19. Lifting the Veil
Despite his ever-growing sense of fear and anxiety, Celeborn could not quite keep a smile from his face.
He stood unnoticed in a doorway that led out onto a small patio overlooking a cascading waterfall. Light streamed down upon the porch, filtering through leafy trees adorned with the fresh green that was solely unique to the spring season. From this place, one could look out into the valley and see the glory of an elven stronghold, fading though it might be. But the beauty and wonder of Imladris went completely unheeded by the two figures seated in the middle of the patio, and it was such an odd sight that Celeborn could not refrain from releasing a quiet chuckle.
Completely absorbed by their work, the refined queen of Gondor and a simple hobbit of the Shire carefully culled and preserved dried ôlgalenas leaves from among a variety of healing herbs that had been found in Rivendell’s stores. It was something that Celeborn had never seen before, and considering how many years he had lived, that was rather noteworthy. It was a brief glimpse of peace despite the fact that these two did their work in preparation for a terrible possibility. It was a picture of unity and healing, and Celeborn felt some of his worry fall away. Surely there was still hope in the world if there was still room for such tranquility.
Unfortunately, though, Celeborn had learned that peace and tranquility could not last, even in the sanctuary of Rivendell. And so he reluctantly stepped out onto the patio, blinking slightly at the morning sun that had risen high enough to clear the trees.
Rosie didn’t stir at his silent approach, but Arwen’s senses were still quite keen and she looked up from her work. A multitude of emotions flashed through her eyes, but they passed too quickly to be interpreted and were swiftly masked by an unreadable expression. "Lord Celeborn, good morning," Arwen said quietly. She rose and bowed slightly before turning back to Rosie. "Do you feel you are skilled enough to continue without me, little one?"
"I think I have the hang of this now," Rosie answered somewhat absently, still caught up in what she was doing. "But if you’d have someone check on Elanor for me and bring her here if she’s awake, I’d be grateful."
Arwen smiled and nodded. "Of course. I shall see to it immediately."
Rosie then blinked and looked up as though realizing what she had just said. "I mean…I didn’t…I wasn’t ordering you to—"
"Peace," Arwen laughed. Celeborn noted that her mirth was somewhat forced, but there was still a note of real humor in her voice that gave him hope. "Peace," Arwen repeated. "You requested a favor of a friend, and I see nothing inappropriate in that. Continue in this and I shall return to aid you ere long."
"As you say, my lady," Rosie said with a rather awkward bow.
Arwen returned the bow and then moved toward Celeborn, her eyes taking on a stubborn look that was astonishingly similar to a look that Elrond adopted from time to time. "I gather you have come to speak with me."
"As I remember it, I made you a promise that I would further explain things," Celeborn answered, turning and walking back into the house. "And I have yet to break my word."
"That is well, for I would have informed all of Imladris had you failed in this," Arwen said, and something in her voice informed Celeborn that she said this only partially in jest. "Your reputation would have been forever soiled, grandfather, and I am certain that grandmother would be deeply shamed by that. Come, then, and speak, my lord. For I have labored through much of the night and the morning to see that your instructions were fulfilled. It is now time for you to uphold your end of the agreement."
At that moment, it struck Celeborn that Arwen looked and acted the part of the queen of Gondor. Never before had she been quite so assertive with her grandfather, and never before had she spoken with quite so much boldness. The world changes, and Arwen with it, for she is now truly of this world. Alas that the elves cannot adjust as can she. With a sigh, Celeborn led the way into a parlor and took a seat, gesturing for Arwen to do the same. "Númenor," he began. "My instincts were correct. It was in Númenor that this happened."
"During the reign of Ar-Pharazôn," Arwen guessed.
"Yes. I do not understand how I did not see this connection until now, but my mind has not been entirely sound, as you noted yesterday. Perhaps that has been the cause."
"So long as you are once more yourself," Arwen said. "Say on, please."
"It is something that Elendil told Elrond and Gil-galad sometime during the course of explaining what had happened to Númenor. Your father later shared this story with me, and using what we knew from Elendil, we came to suspect that this same thing has happened in other instances as well, particularly during the time of Morgoth. But Númenor is by far the clearest example of what we face. From it, we can learn what to expect, what must be dealt with, and hopefully, we may learn how to heal our friends."
"And what is it that we face?" Arwen asked. "You still dance about the issue as though hesitant to broach it. Are you yet uncertain?"
Arwen missed nothing, but then, she was her father’s child. Elrond had never missed anything, either. "I feel I shall never be completely certain," Celeborn confessed. "But I would not hesitate to put my current theory to the test, for I feel it is the best explanation that we shall find. Tell me what you know of Amandil."
"Amandil?" Arwen frowned and her brow creased slightly in a way that reminded Celeborn very much of his daughter, Celebrían. "Amandil was Elendil’s father and the last of the Elendili to sit upon the ruling council of Númenor. When Ar-Pharazôn made Sauron a counselor rather than a prisoner, Amandil went to his stronghold in Rómenna and there lived in exile until seeking the blessing of the Valar. His ultimate fate is yet unknown in Middle-earth. Do you desire more?"
"Tell me of his relationship with Ar-Pharazôn."
Arwen’s frown deepened, and Celeborn could see she was greatly puzzled. Nevertheless, she continued to play along, though the lord of Lothlórien doubted that this would continue to be the case if answers were not forthcoming. "From what little I remember, I believe that Amandil and Ar-Pharazôn were close friends as children. This friendship is what enabled Amandil to stay upon the ruling council for as long as he did. But Sauron’s lies proved strongest in the end, and he had Amandil stripped of council authority."
"And Ar-Pharazôn allowed it."
