Time of the Orcs has come, The: 4. The castle keep

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4. The castle keep

"When did you last see Finrod?" asked Legolas. He had summoned all the Mirkwood elves and Haldir, and had asked Gimli to join them, and was questioning Valandil just outside the cave-he wanted to give Eowyn some privacy. "I am not sure, my lord," said Valandil. "He was helping the bowyer move his tools. Master Taurnil had forgotten his draw bench and Finrod went back to the castle for it. I do not know if he ever returned-though the draw bench is there in Master Taurnil's workshop." "You have searched the entire camp-the clearing, the spring?" "Yes, my lord," "Have you tried the castle?" "Yes, my lord, Amras and I went back and searched the Great Hall, but we found nothing." Legolas sighed. "If something has happened to him, we need to find him as quickly as possible. And though I am not happy to send warriors back into the castle in the dark, I do not think we can wait." He thought for a moment. "Torches. We will each have a torch-maybe the creature is afraid of flame. We will leave in fifteen minutes. Haldir, see if Master Berryn is willing to join us." … "What are you doing, melmenya?" "Getting dressed." "Eowyn-" "Please do not start, Legolas. I am coming with you. I will have my own torch, and my sword, and I will stay by your side at all times, my love. Besides, I seem able to sense the creature better than you, so I may be useful." Legolas shook his head. "You will be the death of me, meleth nín," he said, strapping on his quiver and white knives. Then he held out his hand to her. "Come, Shieldmaiden," he said, "let us join the others." … They crossed the floodplain quietly, not lighting their torches until they had passed through the castle gatehouse. "Valandil, Amras-search along the walls, inside and out," said Legolas. "Pay particular attention to the breaches. Camthalion, Orodreth-check the bastions and the dungeon. When you have finished, all four of you search the ward. "Gimli, Berryn-take the ground floor of the keep. "Eowyn, Haldir-we will search the upper floors." … Eowyn had never been in the castle keep in the dark before and she was forced to admit-though only to herself-that the place was frightening, but whether she was simply experiencing normal fear or whether she was somehow sensing the creature, she could not say. "Stay close to me," hissed Legolas. Do not worry, thought Eowyn, I have absolutely no intention of getting left behind. But she decided it was best to keep those thoughts to herself. Their torches cast strange shadows as they passed through the Great Hall and climbed up the spiral stairs to the floor above. The solar, which Master Dínendal's presence had made a place of warmth and comfort, was now cold and forbidding. They searched the main living chamber thoroughly, and the bedrooms opening off it, then they worked their way along the narrow gallery that ran full circle through the thickness of the walls, examining various small rooms, until they returned to the staircase. "Let us try the next floor," said Legolas. The next floor was even colder and more cramped. Slowly, they made their way around the gallery, checking each small room in turn. Eowyn, following behind the two elves, lifted her torch above her head and looked around. The gallery walls were featureless apart from a row of arrow loops. Strange, she thought, there is no room here for an archer to draw... She stepped up to the nearest opening and, raising herself on tiptoe, looked outside. The clouds had cleared since they had crossed the floodplain and now the sky was bright. She was peering northwards towards the Anduin. She could see the river, sparkling in the moonlight, and the steep cliffs of the northern bank glowing white, and she could see… Gods, she could see a figure wading in the water. "Legolas!" she hissed, in a hoarse, urgent, whisper-As if the creature could hear me at that distance! she thought. "Legolas!" He was beside her in a split second, his white knives drawn, ready to defend her. "No," she said, pointing through the arrow loop, "look." Legolas peered through the narrow opening. "Sweet Eru," he whispered, "it is real!" … "Haldir, go after it! We will follow as quickly as we can-" As the March Warden disappeared down the gallery, Legolas grasped Eowyn's hand-"Come melmenya!"-and dragged her past the remaining rooms, down two flights of stairs, across the Great Hall-"Come on, Gimli!"-and out into the castle ward. Together they climbed through the breach in the western wall, with the dwarf and the man following them, scrambled over the rubble, and ran down to the Anduin. Haldir was standing at the river's edge looking out across the water. "Did you see it?" asked Legolas. "No," said the March Warden, "not really. Just a silhouette and a few ripples. But I have found these." And he pointed to several clawed footprints in the mud at the edge of the river. "What are we going to do?" "I do not know-" began Legolas. "My lord, my lord! We have found him! We have found Finrod!" Legolas turned to face Valandil, running towards them. "Is he-" "He is alive, my lord, but barely." … They had found Finrod lying beside the western wall, hidden in a narrow gap between the wall and the pile of rubble. Amras had crawled in beside him and, by the light of his comrades' torches, had checked his injuries, but Legolas sent for Master Dínendal to examine him properly and to supervise moving him. "Why would Finrod return to the castle alone?" Legolas asked Eowyn as they followed the stretcher party back to the campsite. "I do not know. Perhaps he forgot something. Or perhaps…" "What, melmenya?" "Perhaps the creature came into the forest and took him. If he was on the outskirts of the campsite..." "Gods," said Legolas. "You are right-I have been thinking that the forest is safe-but you are right. We will have to be more careful in future." … "My lord, a word…" Dínendal drew Legolas and Eowyn to one side. "Are you sure that this was done by the creature?" "Why do you say that?" asked Legolas. "The injury. It is similar, my lord, but it is not the same. And whoever did it-I do not think they were as strong-or as skilled-as the person who killed Maeglin. Could it have been an orc, my lord? " Legolas took his arm and drew him further away from the rest of the elves. