1. The Lure of the Darkness
"Yes," Legolas answered. It did not take Elven ears to hear a call so loud and panicked. It was the sound a mother made, when she could not find her child.
At that moment, someone raced up to the prince and his friend. Elf though he was, he was out of breath when he stopped. The father, Legolas guessed. "My prince," the Elf stammered through frantic gulps for air, "our daughter--she is missing."
Legolas felt a stab of pain in his chest. He had known that was coming, felt it in the mother's call, heard it in the father's breath, but still, it hurt him. He had heard such things too many times. He barely remembered now the time before the Shadow, before the Necromancer had come to the forest, before Greenwood the Great had come to be called Mirkwood. And each time he heard that someone was missing, his memories returned to the day when his own voice had been heard, calling for his mother, and the way his father had been out of breath when he finally reached them, too late. Too often, they were too late.
"She may be found yet," Anarros said, not only for the father's reassurance. He had been Legolas' friend long enough to know what Legolas was thinking.
The child in Legolas gave way at once to the warrior he had become. "Where was she last?" he asked the father.
"She is young," he said. "She wanders. Her mother is ever calling her home. She does not see the darkness. She was born too late. She has not seen the light."
The young ones were particularly vulnerable. Knowing only the shadowed forest, they perceived it as normal. They did not clearly hear the warnings of the trees, the fear, the mourning. But young as they were, they were already in love with Arda and curious, wanting to see much of her. "Where?" Legolas asked, trying to guide Lauriel's father to a place where they could be of help.
"Near the old oak," the father said, pointing to the southwest. "She was with her mother. We have looked for her, thinking she must not have gone far, but we lost her in the trees. There was webbing."
It watched. High in the tree. Silent. It could feel the danger, the strength of the Elven King. Few of its kind ever came this close. But the payment, the reward for the risk, was so sweet, that this one dared. Its belly was empty and it craved the sweet juice of a creature of light. It could have its fill of squirrels and even an occasional deer, but nothing was so sweet as taking the life of an Elf.
And here was one just waiting for it. Sweeter still, the prey was a child. A tiny morsel, not enough to slake its thirst, but a tender reward, a desert, for the danger it faced to gain the prize.
It watched. The child came closer, still too far, too near its mother. The youngling's golden hair glinted in the tiny rays of light that filtered through the thick leaves above.
"This way, child," it whispered, quietly, no more than a breath. Elves could hear; the mother might hear. The mother would be a meal, but big Elves were hard to catch. They could cost a leg or a life. A child was a gift from the Darkness that it served. Too ignorant to fear, so lost in wonder for the leaves and trees.
It watched, and the child crept closer. "Stay near, Lauriel," the mother called.
"I will," the child answered, with its high and cheerful voice. Carefree. Careless. And the repugnant beauty of that voice fed its hunger, made it grow. It trembled as the hunger filled it like a lustful wave. It wanted the child. Needed the child.
"I will show you something beautiful," it crooned, still at a whisper, fighting its own body that wanted to race forward and snare the morsel before its mother could react. Big Elves could follow, take the child before it was empty, kill its own kind before they could escape. The child had to come, and the anticipation built up the hunger, the need, the lust, and it strained to keep still.
The child was watching, peering through the leaves, trying to find the voice. The little one's delicate hand brushed at the golden tresses that covered its small, blue eyes.
"This way," it called again, and the morsel stepped forward, still scanning the trees. "It is lovely. Come."
"Lauriel!" the big one called and the morsel turned.
No, the child could not leave. Must not leave. It had waited. It had been patient, perfectly still, waiting. It deserved the child. "It is leaving," it whispered to the girl. "You must hurry."
The golden hair twirled this way and that, trying again to find the voice.
"So lovely," it soothed, stepping slowly, silently back. "I will show you."
The child stepped forward and it had to stifle a moan. So hungry, so thirsty. "What is it?" the morsel whispered into the leaves.
"You will see," it answered, stepping back again. "It is a surprise."
"Lauriel?" the big one's voice was quieter now. Farther away.
It had an idea. "You can give it to your mother," it told the child. "A beautiful gift. But first you must see."
The child's eyes lit with wide wonder. It sucked in the air, imagining the taste of the flawless, fresh treat below it on the forest floor.
It moved faster now, drawing the child into the trees and away from the big one. And the little one followed, encouraged by the love for its mother. So innocent, so stupid, so perfect.
Legolas found the oak. Six warriors flanked him, armed with bows and blades. They fanned out, each to another tree. Legolas placed his hand on the oak's trunk and listened, asking it to tell what it knew. To the south, to the south. A child went this way but has not returned.
