11. Chapter Ten: The Instrument of Fear
For David Saeran, there were few moments in life as sweet as this.
It was no exaggeration to say that he had been awaiting this audience for almost an eternity because a hundred thousand years could be perceived as such by someone who had been anticipating this day for longer than anyone could imagine. Since his resurrection in the world of men, Saeran had seethed with vengeance at the ruination of his carefully cultivated plan in Middle-earth when he ruled as Lord of Mordor. When he thought of his efforts in persuading Celerimbor to forge the rings of power, then to consolidate the disaffected voices in Middle earth into a fighting force equal to none, only to see all it destroyed because of one hobbit, he became so enraged it was hard to think.
All because that hobbit had proved that he was stronger than even Sauron had given him credit. A hobbit whose soul was finally within his reach.
Saeran stared at the whimpering child huddled in the chair the Ringwraiths had placed her, clutching her dolls with almost white knuckles and saw no physical traces of the hobbit once known as Frodo Baggins. Indeed this child probably remembered nothing of the life led in the Shire where she had once been keeper of the One Ring, a treasure Frodo Baggins would eventually destroy in the fires of Mount Doom though it did not belong to him. The destruction of the One Ring had ended Sauron’s bid for power over Middle earth and condemned the remnants of his defeated spirit to the Void. That was a slight that could not be forgiven, even a hundred thousand years after the event.
"It is my pleasure to finally meet you Fred," Saeran took a step towards her and saw her cringing further into the chair, her terror intensifying now that the dark nemesis of her dreams had shown himself at last. Her eyes were brimming with tears and her fear of him was so palpable that it was rather amusing. "May I call you Fred?"
She did not answer.
"I have wanted to meet you for the longest time Fred," Saeran extended his hand towards her and though the child shrank away, she could not escape him either. His finger brushed a strand of dark hair from her face and as he did, he took especial pride in seeing her tremble like a leaf. This would be so much more satisfying if she understood why she had earned his utter disdain but Saeran was patient, they would be spending a great deal of time together in the future. Fate had made Frodo Baggin’s reincarnation female and Saeran intended to exploit her gender to the fullest extent. He had no intention of killing her but every day of her life was going to be an expression of pain, of that there would be mistake.
"My servants have been searching for you since the day you were born," Saeran held her chin in his hand, pressing hard against the soft skin to ensure she would think twice about pulling away. Her lips were quivering because she was shaking so hard and Saeran felt tears dampen his fingertips. For this initial meeting, words were more than enough to impress upon the child the gravity of her situation.
"You know that don’t you?" He looked at her with a smile. "You heard me at night, you heard me whisper in the dark. I told you we would meet one day."
Her eyes furrowed in memory of the vile things she had heard in her sleep, the whispers in the dark of all the awful plans he had for her. She understood some of it and some was beyond her youth to comprehend but Fred suspected that she would find out if she remained his prisoner long enough.
"Bryan will come for me," she whispered softly, surprising him with the sudden verbal offering.
Perhaps the Ringbearer’s spirit was not so deeply submerged in her psyche after all, Saeran thought.
"I am certain he will," Saeran lowered himself so that she could look into his eyes and answered as if he were telling the child a bedtime story instead of making her understand that she had no hope of escaping her fate. "When he does, I’ll have him killed like I had your parents killed. You are mine Fred. You are mine until the day you die. I will kill anyone who tries to help you and then I will make you pay for involving them. I have no sympathy for you child. You have the misfortune of being someone who caused me a great deal of strife and I intend to exact the price of that injury with your despair."
"I didn’t do anything to you," she cried, unable to understand what she could have possibly done in her short life to earn this deep hatred. She thought she remembered things sometimes, things about a ring but beyond that there was nothing except this man’s voice in her dreams, his voice and his threats.
"I’m afraid you did," Saeran straightened up, staring at her coldly. "What that is exactly, you will learn over the next few years. As I said, you are mine and here you will stay until the day you pass, which I intend to be a long time from now."
Fred started to cry and Saeran could only smile because the sound of her weeping was like music to his ears. He relished it with deep satisfaction.
"Put her somewhere safe," Saeran replied turning away from the child, "when my current plans reach completion, I will turn my attention to her with the proper devotion. For now, I have no need of her."
With that, the lord of Mordor swept out of the room, taking with him the sweet victory of a child’s tears.
Surveying the mouth of the cave, there was very little doubt that the entrance was completely sealed as they stared at the wall of rock before them. Saeran's men had done a thorough job of trapping them inside the abandoned mine because the air was already starting to become stale. The dust cloud had yet to settle and could be seen drifting through the air by the illumination of the headlights bouncing off the random particles. If the dust was not already bad enough, the blast had loosened particles of coal into the air and a film of dark soot was staring to settle into everything.
After the initial realization of their imprisonment in this dark cavern, the first order of business had been to investigate the possibility of escape. Unfortunately, it was now apparent that they were not leaving the mine the way they had entered. The mouth of the cave had collapsed upon itself and while there were some tools left behind, all proved grossly inadequate for digging themselves out. The headlights of the van for now provided some light but it would not be long before the batteries were drained and they would be forced to rely on what makeshift torches they could make as well as Gandalf's staff.