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Master Dínendal," he said. "It is most worrying. But can I ask you to keep it to yourself for now?" … "What are you going to do?" asked Eowyn, softly. They were back in the privacy of their cave. Eowyn was undressing before the fire and Legolas was sitting on the floor, watching her. He sighed; he had been enjoying the way the light of the fire made her skin glow and turned her hair into ribbons of gold. "I have no idea, melmenya," he said. "I am out of my depth." "We need to break it down," said Eowyn. "Consider one problem at a time." She climbed into their bedroll. "Come to bed, my love, and we will think it through." Legolas slipped out of his tunic, leggings and boots, climbed in beside her and took her in his arms. It felt good to lie with her, to feel the warmth of her body, to feel so close to her. It is not always necessary to make love, he thought, sometimes this is enough. "We have three problems," said Eowyn, "or so it seems to me. First there are the orcs-though they are not giving us the trouble we expected. Secondly, there is the creature-we have no idea what it is or why it is here-we do not even know how dangerous it is. Did it really kill Maeglin? Did it really attack Finrod?" She paused. "And that brings us to the third problem-" "If it was not the creature, who, or what, attacked Finrod?" "Exactly." "Was it an orc? Or was it… Gods, what a mess," said Legolas. "And why are the orcs behaving so strangely?" "Legolas… what were you going to say? Was it-what?" "Was it an elf, melmenya?" "Oh." Eowyn thought for a moment. "Is that really likely? I had always thought…" She hesitated. "Thought what, melmenya?" "That elves were above murder. That Angaráto was an exception." Legolas sighed. "Many humans assume that immortality automatically brings wisdom, Eowyn, but elves are like humans in that respect-age is no guarantee of honour. Some elves are better than other elves-for a Lord Elrond there is also an Angaráto." "So what do we do?" Legolas smiled. He loved the way she was always ready to share the burden of rule with him. And somehow her support now seemed to put everything into perspective. "We need to know more about the creature, melmenya-what it is, what it wants, why it had such an effect on you and Berryn and, possibly, on the orcs." Legolas knew exactly where they needed to look for this information, but he also knew that he was going to have a hard job persuading Eowyn to go along with his plan, so he decided not to broach the subject until later. "For the time being," he said, "we must keep the creature contained-observe it, keep it away from the campsite." "Do you think that is possible?" "I do not know, melmenya. I have four elves watching that breach in the western wall-if the creature returns to the castle, they will see it. And after that… we will keep it under surveillance until we know more about it. "In the meantime, we will proceed with the orc raids, as planned. We will take some more prisoners and see what they will tell us." Eowyn nodded. Then she asked, delicately, "What if Finrod was attacked by an elf?" Legolas sighed. "I do not want to start a panic amongst the warriors, melmenya. I will keep Finrod under guard, and see what happens." Eowyn snuggled closer; he kissed the top of her head. "Where are you going to find out more about the creature?" "The library at Eryn Carantaur. We have collected books from all over elvendom-I am sure we will find something amongst Lord Elrond's-" "No!" "Eowyn-" "No! I will not go!" "Melmenya…" "Send someone else. I will not go!" "It must be someone who has seen the creature-" "Send Berryn!" "I cannot send Berryn-" "I do not read elvish!" "The librarian will help you-" "No! Legolas, please! Do not make me leave you. We have never been apart, except when I was kidnapped. I could not bear it-anything but that! Please! Please do not make me leave you…" Her voice faltered. "I could not bear it." Legolas lifted her chin. Her eyes were filled with tears and she was swallowing hard, trying to stop them falling. "Oh, melmenya…" She was right. How could he ever have considered it? He kissed her forehead and folded her in his arms. "Shhhhh, melmenya, sh, sh, sh. I will ask Berryn if he is willing to go…" She gave him a radiant, though slightly tearful, smile. Then she snuggled back against his chest. But after a moment she said, "Legolas, what did you mean, when you saw the creature and said, 'It is real'? Did you not believe me?" Legolas sighed. What had he meant? He had had doubts, but not about her-not really. "I believed you, melmenya," he said. "I had no doubt that you had seen what you described. But I did find it hard to believe there was something living in the forest that I, in all my years, had