Fear rippled up the trunk. No spider. No spider. Only a child. She did not return.
"It did not see a spider," Legolas relayed to his warriors.
"Only a child," Anarros agreed. "They say she went south with her mother calling. She did not return."
"South, then," Legolas ordered. "There may still be time."
"Here, my prince," Talathris the Tracker said, pointing to the ground. "Her tracks."
"Lead on, but stay alert." He scanned the trees to the south, looking past the leaves and shadows, hoping to find a web, a leg, and child-shaped bundle. "Keep silent. They can hear."
The others nodded and moved deeper into the trees, following Talathris's lead and the direction of his gestures. The child had stopped here, he said, motioning, but she went on, away from the oak. They moved slowly, studying every branch, every twig, every leaf, every blade of grass as the forest around them grew darker and darker. Deeper and deeper. Legolas could feel the shadow, like a mist that reached inside of him. But he saw no sign of the girl beyond the tracks that Talathris followed. Until they ended. The shadow laughed in his mind, wicked and malevolent. She is gone, she is gone, sang the trees. But his ears heard something different, something worse. Water.
So perfect, so perfect. It had planned for so long. The others had laughed. "You'll starve," they said, "if they do not put an arrow in you first!" But it did not listen to them. It dreamed of this, a sweet morsel coming to it, walking into its trap. They had to chase and team up. They had to share their meals. But it would not have to share. It would not have to run. Its treat would fall into its arms.
"Where is it?" the child asked, still looking to the trees. But it was still hidden. The darkness here was a blanket to hide behind, a comfort. "The gift is there," it sang to her, "in the water. A lovely gift for your mother."
It dropped what it had held into the water. A flower. A white bloom with a golden center. It was nearly as big as the child's head, a worthy find for an Elf. A tool for one of its kind. A piece of bait for an Elf-child trap. A lure for a bit of ecstasy.
The child pulled a quick breath in as it spied the flower.
Above the river, it moved until it was waiting just above its prey. "It is leaving," it said, as the flower floated downstream. "You must catch it."
So perfect, the flower hugged the shore. The child would only have to dip its hand into the water. And so the child did. With the sickening grace of its kind, the Elf-child snatched up the flower from the water's edge and stood back up with a smile. But just that touch of water was enough. This Elf was small. Those blue eyes rolled back and the morsel swooned.
It moved quickly now, dropping down to the child before it fell into the water. It wrapped its legs around its prey, holding it up off the ground. The youngling's golden-haired head fell forward and it moaned again. The wait was nearly over. So soft was the flesh when it tasted, so sweet, but not yet. The morsel was not juice yet. With a shudder it released its venom and already it worked, sizzling and snapping. It slurped up the juice of the child where it had bitten, just a taste of what was to come.
"A present," it told the sleeping child. "A present for me. But you must be wrapped, wrapped until you are ready. It is too soon, too soon."
Legolas spied something white and raced silently through the trees to the banks of the river. There near the water's edge: a flower. So starkly alien in the darkened forest. It did not belong. Its light fragrance drowned in the sour smell of the shadow. The white bloom was already beginning to wilt from being plucked. It had been hours then. Maybe even a day. For the flower, but not for the child. She had only been missing since this morning. It might still not be too late. It might not be a spider at all. He turned his gaze downstream, hoping to see some hint of her caught along the shore. She might have fallen in the river. She might be asleep. She might be awake but not remember the way home.
The trees here were sinister, twisted and gnarled. They laughed at his efforts and taunted. Too late, too late. Carried away, carried away. Find her, Elf. Save her. You're too late, too late.
Anarros and the others caught up behind him and fanned out. They all knew the danger of the river and that of proceeding on assumption alone. Talathris saw something and touched the ground. He held his hand up for a moment and then wiped it on some leaves. Web.
Legolas jerked his head upward. There. A strand, glinting as the breeze blew on it. He followed it with his eyes. Up, and over the river. There, something white, in the branches just over the river.
Legolas put his bow behind him and started up the tree from which the strand was hanging. It screamed at him, filling his mind with a horrid, screeching noise. He ignored it and kept his eyes on the white bundle up ahead. It was the right size for a small child. There was hope. No hope! taunted the tree. No hope. The Master rules this place. He will have you! The limbs moved and twigs pulled at his leggings and ankles. But Legolas was an Elf and no tree had ever held him back. Except once. They had held him back from his mother. Saved him while she was murdered.