"This is my fault," Bryan said grimly, pushing against a bolder that was embedded firmly in its place within the blockage of the cave entrance and muttered under his breath when it would not even budge an inch.
"No its not," Aaron returned automatically, not believing it for a second. "If you hadn't driven in here, we would probably be in their hands by now and most likely be dead. This was a good call at the time."
"I suppose," Bryan frowned, hating the fact that their presence here was by design. "I should have seen it though. They were forcing us here."
"Yeah I thought it was kind of coincidental that they seemed to have a bazooka on hand," Aaron nodded, agreeing with his assertion. "They probably thought this was a good way to contain us."
"In a mine shaft?" Bryan stared at him, "it feels like more than just containment."
"Come on," Aaron gestured at him to come away from the wall since it was clear they were not going to be able to clear away the debris to leave the way they came. "We got to find another way out of here."
"I'm with you on that," the Englishman agreed and followed Aaron who was walking towards the van.
When he arrived, he saw Haldir and Legolas had discarded their modern clothing in favor of their elven attire. Since their present situation saw no need to maintain their disguise as humans and would most likely lead them into battle, it was best to be garbed in clothes most suited for the purpose. The elves had been investigating the rest of the mineshaft while Eve rested after her exertion earlier. Aaron could see that she was in pain though she would never admit it openly. He wondered how she thought he would miss it. After all, he of all people was aware of just how recent her injuries were. He himself had bore the brunt of the wolf attack but it was nowhere as serious as the lacerations Eve had endured.
"The mine is not closed," Gandalf announced when the company was together again. "It leads downwards but I sense that path will not be easy. As you have already guessed, we were trapped here for a reason."
"Don't tell me this mineshaft leads to Saeran's little chamber of horrors?" Aaron asked expecting the worse.
"There is great evil emanating from it," Legolas replied as the elf armed himself with the weapons that had been spending a good deal of time hiding since their arrival in the modern world. "Unfortunately, our alternatives are limited. We cannot remain here and that may be the only path out."
"Well we best get a move on then," Bryan replied without hesitation. "We'll take what food and water we can carry and all the weapons. Everything else is going to have to stay behind. When and if this is over and we're still in one piece we can come back for the van but right now, we should only take what we need."
"We're going to need something to see with down there," Aaron pointed out, unhappy at leaving the van behind even though there was no alternative but to do so. Having remembered the watcher that had almost feasted on him beneath the Monolith, Aaron was not exactly enthusiastic about leaving the bulk of their supplies behind.
"We don't know how much air is down there," Bryan returned, his military training coming to the surface very much now, "we start lighting torches and what little there is will be used up quickly and we'll suffocate. The battery torch will have to do."
"Do not worry," Gandalf said assuredly, "I shall be to provide all the light we will need."
With a plan of action laid out, the group began sifting through the supplies in order to take the essentials. Aaron was surprised by just how much weight Bryan was able to carry as he took it upon himself to take most of the weapons. In her condition, Eve was unable to carry very much and between Aaron and Bryan, they had managed to take every gun and all the ammunition in the van. Once they had collected their belongings for the journey, they paused long enough to take a meal before setting out for the mineshaft, with Gandalf leading the way.
The mineshaft appeared to have been deserted for quite sometime if the cobwebs and dust were any indication of its neglect. Fortunately, as they descended the narrow passageway into the earth, the air did not thin which was a good sign that a fresh supply was coming from somewhere. Gandalf seemed to be quite adept at navigating through the uneven terrain and despite the claustrophobic feel of the black, ash covered walls around them, Aaron started to think that perhaps they would see daylight again.
They walked for what seemed like hours, in a passageway that seemed to be taking them deeper and deeper into the earth. Occasionally, they would happen upon other tunnels veering away from their chosen route but the air emanating from these shafts were dank, indicating a decided lack of oxygen or ventilation for that matter. Since Gandalf's navigation had so far kept them supplied with fresh oxygen, they did not question his decision to ignore the other tunnels.
However, Aaron could tell that the elves were anxious. While he did not possess their honed senses, he was an expert interpreting behavior and elves, no matter how much they loathed to admit it, were not all that different from humans in that respect. They could sense danger and it had been a threat growing in their mind for some time now. The only reason neither Legolas and Haldir had voiced this was because the news would do little to alter their course. This was the only way out and whatever danger lingered on the edge of their consciousness would still have to be dealt with if they wanted to escape this darkness.
"This reminds of Moria," Gandalf remarked with a little hint of nostalgia in his voice.
"Moria?" Bryan asked.
"It was the realm of the dwarfs," Legolas replied as if that explained everything.
"They liked living in coal mines?" Bryan looked at him in question, unable to imagine any race willingly adopting a dismal place like this as their home.
"No," Haldir concluded. "They were natural miners. They liked mining the earth for riches and their kingdoms in the mountains were impressive, even if they were an impossible race to fathom."