never seen, nor heard of-" he shook his head. "Perhaps it does not live in the forest," said Eowyn. "Perhaps it is a creature of the river or of the sea. Perhaps it is trapped here and that is why it is so angry…" She hesitated. "I am so glad that you saw it," she added. "For I know you were not the only one who doubted its existence." Legolas smiled. "I did not doubt you, melmenya. And nor did my warriors-and the fact that they listened to you is proof of how much they love and respect you. As Haldir said to his brothers, you are yourself an experienced warrior, and if you say you saw something, then you saw it." "Haldir said that? He believed me? Perhaps I should be in his bedroll-" "Go to sleep, melmenya." "I am not really sleepy." "Well-what are you doing?" "I am trying to find your hand, you conceited elf!" Legolas laughed. "Here." And she lifted his hand to her lips and kissed it. … Shortly after dawn, Legolas sought out Berryn. To his surprise he found the man breakfasting with Haldir, Rumil and Orophin, eagerly asking them questions about the geography of Lorien. "Master Berryn," said Legolas, "may I have a word?" Berryn flashed his new friends an apprehensive smile, then rose and followed Legolas a short distance into the forest. "I brought you here, Master Berryn, because I want you to feel free to refuse my request if you find it unreasonable." "My lord?" "I need someone-someone who has seen the creature-the monster-to travel to our capital city and consult some of the books in our library. I do not want to send my wife-and you are the only other person who has seen the creature clearly. I would pay you well…" "No payment would be necessary, my lord," replied Berryn, "To have the opportunity to visit your city, to see your architecture-" He shook his head. "I have heard so much about it, my lord-" "I am afraid you will not have time to see much on this occasion, Master Berryn. But I promise you that, once this campaign is over, you will return to the city as my personal guest." "How will I get there, my lord?" "I will provide you with a horse, and Rumil and Orophin will escort you-at the gallop, you should reach Eryn Carantaur in four or five hours. "I will give you a letter of introduction to the librarian, explaining to him what we are looking for. Briefly, I need to know everything you can find about this creature. I need to know what it is and how it lives. I need to know whether it is dangerous, or whether this feeling of terror it seems to excite is just its way of protecting itself. I need to know if it really is responsible for the strange behaviour of the orcs. And, just in case, I need to know how to trap it and how to kill it. And I need all that by tomorrow-or the day after at the latest." Berryn's smile reminded Legolas of a warrior-of Gimli-about to go into battle. "Leave it to me, my lord!" he said. … After arranging Berryn's departure, Legolas returned to the cave to find Eowyn and Gimli in serious discussion. Eowyn was eating breakfast. "Legolas!" she called, "Gimli has an idea about the creature." Legolas sat down beside her and she handed him a plate of lembas bread and eggs. He looked at her quizzically. "There was not much left by the time I woke up, but it really tastes quite pleasant," she said. Legolas took a tentative mouthful, then raised his eyebrows, and nodded. "What is your idea, elvellon?" "We search the castle in daylight, whilst the creature is still in the river," said Gimli. "Why?" "Because we found no trace of it last night, lad." Eowyn laughed at Legolas' expression. "Gimli thinks that the castle may have hidden passages-many stone-built fortifications do. Helm's Deep is riddled with them-Eomer and I were once lost in one for two days." "Two days-" said Gimli. "We did not have a dwarf's instincts." "The point is, lad-if the creature is sleeping in the castle, maybe it has a nest. We saw nothing last night, but we may well be able to find something in the daylight, whilst the thing is out fishing." "If we know where it sleeps," said Eowyn, "we can approach it at its most vulnerable. When you arrived Gimli and I were discussing what we know about the creature's movements-or possible movements. I saw it leaving the keep, Master Berryn saw it inside the keep, so we think that that is probably where it lives." Legolas nodded. She continued, "Berryn told me it was standing beside one of the piers on the eastern wall and-and this is more speculative-Amras was found lying under the bowyer's workbench, which was against the eastern wall. Well, it is a place to start." Legolas finished his eggs. "Very well," he said, "let us go." … In the daylight, it took Gimli less than ten minutes to find the entrance to the creature's den. He started in the south east corner of the Great Hall, tapping the stones with the butt of his axe and listening carefully. "Hear that?" he said, "That is solid stone… That is rubble fill… Solid stone… stone… stone… Ah," he said, tapping a pier, "empty space!" He examined the carved mouldings running up the corners of the pier, feeling the stone with expert fingers. "Yes…" He grasped a section of moulding and pulled. The piece of stone, attached to a long metal rod, slid out in his hand, and the face of the pier swung open like a door. "Quite a simple mechanism, really," said Gimli. "See-once you are inside, you pull it back, and the door closes. We will need those torches, lad." Inside the pier, a spiral staircase wound its way, not upwards, as Eowyn had expected, but downwards, into the bowels of the earth. The three friends climbed slowly