood up. "What happened?" He looked around at the rest of their puzzled faces. Not one had an answer.
Bilbo seemed to be the only one who wasn't looking at them, his eyes firmly on the burning remains of Laketown. "It fell. I saw it," he said and walked closer to the edge, not able to spot the dragon. "The dome...the thing around the town. It's gone...but so is the dragon." he sucked in a deep breath as a smile broke to his face and stretched wide. "It's dead. Jeanne actually...killed Smaug," he laughed.
Through the collective smiles and cheering that spread throughout the company, Balin was the only one not partaking in it. Instead, he looked sullen. "Aye...but what of our lady? What of Jeanne? The dome...it had to have been her doing. Why is it gone though? What happened to her?"
The sudden silence was then like a punch in everyone's gut when Balin's words hit them. A realization so dark, no one dared to speak. Most of the company looked close to tears while others simply just looked away and back to the town. Bilbo noticed that something was amiss though. Thorin wasn't with them and hasn't seemed to notice anything. His eyes were focused only on the mountain that was now free from the dragon...and so was the gold.
"Thorin?" Bilbo called out to him but the dwarf was unresponsive. Thorin didn't turn around, and it was like he didn't even hear him at all in the first place. Everyone knew that this was unlike him. This was Jeanne they were talking about. They all knew he cared for her deeply to the point of panic if she was in danger. Yet...there was nothing from him.
The air smelled of smoke and the sky was covered in a small veil of ash that gently floated down like snow. It wasn't cold but it did leave a pit in her stomach when Jeanne finally came too from the cold world known as unconsciousness. She was no longer inside the town and appeared to be on a homemade stretcher that was rocking back and forth over some rough terrain.
A second later, Jeanne felt an electric shock course through her body that made her gasp deeply. It was like someone was sticking pins and needles through her skin and poking every nerve inside her, setting it on fire and trying to put it out with poison. She wanted to cry because of the pain but was too afraid that it would hurt, so she kept her lips sealed.
Jeanne tilted her head to the side to find out where she was and saw that the people had abandoned their town and fled to dry land that was right beside the lake. A lot of them were crying and others were grabbing things that washed ashore, some in which being dead bodies of people's loved ones.
"What's going on?" she said and was shocked to hear how rough her voice was. Jeanne had to take a second to even realize that it was actually her who spoke.
They stopped moving the stretcher and it was gently lowered to the ground. Bard was one of the ones who was moving it and looked down at her. The hours she had been unconscious had not helped her skin condition at all. It only worsened and the blisters looked painful. Jeanne's face was terribly sunken in too and she looked close to passing out again. They had her wrapped up mostly with old rags since they didn't have many bandages too spare. They really only used their good ones to cover her hands since that's were the burns were worse. They didn't have much but it was better than nothing.
Bard was unexpectedly gentle when he spoke. "Hey. You're finally up?"
Jeanne looked puzzled and blinked a couple of times. "What happened?"
"You don't remember?"
She shook her head. "Only a little. I remember falling into the water when the dome broke...It then started to boil my body. I was underwater for what felt like hours with my insides...hurting so much. Next thing I knew...I was at the surface and saw the dragon...so I took a chance to try and kill him. I remember Smaug's body falling before...nothing. I think I past out from the pain." Jeanne grimaced and pulled her finger through her hair to get it out of her eyes. It startled her though when Bard suddenly grabbed her hand.
His hands were warm and his words were dripping with deep gratitude. "You made your mark."
The red lady froze and looked up at him, her eyes becoming wider and wider with disbelief. "I did? Then..." she croaked out with her trembling cracked lips.
"The dragon is dead." He took his hand and rested it over her forehead. "He's no more."
Jeanne was slack-jawed but a smile never grew to her face. She should be happy but couldn't help but be in complete confusion. At the beginning of the journey all those months ago, she had no confidence at all in herself to be able to defeat such a creature. Smaug was bigger, faster, and louder. His voice made her heart wither and his heavy stomps left her paralyzed like a child. She felt like a child before him. Yet, he died by a seemingly small being.
It sounded so ridiculous, which is why she couldn't bring herself to smile.
"Then the mountain is...vacant." The thought suddenly shoved itself in front of her. "Thorin..." Jeanne breathed out slowly and placed her hands on her knees to try and get up. She groaned through her teeth and cried under her breath to keep the pain back.
"You shouldn't move around!" Bard urged and tried to stop her from leaving. He couldn't imagine her getting far with those injurious. "Do you even know the state your body is in right now?"
"I'll be fine."
"You shouldn't even be able to walk with those burns." His mind flashed back to the last couple of moments of Smaug's life. Jeanne was on fire and it looked like her skin was covered in a design of gray spiderwebs. "You're not a normal girl, are you?" The words rolled right out of his mind and into the open. Jeanne was quiet for a moment before her lips turned up into a sad smile. She didn't even deny the claim, which was all the confirmation Bard needed.
She let him ease her back on the ground and spoke in a small whisper that only he could hear. "This body was made to be strong." There was this odd disdain in her voice that he picked up on. She ran her hand up her arms and dug into her bandages with her nails. "Which is why I'm still alive."