"I seem to recall you fathomed one quite well," Legolas threw Haldir a look. "If memory serves, you two were very much alike."
"Not that much," Haldir said frostily, not finding comparison to a dwarf very complimentary, no matter how much of an understanding he had with Gimli.
"So what were these dwarves like?" Bryan questioned further, sensing an interesting history behind Haldir's obvious distaste for the comparison.
"Oh they were a lively people," Gandalf replied remembering Aule’s children affectionately, "they loved to do battle and aside from being exquisite craftsmen, they had quite the skill in making brew,"
"And drinking it," Legolas smiled thinking about the drunken escapades that the Fellowship had experienced during the pauses in their journey, in particular those involving Boromir, Aragorn and Gimli.
"I think I like these dwarves," Bryan remarked with a smile.
"Hey didn't you die in Moria. Gandalf?" Aaron declared, suddenly recalling that particular fact about the Fellowship's journey.
"Well yes," Gandalf said not at all disturbed by the fact, "however, I did not stay dead and that was the important thing."
"He has a habit of doing that," Aaron explained helpfully to Bryan. "I put a bullet in him a year ago and he still came back. It’s a wizard thing."
Legolas and Haldir exchanged glances and rolled their eyes in resignation at Aaron's simplistic explanation. Even though Legolas considered Gandalf his friend, he could never forget that beneath the benign exterior of the pleasant old man was a powerful Istar who was not all the human he appeared to be. He was of the Maiar and commanded more respect than it appeared humans were capable of comprehending or affording him. Fortunately, it was one of the reasons why Gandalf had such affection for the race.
"What killed you?" Bryan asked suspiciously.
"Well it did not exactly kill me but we did fight a rather pitched battle and in the end it is safe to say that we both succumbed to the injuries sustained during the conflict," Gandalf explained. "However, it was the balrog who succumbed first."
"Well at least you're not being competitive about it," Aaron teased.
"Balrog?" Bryan inquired further.
"It is a creature the size of a small building, breathed in flame and carries lashes of fire," Legolas answered. "It was one of Morgoth's creations during the First Age. Gandalf killed the last of its kind known to exist in Moria."
"You know, I'm hearing a lot about things that are supposed to have been killed and yet my spider sense is telling me that they are about as extinct as that thing underneath Malcolm's building," Eve pointed out.
"Are you still on about those bloody spiders?" Bryan gave her a look wondering how she could be so sensible and yet so typically female at times. "How can you be unafraid to wax your legs and be terrified of something that small?"
"Waxing legs?" Aaron had to weigh in.
"Have you ever tried it?" Bryan stared at him.
"No, but I'm interested to know when you have," the doctor returned with interest.
"I am not afraid," Eve barked back haughtily. "I'm just saying that a lot of things that aren't suppose to exist anymore appear to be popping up so I'm a little skeptical about the validity of what is really dead and what's not."
The two were so busy arguing that neither had noticed that the others had come to a pause until Eve ran into Aaron who was staring ahead with a grimace slashed across his face whilst rubbing the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache coming on.
"Eve," Aaron sighed, hating it when she was right, especially now. "Brace yourself."
"What?" Eve replied before facing front and finding the rest of the passageway barred to them by a thick, fibrous material that had an odd resemblance to a very large, spider's web.
Tory had not been able to hear much of David Saeran’s audience with Fred but she did recognize the sound of the child’s terrified tears. Fighting the urge to burst into the room and rescue the girl from the dark lord’s clutches, Tory waited in the darkness, unobserved for the moment, grateful that she had retained her calm. Fortunately, being a barrister in the arena of the courtroom had taught her control and so she maintained her because any effort on her part to mount such a rescue would only result in getting her and Fred killed.
When Tory heard the door open, she hurried back into the corridor and saw Saeran emerging first before taking himself up the sweeping staircase to the upper part of the mansion. After his departure, she saw two of the Ringwraiths appear and Tory hurried back the way she came, retreating as far as the garage. She observed the wraiths flanking the little girl who was still clutching her doll, her face an expression of misery as they led her down the spiral staircase again. Tory prayed they had no second sight to speak of because her life and that of Fred’s depended on how long she could move about Saeran’s bastion freely. As it was, she was rather surprised that she had not been discovered already but supposed that a being dedicated to wiping the human race from the face of the earth may not be predisposed to keeping too many of them in his household, even as servants.
Tory withdrew to the garage once more, peering through the crack of its door and heard footsteps intermingled with Fred’s tears when the wraiths reached the bottom of the spiral staircase with their prisoner. As anticipated, they took the route down the other staircase she had seen earlier that disappeared through the floor to the lower levels of the mansion. Fred was not struggling to escape them but Tory suspected that this might simply be because she was too frightened to do so. As far as David Saeran was concerned, Fred was the modern day personification of his most hated enemy and was not subject to compassion despite being six years old.