down the stairs. "It is damp down here," said Eowyn. "Dripping." "We are below the level of the river," said Gimli, "the water filters through the stone." "It seems you were right, melmenya-it is a creature of water." "And it must be intelligent," said Eowyn, "to have found the door mechanism-" "Look!" said Gimli. A low door opened off the staircase. Gimli stepped through and raised his torch. "Well," he said, "it does indeed have a nest." Ducking through the door, Legolas and Eowyn followed Gimli into a small room. In the corner was a circular 'bed' made from woven rushes and lined with bits of cloth-and with strips of torn parchment. "Poor Master Berryn," said Legolas, "I am afraid his maps will need redrawing." Gimli used the toe of his boot to examine a pile of debris that had been pushed into the corner. "Fish bones, tangled cord, a broken rule… ah, a notebook. A little mouldy, but at least we can salvage that," he said. "No Gimli," said Legolas. "Leave it where it is and let us go before we disturb too much-now that we know where the creature sleeps, we do not want to frighten it into moving somewhere else. We can get the notebook after we have-dealt-with it." "Aye, you are right, lad." They stepped out onto the staircase. "Where do you suppose that goes?" asked Eowyn, pointing down into the darkness. "Further into the rock," said Gimli. "Perhaps there are more rooms. Or perhaps it connects with something else…" "Let us get back to the camp," said Legolas, clearly less comfortable underground than his companions, "the light will be fading and Haldir should have the raiding party ready…" … Berryn, Rumil and Orophin had reached Eryn Carantaur after four hours' hard riding. They left their horses in the main stables and began climbing the massive stairway to the aerial city. Berryn's eyes were as round as saucers. The place was beyond his wildest imaginings-as far as he could see, slender walkways spilled between the branches of the mighty trees, connecting the elegant wooden buildings nestled in their branches. He paused for a moment to get a better look at the buildings-their intricately carved woodwork, lustrous stained glass, pale green paintwork and white canvas sunshades. He shook his head. It is so beautiful, he thought, that words cannot describe it... And his mind was instantly filled with hundreds of questions that poured out of his mouth at random, "Did Lorien look like this? Why did Legolas choose this site? How big is the city-how many people live here? Are they all elves? What are the trees called? Why are they so tall? How did you lift the building materials up here?…" And Rumil and Orophin, their spirits already broken by his constant questioning, took him by the arms and hauled him up the rest of the stairs. The library-though open to all the citizens of Eryn Carantaur, and to visiting scholars-was part of the palace complex. Rumil and Orophin dragged Berryn through its elegant doors, dumped him-with a few words of elvish-before the chief librarian, promised Berryn they would return later to take him to supper, then left to find some peace and quiet. Berryn looked at the librarian. He was one of those elves that looked old and distinguished rather than young and beautiful, so Berryn drew himself up to his full height, straightened his clothes, and bowed respectfully. "I am Berryn, son of Hador," he said, "cartographer to his Majesty, King Elessar, here on a mission for your lord, Prince Legolas." And he made a quick attempt to smooth the creases out of Legolas' letter before handing it to the librarian. The librarian smiled and bowed his head, took the letter, broke the seal, and read its contents carefully. "Lord Legolas says you have seen this creature," he said. "Yes sir," said Berryn. "My name is Maglor, Berryn," said the librarian. "Please take a seat and tell me everything you can remember about it." … Legolas had been gone for almost six hours. Eowyn was pacing. She had checked her map, for the fifth time, measured the distance between Minas Athrad and Eryn Brethil, calculated the miles, estimated the average speed of an elf climbing through trees, added on the time it would take him to kill one orc, two orcs, three orcs… And she was sure that Legolas should have been back two hours ago. I should have gone with him, she thought. I should not have let him go alone. It helped to keep moving. She paced past the cave she shared with Legolas, past the rocks where the field cook had set up his kitchen, past the ring of trees where the elves had laid out their bedrolls, past the cave where the Mirkwood elves were guarding Finrod, who was lying in healing sleep… And where, to her left, an elf was hiding behind one of the trees, watching. Is he really watching Finrod? Eowyn walked a little further, turned, and paced back towards her cave. Yes, he is watching. A few moments later, she turned and paced back towards the healing room. Who is it? One of the craftsmen, the stringer. What should she do? On reflection, Eowyn decided that, since she could not be sure that the stringer was actually doing anything suspicious, she would not tackle him now. She would wait for Legolas-Please, gods, let him return safely-and tell him what she had seen. And in the meantime, she thought, it helps to keep moving. …

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.

Story Information

Author: ningloreth

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 01/14/11

Original Post: 07/24/04

Go to Time of the Orcs has come, The overview

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