Bard grew only more perplexed at that statement and didn't know what she meant by the word 'made'. "What do you mean by that?" He knew it wasn't his place to ask questions but he felt like he should have known something was wrong with her, to begin with. Her mannerisms down to her innocent appearance had never felt normal to him. "Can I get a blanket over here?" he called out and shook off the growing questions that were flooding his head.
A Laketown woman came rushing up to them the moment she heard him call. Her weathered face grew ghastly pale at the sight of Jeanne's appearance and she immediately pushed Bard to the side to wrap a blanket around her. "Oh, dear. Don't worry. This will warm you up in no time." She pulled Jeanne's hair away and got a good look at her bloodshot eyes that made her cerulean gaze even more prominent. "Are you alright?"
Jeanne was taken back by this woman's urgent kindness and shied away from it, burying her mouth under the blanket and answering back meekly. "As...as much as I could be. Thank you very much..." she muttered.
The woman kept a hand on Jeanne's shoulder and rubbed it to try and warm her up. They were both shocked though when the blanket was abruptly yanked from behind and pulled right off Jeanne's body. The force caused her to fall over and land on her back, which only irritated her blisters more. It was Alfrid. Somehow still alive by escaping Laketown by the skin of his teeth.
"Give me this!" He snatched the blanket that was for Jeanne and took it for himself. "I'll take my death in this cold!"
"And cause the death of this girl? Find your own!" The Laketown woman yelled and tried to get it back. She managed to when Jeanne got up from the ground and grabbed the blanket, giving it one hard yank and ripped it from Alfrid's hand and back into her own. "You're not in charge now, Alfrid Lickspittle!"
"That is where you are wrong. In the absence of the Master, the powers seethes to his deputy, which in this instance is my good self. Now give me that blanket!" he tried to go for the blanket again but Jeanne held it out of his reach.
"Master's Deputy? Don't make me laugh. You're a sneak thief, more like. I'll be dead before I answer to the likes of you." The Laketown woman was about to walk away when Alfrid grabbed her.
"Maybe that can be arranged." He was about to slap her when Jeanne pulled the blanket tight across his face. She twisted him around and using the momentum to flip him over her shoulder and onto his back. "What in the world are you-" He jerked the blanket off so he could breathe again but immediately sucked all air back into his lungs when Jeanne loomed over him.
"You're in no position to complain," she hissed out in a rough whisper, her eyes pitch black and irritated. "So stop talking before people start turning their anger towards you." She wrapped the blanket back over her shoulders and walked off, not before catching a glimpse of Bard's children pushing through the crowd.
"Da!" Tilda cried out when she saw her father.
Bard's eyes came back to life when he saw his daughters and son. "Come here." He opened his arms and pulled them in for a bear-like embrace, squeezing the life out of them. "It's alright," he whispered with relief. He took a gamble back in the town. He wanted to find his children and figure out if they were safe or not, but would anyone really be with the dragon burning everything down? Would his family be safe? Could the town's people be safe? He didn't want to stop his quest to find them, but he knew he needed the dragon to fall that night to be able to see the sun and its morning light. He placed his trust in Jeanne, which is why he went back for her. "We're alright now."
Jeanne clenched her hands tightly to stop their repetitive shaking as a chill set in. A deadly cold that even pierced the wool blanket. She tightened her jaw and looked up, noticing a tall statured man a few feet away from her. She easily recognized who it was by his long blonde hair and sharp blue eyes. All elves have the same look when standing in front of her. They all looked uneasy and appeared to be on guard.
"You're...Legolas of the Woodland Realms. I haven't seen you in quite a few years." Jeanne offered him a smile since it was true. Unlike his kin, he didn't seem as cautious around her like the rest of them. He still looked uneasy about something though, which made her confused.
He strolled up and waited until she took a seat on a nearby rock. "You were the one who took down the dragon, were you? I imagine there are very few people who could do what you did."
She scoffed. "Come now. Surely that isn't all you wish to say to me. If you have any concerns then I wish to hear them." She could pinpoint this his concerns weren't solely with her, but with something else too. Something haunted those sharp eyes of his. Like he saw something he knew he wasn't meant to see.
Legolas looked away and off towards the Lonely Mountain. "Nothing that you shouldn't already know. News of the death of Smaug will spread through the lands, especially of the one who ended his life. Others will now look to the mountain. For its wealth. For its position," his voice deepened when he turned his eyes back to her. "They will also no doubt look for you. They will think you have become a threat. They would want you dead...fearing what you could become if you continue to live." He wasn't threatening her, more like warning her.
Jeanne breathed in deeply but flinched slightly from the pain. "I don't wish for power though." She clasped her hands together that had become rough in the times she spent away from home. "No rule. No crown. Nothing. I only wish..." She kept her mouth open like she was going to finish her sentence but closed it instead.
"What could you possibly wish for?" Legolas stared at Jeanne with curious intent with no ill will at all inside him.
She appeared to hesitate for a moment and didn't even sound sure of herself when she actually spoke. "I...it's...I just wish...to be happy. That is all I've ever wanted. All I craved. Desired." Saying it out loud honestly made her feel a bit childish.
Legolas frowned and kneeled in front of her as if he was searching for a lie hidden within her words. He couldn't spot anything though when she smiled at him. It seemed real. Like that was her honest wish. "That is all? A being of extraordinary power and opportunity...only wishes to be happy?"
"Doesn't every living being? Wizard, elves, men, dwarves. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't every being wish for that? How am I any different?"