Tory waited until after the wraiths had disappeared beneath the stairway when Fred’s cries had become faint like their diminishing footsteps. She did not know how long she lingered in the darkness, debating whether or not it was the right moment to begin her pursuit, until concern for Fred’s well being won over good sense. Finally, she forced herself out of the shadows and followed the route taken by the Nazgul. Tory took great pains to be silent when she made her way down the steps, feeling as if she were being lowered to the bottom of a dark well because the staircase seemed to delve very deep beneath ground level. When she paused in the middle of her descent to gaze upwards, Tory could see only a faint glimmer of light above.
It was many minutes before she finally reached the end of the staircase and found that it emptied into a network of corridors. Some were remnants of the mansion but others appeared recently constructed. Corridors constructed with huge bricks of roughly cut stone vanished into smooth concrete walls, painted over. The newer corridors came equipped with power cables, conduits and electric lights running along the ceiling at regular intervals while the older section was not. There were lights but these were against the wall and it felt as if choosing one or the other felt like stepping through time somewhat. Even the air was fresh and ventilated.
Each of the doors along these corridors came equipped with swipe card security locks. For a moment she was struck with the memory of being in the Research and Development section of one of her client’s companies. Certainly there was an antiseptic scent about the place; quite a feat when the rest of it looked like it was straight out of the Middle Ages. Instinct told her that she had stumbled upon something important but for the life of her could not see what that was. More than anything she wished Bryan were here, he would know what this place was in a second.
What goes on here? She wondered.
Tory was almost tempted to investigate but then she remembered why she had come down here in the first place and the realization that she had no idea which direction the Nazgul had taken Fred struck her with a sense of growing despair. The possibility that she might have lost the child horrified her but no sooner than the thought had crossed her mind, she heard footsteps again. Taking refuge behind one of the corners, she saw the wraiths returning to the stairway once more, Fred ominously absent. Tory took note of their direction, particularly which corridor they had emerged and waited until they were well out of sight before taking that route herself.
The corridor taken by the Nazgul was less traveled if the dust and the cobwebs were any indication. When she made her way down it, she noticed that it had adjoining passages that broke off and ran into darkness and Tory’s investigation of one of these junctures led her to what appeared to an underground cavern. It ran as far as the eye could see, though that was not very much because the lights here were nowhere as efficient as the fluorescent globes on the rest of the floor. Fortunately, she knew that the Nazgul had not taken Fred here because as she drew further away from the center of the underground complex, she began to hear faint sounds echoing down the corridor.
It was the sound of a child’s screaming.
The terrified cries prompted Tory into a run and she followed the terrified wails quickly. It was not long before lights faded from view and the air began to turn dank and musty. As she left the last light globe behind her, she noticed the paved floor giving away to dirt. Cobwebs became more frequent and she was brushing away thin ropes of dust from her path. Fred’s screams grew louder and more frantic. Despite being in almost in pitch-black darkness, Tory knew she was at least going the right way. Reaching into the handbag which she had miraculously managed to keep with her during this entire ordeal, she found the lighter she had never bothered to get rid off even though she stopped smoking more than a year ago. It provided her with some illumination as she continued onwards, determined to reach Fred because the child sounded so terribly afraid.
Why shouldn’t she be? Tory asked herself as she hurried forward, unable to run very fast because she needed the lighter to see ahead. She could hear rats squeaking in the darkness and shuddered in disgust. The little girl was alone in a dungeon. Inwardly, Tory was burning with fury and outrage at the cruelty of it. Surely Saeran could see Fred was little more than a baby, with no memory of the person she had been in the ancient past. How could he gain any satisfaction from avenging himself on a six-year-old child who had no idea what she had done to him?
The screams had degenerated into loud, gasping tears and Tory could sense that Fred was near hysterical from her confinement. The child was screaming for her mother and that seemed to tug at Tory’s heart even more. While Tory was well aware that Fred’s parents were only recently murdered, she had been surprised at how silent the little girl had been on the subject. Tory supposed Bryan’s presence had made it a little easier for Fred to bear but now she was like any six-year-old in a terrible situation, crying out for her mother, even though the woman was dead.
When Tory turned a corner at last and reached the small room the crude passageway had emptied into, she understood why Fred’s stoic manner had crumbled so. The lighter gave out at that moment but it had provided enough illumination for Tory to see it. With the exception of a circular cast iron grate on the floor, the room was empty. Tory clicked the button on her lighter again, managing to coax enough of a flame to provide her with light. The illumination did not halt Fred’s tears as Tory stepped forward and saw that the grate was locked by a crude bolting mechanism. Fortunately, there was no padlock of any kind, meaning it could be opened without the need for a key.
Tory heard Fred’s cries emanating from beneath the grate.
Tory ran forward and dropped to her knees at the edge of the grate where stone met iron, "Fred, it’s okay. It’s Tory, I’m going to get you out here!" She said quickly, trying to calm the child down.
The child did not answer and her silence was more terrifying than where Tory had found her. Deciding that Fred’s mental state could wait until Tory removed her from her nightmarish cell. The barrister fumbled for the bolt and pushed it forward and across, removing it from the metal sheath that kept it secured. She could understand why two wraiths were needed to escort Fred here because as she tried to move the cover, it required almost every ounce of her strength to pull it across the top of the pit. However, Fred’s freedom was a powerful incentive and she created enough of a gap to lower herself into it.