The tree laughed. Legolas snarled, angry with himself for letting the tree goad him. He pushed on. It was nearly within reach now, just over the river. The limbs beneath him shook, trying to throw him off.
"My prince," Anarros called, disobeying the order for silence. He was clearly worried. Legolas, however, refused to fall to the trees taunting. Or its shaking. He held on and climbed further over the river. "Legolas, be careful!"
Legolas hooked one knee over the branch he sat on and pulled out his knife. He leaned over to the bundle, ready to slice it open and free the child. But once he touched it, he knew. And the tree beneath him laughed. Too late. The sticky bundle was already open and hollow. The child was gone.
Waiting was so hard. The river below rippled and babbled its way downstream and the spider waited, watching its bundle carefully. It trembled and tapped the bundle now and then, poking to see if his reward was ready.
The child opened its blue eyes. The spider watched the morsel, smiling, though the child would not perceive that. The eyes were all that was visible of the little Elf, and at first they were calm and sleepy, but then they widened in surprise and concern. No doubt the child felt the venom. The morsel mumbled and whimpered, and the spider giggled in glee. "Too soon, too soon," it told the child. "You are my present, my reward."
The bundle wobbled as the child struggled but the venom was strong, as was the web that encased its little body. The morsel began to cry in little smothered sobs that were lost in the trees above the river.
"Have you forgotten, little one?" the spider asked. "Have you forgotten your mother? Forgotten the warnings the big ones give? Forgotten who rules this forest? Forgotten me?"
The child's struggles became weaker, though its tears increased. The spider poked again and felt the bundle give and squish beneath its leg. "So close," it said. It could wait. It could wait until all of the prize was ready, wait until those blue eyes closed and the morsel's movements ceased. But it had waited so long already. It was hungry, so hungry, and it dreamed of ways to make this morsel more succulent, more satisfying.
Deciding then, it tore at the webbing, releasing the child, who almost fell to the water below. Almost. It caught the morsel, wrapped it up again, just enough so it could drag it through the trees. Once it crossed the river, it lowered the morsel to the forest floor and then dragged it along the ground. The Elf-child still breathed, but there was no fight left in it, just juice, sweet juice.
And when it could wait no longer, it released the child and turned its face up on the ground. It stretched its long legs over its prey, spreading over the child like a tent. It dwarfed the morsel. Unmoving as the little one now was, it could see its prize was hardly longer than one of its own legs. "Watch me, morsel," it said, and those blue, tear-stained eyes rolled languidly up to watch its face as it bent down and gorged himself on its tiny body. The child weakly moved to push it off, but it drank on without pity. Alive when it began, the Elf's life made the morsel sweeter, sweeter than anything it had ever drunk before. And as it drank, the last bits of the child were liquefying into the pulp it craved.
It stopped itself from finishing the last of the little one though. The trees grew restless and it knew the big ones would be looking for the child. They were close, but it had an idea. Taking one last slurp, it withdrew and scampered up the tree and away into the darkness.
Legolas walked slowly, carefully, straining his ears to listen past the trees, and his eyes to see past the Shadow. He had waited by the water until the others had crossed. They were far enough from his father's realm now, deep in the darkness where evil things dwelt. Spiders most of all.
He did not need Talathris to show him the tracks here. The spider had seen no need to hide them. And there was a very distinct drag mark leading into the shadow of the trees. Now, with his company watchful behind him, he concentrated on the path before him, the path of a spider dragging an Elven child. The Shadow was thick here, stifling, suffocating. It filled his sight with darkness, his nose with stench, and his mouth with the taste of something rotten. And in his ears, the jeering of the trees had grown deafening. But Legolas was not a green warrior on his first mission. He knew enough to push beyond the assault to his senses.
And he knew enough to know when to call off pursuit. There came a point when even the strongest of Elves had to turn back. Dol Guldur held sway in the south and its power was overwhelming. Its pull was so strong that whole parties of Elven warriors had become lost in the forest near it, and decimated by the inhabitants of it. Legolas was feeling that pull with each step, and he readied himself to make that decision.
Then he saw her. A vision of beauty surrounded by black ugliness. Her dress was soiled but still bright. She was sitting against a tree and looked to be sleeping. He ran to her, putting his life in the hands of the warriors who guarded him. She did not move, and fearing what he hoped not to be true, he knelt down and touched her face.
Her face gave way to his touch, crumpling inward. Legolas's stomach lurched and he froze. The girl fell over with a sickening squelch. Legolas felt a hand on his shoulder. "It's too late," Anarros whispered. "We are too late."
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.