It was not much of a drop to the floor and climbing out would prove no problem for Tory but for Fred it would have been impossible to even touch the grate.
"Fred, I’m here," she came to the little girl.
"I want Bryan!" Fred wailed as she ran forward, wrapping her arms around Tory as she sobbed pitifully against the woman’s body.
Tory picked her up and held her tight in a warm embrace, "its alright dearest," she cooed softly in the child’s ears. "He’ll come back to us soon but I’m here now and I won’t leave you again, no matter what happens."
"You have to go away," Fred looked up tearfully, her word escaping her in stutters. "He said he would hurt you if you came to help me."
"He won’t hurt me," Tory returned firmly as she moved towards the edge of the pit and raised Fred to the top. "I won’t let him hurt either of us."
Brave words, she thought silently to herself but Fred needed to believe it. Tory could not believe the evil that would allow anyone to put a child in a place like this. For the first time, she began to truly hate David Saeran instead of merely fearing him. Once she had ensured Fred was safely out of the pit, Tory climbed out herself. It was very dark so Tory flicked her lighter again, painfully aware that the fluid was not infinite.
Fred embraced Tory again, crying a fresh set of tears at being reunited with someone who cared enough about her to come rescue her from this horror. At that moment, Fred adored Tory almost as much as Bryan. "Thank you for finding me," she said in a small voice.
"I promised Bryan I would look after you," Tory said with a smile as she started leading Fred out of the room. "He would never have forgiven me if I left you in a place like this."
In truth, it was more than just the promise to Bryan that had forced her to do this. In the last few minutes when she was struck with the horror of what Saeran had done to the child, Tory had wanted nothing more than to protect this fragile little girl who had earned so many enemies in her short life. Someone had to protect her from these monsters and even if she was wholly inadequate to the task, Tory was determined to do so nonetheless.
Tory had picked up Fred and started running up the way she came, wishing to leave this dungeon behind as fast as possible. She had no idea what she would do once they were back in the light but Tory was making this up as she went. The magnitude of their predicament was starting to unfold upon her because she had no idea where they were and how they could leave this place without drawing attention. They were almost back to the main center of the complex when suddenly, she saw a tall, sultry looking woman with cascading dark hair and hard flinty eyes standing in the middle of the corridor, with a group of men behind her. They were the same as the one who had invaded her house in England.
"I was right," the woman said clearly, "there is someone here."
That was all Tory needed to hear before she spun around, clutching Fred tightly to her and running back the way they had just come.
"Hold on to me," Tory ordered breathlessly as she saw the paved corridor give way to dirt once more. Suddenly, a flash of inspiration or rather desperation struck her and she hastened her pace, even though she could hear the men behind her giving chase.
"Where are we going?" Fred managed to ask.
Tory did not answer and skidded around the corner she knew would lead her to their only hope of evading capture. The darkness within the cavern beneath Saearan’s stronghold enveloped them whole as Tory ran into it, holding Fred tightly to her. The child’s weight in her arms was starting to wear her down but Tory was terrified of letting Fred go not when Saeran was so determined to lay his hands on her. Feeling the uneven ground of dirt beneath them, Tory saw the diminishing light of the corridor over her shoulder as she moved further into the cavern. She had been unable to see its boundaries earlier and as she scrambled into darkness, knew that the black had as much power to hinder their escape as well as hide them from their pursuers.
"I have to put you down," she whispered softly to Fred as they move deeper away from what little light there was. "Hold my hand and don’t let go," Tory instructed as she lowered Fred to the ground. The child’s fingers immediately clasped her hand tightly and Tory found that she had to wave her own in front of her so that she could navigate through the darkness. Meanwhile the voices behind them grew louder, urging Tory deeper into the cavern even though she could see nothing before her. They had to get away before those men deduced what path they had taken. She took another step forward and found herself tumbling forward.
There was not even time to scream when she went over the edge, her hand still locked around Fred’s as she took the child with her over the abyss.
This was a new experience for Aaron actually.
Over the past year he had seen a gamut of emotions from Eve following their first meeting, their subsequent battles with John Malcom, their journey to Valinor and finally the life they shared together. He knew without doubt that he had always loved her and would do so until the day he died. How could he not when all he had to do was look at her and be struck with awe? Eve took his breath away by the sheer strength of her will. He had seen her face every situation with impeccable poise, not to mention courage and as a psychiatrist, it was quite something for him to be able to say with utter certainty that she was the strongest person that he knew.
So he could be forgiven for being rather shocked when he saw how she reacted to finding the enormous spider web in the path they were bound to take in order to escape the mines and reach David Saeran.
Which was not very well at all.
"Oh no, no, no, " Eve backed away from the webbing, the extremely large webbing, the webbing that was not for a little spider as Bryan had so casually put it but something big, something very big. "This is not happening. This is definitely not happening. That isn’t what I think it is," she started to rant.
"Well it is most definitely a spider’s web," Legolas remarked, baffled by the fact that Eve seemed to be confused by this. What else could it be?
Even Bryan had to wince at his timing and the MI6 agent glanced at Legolas with a look of sarcasm, "good one," he muttered.
"Eve," Aaron tried to calm her, "I’m sure its not that bad."
"Not that bad?" She stared at him. "A spider made that web! A very big spider and that’s the only way out! Explain to me how this is not bad?"
"It could be more than one," Legolas added helpfully.
"Will you please shut up!" Aaron bit back at the elf in exasperation as Eve started to turn pale.
"What did I say?" Legolas asked in elvish, a little hurt.
"What did you not?" Haldir shook his head in disbelief.
"I can’t do it Aaron," she said seriously, her panic growing worse by the second. "You ask me to fight the worst damn demon in the universe and I’ll do it with a smile if I have to but I can’t deal with spiders. I don’t like them!"
"Eve!" Aaron grabbed her hands and stared into her fearful eyes, "we don’t have time for this. I love you and I’ll be at your side every step of the way, but we have to keep moving. We don’t have a lot of time and you’re stronger than this. Courage is something you have a lot of and we’ve faced worst things."
"When?" She hissed.
"Don’t worry luv," Bryan added, actually trying to helpful since Legolas had inadvertently scared her half to death. "Spiders or not, they still don’t stand much of a chance of surviving the blast from a shotgun or an automatic. They’re not much scarier than wolves."
"As I recall, a wolf almost tore out my throat," Eve declared defiantly.
"Oh bloody hell," Bryan threw his hands up in the air. "What am I wasting time trying to make a woman understand? You know a man wouldn’t have the least bit of trouble dealing with this and here I thought you had a little bit of sense to you. Just goes to show how you women are under pressure."
Aaron looked over his shoulder and wondered if Bryan was being antagonistic or was that actually some logic behind his words because he saw Eve taking great exception to being accused of feeling this way simply because she was a woman.
"That’s not fair," Aaron came to her defense nonetheless, though somewhat carefully in case Bryan was not being a jerk. "Its not her fault because she’s a woman."
"I can handle myself just fine," Eve blustered, her indignation well and truly provoked. "I may be scared silly because of that spider or spiders but it won’t keep me from doing what I have to! Come on!" She said riding a surge of anger as she walked past them.
Aaron gave Bryan a look as Eve walked ahead to join Gandalf who was wearing a little smile on his face at the unfolding events, no doubt guessing what Bryan was about.
"Not bad," Aaron muttered as he passed the Englishmen. It was most likely that when Eve actually saw a spider her bravado would evaporate but for the moment at least, they were on the move.
"If there’s one thing I know how to do," Bryan replied with a grin, "it how piss off a woman."
"Amen to that," Aaron chuckled and hurried to catch up with Eve.
Unfortunately, it did appear that Legolas was right. If there were spiders about, there was definitely more than one of them. As the company delved deeper into the tunnels, they noted numerous remnants of webs, too much to be produced by just one creature. Eve was standing close to Aaron even though her gun was drawn and though he did not mention it, he saw that her knuckles were almost white from how hard she was clutching the grip. Bryan had angered her enough to make her enter the maw of her greatest fear but it could not erase it. Now that they were well into the arachnid’s realm, anger had given way to cold fear once more.
It did not help that they could hear the sounds of movement. The noises alternated between the heavy drag of a spider’s torso against the ground and the unbelievably chilling sound their numerous legs made against the dirt. Legolas and Haldir had armed their bows and the Mirkwood archer had taken flank next to Eve, in apology for frightening her out of her wits earlier.
"They are on the move," Legolas announced.
"Yes," Gandalf nodded. "They are being extremely cautious in how they engage us."
"Oh great, giant and smart," Eve shook her head in disbelief, unable to believe how she had come to be in a situation where they were being surrounded by large spiders. "They’re tracking us aren’t they?"
"More like stalking," Bryan commented. "If those webs are any indication of their size then these tunnels are too small for a concentrated attack. They’ll wait until we enter a larger chamber."
Aaron could see Eve was struggling to control her fear and took a protective step towards her. She glanced at him appreciatively as they continued down the mineshaft until it began to widen into a large chamber. The sounds that had dogged them for so the last hour or so had diminished but Aaron could see Legolas’ expression hardening as if he was sensing something they could not. Even the light from Gandalf’s walking stick could not provide illumination enough to see the entire breadth of the cavern. There were too many shadows and too many rocks to be certain that everything was what it appeared to be.
"Be still," Legolas suddenly spoke.
"Why?" Aaron asked tautly.
The elf did not speak at first, uncertain how his news would be received. Unfortunately, the revelation had to be made.
"They are all around us."
"Can you tell how many there are?" Bryan asked slowly, his finger tightening around the shotgun’s trigger in readiness to fire when the attack began.
"At least ten," Haldir’s answer was followed by a sharp intake of breath from Eve.
"We will continue forward," Gandalf instructed, taking a cautionary step forward. "I think we can risk a little more light to catch them unawares. When the moment comes, run as fast as you can. These beasts have stayed alive much longer than they should have. If anything, it is a credit to their cunning."
Eve scanned the roof of the cave and could see little in the darkness but she was certain that something was there, she could feel it. Bead of perspiration began to form against her skin even though it was freezing cold outside. She saw Gandalf trying to cross the cavern before the spiders attacked but knew inwardly that they had no chance of leaving this place without a fight. While she did not possess elven senses as such, she did have a strong sense of intuition and her instincts at this moment told her that they would be fortunate to escape with their lives.
The silence was overwhelming, like the pause between armies just before someone decided to break ranks and strike the first blow. The company continued their slow journey across the cavern, painfully aware that their progress was being observed closely. Staring into the blackness, they could see the gleam of scarlet compound eyes looking back at them, waiting for the moment to pounce. Next to her, Aaron could feel Eve’s trembling as her fear reached climax and he was certain the creatures in the dark was savoring the scent.
"Why aren’t they attacking?" Aaron hissed voicing Eve’s impatience.
"Spiders are patient Aaron," Legolas explained, his bow armed and ready. "They wait until the moment suits them. We are already in their web, they need only to move in for the kill."
"Gandalf," Bryan looked at the wizard. "Whatever you’re going to do, do it now when they’re not expecting it. If we’re going to take them, we have to do it when we’re ready, not when they are."
"You may be right," Gandalf nodded in agreement. "Be prepared to run at my word."
"You don’t have to worry about that," Eve replied hastily, trying to stop herself from trembling.
"When they come at you," Legolas quickly explained while there was still opportunity, "aim your weapons at the eyes and the mouth. That is where they are most vulnerable and that will also prevent them stinging you with venom. In the portions they are capable of dispensing, one bite will kill where you stand."
"God," Eve grimaced. "Let’s just do this!"
No sooner than the words had left her mouth, a flash of brilliant white light suddenly flooded the cavern so intensely that for a moment, none of them could see. The sharp glare had even worse effect upon the dark bodies surrounding them as the creatures retreated at the overload to their visual receptors.
"RUN!" Gandalf shouted and sprinted forward, taking advantage of the enemy’s momentary disorientation.
The spiders’ distraction was temporary and they reacted with surprising speed once their prey was on the move. Despite their huge black bodies, their legs moved with incredible speed, scampering forward to converge upon the quarry attempting to flee the cavern. The spiders that had been suspended on the ceiling above as Eve suspected began to lower themselves into the killing zone, their gossamer thin webs perfectly taut as they descended.
Eve saw her worst nightmare unfolding when the brilliant glare of Gandalf’s staff had subsided enough to let her see the spiders converging upon her. For a moment, all she wanted to do was run and hide. Certainly, a scream left her mouth when she saw them coming. All sensible thought left her mind as she stood there in the middle of the cave, unable to keep moving because the spiders had craftily blocked both exits. She jumped startled as she heard Bryan opening fire, sending a shotgun blast at the spider coming at him. He had taken Legolas’ advice and aimed the barrel at the spider’s head. The blast caused it to screech in pain and something slick and black splattered across the ground as it fell down dead.
"Eve, watch out!" She heard Aaron shouted and turned around in time to see him tackle her to the ground as a spider came out of the darkness with terrifying speed and pounced. Eve let out a frightened cry as she saw it sail over their head, landing only a few feet away from them both. Eve scrambled away as it crawled forward towards them. Aaron rolled onto his knees and fired into the creature’s open maw. The bullets struck one compound eye and caused it to explode, spraying thick, viscous fluid that made her so sick, she was barely able to contain her urge to gag. However, it was still coming. Aaron prepared to fire again but the spider closed the distance between itself and the doctor with incredible speed, screeching loudly as its mandibles widened in anticipation of tasting flesh. Before Aaron could take aim, the spider was already upon him.
Oh God, she thought frantically, Aaron!
"NO!" She ran forward and kicked hard, her boot landing firmly in the creature’s other eye. It retreated momentarily in pain but it was all that Eve needed. Without even thinking, Eve fired two shots at it and made them count. The first bullet tore through the spider’s remaining eye and the other entered through its gullet. Its screech became a gurgle of pain but it landed heavily against the ground, unmoving. She stared at briefly as its legs spasm jerkily, reminding her of its smaller cousins after a good dose of insecticide. The familiar churning of disgust assailed her but she forced it away because Aaron was right.
She was stronger than this.
"Thanks," Aaron looked at her; inordinately proud that she had managed to fight back her terror and confront her fear when he needed her most.
"Well I suppose you could call this aggressive therapy," she said breathlessly offering a hand to help him up when suddenly his expression hardened and he yanked her forward, causing her to fall on the ground beside him.
Aaron emptied half a clip into the spider that would have ripped open Eve’s back with one of its leg if he had not acted when he had. The sound rocked the cavern as the barrage tore through the insect’s thorax and hideous skull. It did not matter that he aimed because he had released enough bullets to ensure that one of them met its mark. The spider’s advance halted with a splatter of black blood across them both, making Aaron flinch in disgust as the slick fluid made contact with his skin.
"Are you alright?" Aaron looked at Eve who was recovering from the shock of almost meeting her end.
"Yeah," she nodded as she stared at him with a dazed expression. "I didn’t expect you to return the favor so soon."
"Well I am a psychiatrist after all," he remarked as he got up hastily to his feet. "What good am I if I can’t come to my patient’s rescue?"
Eve would have kissed him but this was hardly the time for it and they were nowhere out of danger. Seeking out their companions, Eve marveled briefly at the expertise of Legolas as he shot arrow after arrow at the spiders surging towards him, whether they came from the ground or from the ceiling. When he had claimed to hunt these things for sport, she had only half believed him but there was no doubt in her mind of it now. He might be awful pretty for an elf, she thought with a little smile but he was one hell of an archer and these spiders were no match for him. There was almost an expression of exultation on Legolas’ face as every arrow that left his bow met its mark with ruthless efficiency. If she did not know better, she would say that he had missed this little past time.
Legolas did not take their situation lightly and as he was faced with spiders coming at him from all directions, he knew that it would be too easy for confidence in his ability to get him killed but he could not deny it. Elbereth, he had missed those days when he would hunt the beasts of Mirkwood, when Sauron’s bastion at Dol Guldur had attracted evil to the woods of Eryn Lasgalen.
He saw a spider attempting to lower itself upon him and quickly stepped out from under it, arming his bow with two arrows and firing them simultaneously across its torso. As expected, both arrows sank deep into the dark body and stole whatever agility to keep the beast aloft. Legolas stepped back, as it impacted hard against the ground only a few paces away from where he stood. He saw its blood spilling from its wounds and ended its misery with another well-placed arrow.
Surveying the efforts of his companions, his brow knotted in alarm when he saw Haldir fending off two of the creatures at once. Galadriel’s loyal servant was in need of help and Legolas found himself running past the carcasses he had produced in order to aid the march warden. Haldir had dispatched one of the spiders but did not have time enough to deal with the other. Before Legolas could arm his bow to fire, he saw the beast lash out at Haldir, its powerfully sharp leg tearing through flesh. Haldir let out a cry of pain as a gash of blood appeared over his chest.
"HALDIR!" Legolas shouted in a mixture of horror and rage.
Haldir had fallen when the spider attacked and saw it closing the distance, with its mandibles snapping in preparation of tasting his blood. Reaching for his knife, Haldir plunged the blade deep into the creature’s eye, causing it to rear its head in pain at the white-hot agony that had blinded it. It slashed its leg at its victim and Haldir barely rolled out of the way to avoid the injury to his own which would have be truly debilitating if it were allowed. He anticipated another attack when suddenly, the beast flipped over onto its back in agony, its legs kicking air as two arrows protruded from its neck.
Legolas hurried to Haldir and offered him a hand, "you are hurt."
"Not as badly as it might appear," Haldir replied as he allowed Legolas to pull him to his feet, his eyes grazing the wound across his chest with distaste.
"I could not allow you to be killed," Legolas said with clear relief on his face as well as sincere concern. "Who would vex me otherwise?"
"So you admit it," Haldir groaned in pain as he examined himself.
"Only because you are injured," Legolas grinned.
"Hey!" Bryan suddenly interrupted as he ran past, "if you two ladies have finished the hugs and kisses, you think you might give me a hand here?"
The human capped this statement off by whirling around sharply and discharging two blasts from his gun at an advancing spider. The powerful roar of the weapon was followed by the sickening sound of flesh exploding as the beast’s approach ended abruptly. He had barely a moment to savor his victory when he saw something moving in the corner of his eye. Bryan turned around just in time to see a spider leaping at him. The MI6 agent dropped back and rolled across the ground as it lunged, firing when the beast flew over his head. Its howl of pain prompted him to discharge the weapon again, this time sending a spray of shotgun pellets tearing through the spider’s underside. It landed metres from him, writing in pain and unable to move. Pivoting on one knee, Bryan swung towards it and took another careful aim to blow its head off.
Their effort to reach the exit before the spiders had converged was more or less a moot point as more and more carcasses began to pile around the company of elves and men. The combination of bullets and arrows were making short work of the creatures suffering heavily under the assault. Even Eve had overcome her fear and was defending herself admirably, though Legolas noticed Aaron remained close by her side in case she faltered.
Gandalf was using his magic to defend himself, sending the creatures attacking him flying into walls or flung through the air as if they were their smaller counterparts. Legolas doubted that any of the spiders ever had a chance to come close to harming the Maia who had dealt with far viler things in his time. The creatures themselves were showing some sense of fear because Legolas could see them beginning to retreat, their dark bodies scurrying away through the even darker shadows to escape with their lives.
"You were right," Haldir remarked as Bryan fired at a retreating spider, causing it to screech in pain as the bullet’s tore through its abdomen, "he has Boromir’s charm."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.