"He was corrupted by Sauron," Arwen answered. "He began to allow many things, such as the construction of a temple to Morgoth."
"True, but some things he allowed more easily than other things. Casting Amandil from the council was one of the first things Sauron did after his release from captivity, and in this he had Ar-Pharazôn’s full support. Does that not sit strange with you, Arwen? How did two such close friends come to be sundered so quickly?"
"I suppose that I had never considered the idea," Arwen answered slowly as her brow furrowed even more. "Perhaps I was blinded, as many elves are, into attributing it to the fickleness of men in remaining true to their comrades. But knowing better now, I see that you are correct. Even for one so focused upon his own greed, it would have been unusual for Ar-Pharazôn to turn so quickly upon Amandil. In many cases, Amandil was among his strongest supporters. I would attribute Ar-Pharazôn’s act of betrayal to Sauron’s influence, but even that does not seem to be explanation enough."
"Nay, it does not," Celeborn sighed. "Not as you understand things currently. And now we come to more difficult matters, but I fear there is no avoiding them. What do you know of Morgoth and the origins of the Orcs?"
Arwen shivered and it seemed that a shadow fell upon Rivendell, but Celeborn remained still, waiting for her response. After a moment or so, Arwen looked away and the muscles around her jaw tightened. "I know little, for I had neither desire nor need to know more. I still have not that desire," she added in warning, but her voice was filled with reluctant resignation.
"Most do not," Celeborn murmured. "But for some, it is not our fortune to live in ignorance. And unfortunately, I have learned much. In the ruins of Orthanc, scrolls and books were discovered that give great insight into Orcs, elves, and their shared ancestry. I would that I had never read these things. I see now that it may yet prove to our benefit, but even so…" Celeborn trailed off and sighed, momentarily lost in memory and shock. Eventually shaking away his reverie, he sighed again and turned eyes that were greatly apologetic toward Arwen. "The process involves torture of both the body and the mind. The body is broken first, for after extreme physical abuse, the mind becomes more susceptible to suggestion. There are also dark sorceries and bindings that aid the evil in its conquest. In the end, the poor victims of this change are hopelessly sundered from all light. They forget all that they once knew. Their will is forever bound up in the will of their master, and they become walking nightmares with no recollection of their past and no hope for their future. It is an all-consuming process that changes the victim forever. They themselves are not quite Orcs, but their offspring, if bred correctly, become the heinous creatures. But the victims themselves…they are ruined." Celeborn fell silent, foul memories drifting through his mind, and then he shook his head. "This process takes time and destroys the body, but in Númenor, Sauron…altered things somewhat. Much as we believe Morgoth did upon occasion."
"In what way?" Arwen asked, her voice no more than a whisper. "In what way were things altered?"
"I suspect that Sauron learned most of it from Morgoth and then perfected the art while a prisoner in Númenor, but however he accomplished it, Sauron discovered a way to keep the body whole and intact while still controlling a part of the mind. It was a much faster process than the process of breaking elves to breed Orcs, and at times it was far more useful."
"And Sauron used this upon Ar-Pharazôn to turn him against Amandil," Arwen guessed.
"That was what Elendil reported to Gil-galad and your father," Celeborn confirmed. "And it was used on others as well. Many within the capital city were set against the Elendili using this method."
"What was involved?" Arwen asked. "And how successful was it?"
"It involved primarily fear," Celeborn answered. "Fear, hatred, helplessness, and a feeling of betrayal were all more or less necessary, though some of these feelings could be manufactured if they were not found in the victim already. The first step was, as in the creation of Orcs, harsh, physical abuse. Victims were tortured brutally until they swooned, after which they were taken before Sauron. When they regained consciousness, they were in a considerably weaker state than before, and it was easy for Sauron to slip his own will into their minds through the cracks caused by pain."
"You are saying that Ar-Pharazôn was tortured?" Arwen demanded. "But surely all of Númenor would have known of such a happening!"
"They would have indeed known of it were it not for the fact that this step in the process lasted only a single night. A few of the guards from Sauron’s captivity were already under his sway, and they assisted in the process. At least, that was what Elendil hypothesized. In any case, as morning approached, the victim would wake again, this time having Sauron’s will within their mind and finding themselves unable to move due to the severity of their wounds. And here comes the most crucial element. Sauron would offer them healing, but this healing would come by his darkness. And having very little will of their own, most of the victims accepted willingly. Even those who were not willing did not resist for long, abandoning the fight out of confusion, pain, and terror. And once given free access to the mind, Sauron was able to do many things."
"But total corruption cannot happen overnight," Arwen noted. Her eyes were narrow, but Celeborn could not tell if it was due to skepticism or to fear. "Even if Sauron healed them and imposed his will upon them, a difference would have been noticed. Ar-Pharazôn would not have been himself. Perhaps Elendil was mistaken in what he thought happened."
"Would that such was the case," Celeborn sighed. "I said not that the entire process was completed overnight. In most cases, it took one or two weeks to finish. And Sauron was no fool. He did not rush things. Very simple commands were given initially, such as the command to refrain from speaking of the torture, or the command to listen more to his counsel than to the counsel of others. Refraining from sunlight was another command that was easy to follow, for the darkness within the mind abhorred the light of day. And with every command that was obeyed, the bond with the darkness became greater. Fear and suspicion could be planted but not acted upon. Not at first. However, as the days passed, fears and suspicions would grow until the victim himself began to believe them. And once that happened, Sauron could implant more binding commands."
"Commands such as removing Amandil from the council," Arwen murmured.
"Precisely," Celeborn confirmed. "But Ar-Pharazôn was not alone in undergoing this process. Others also turned suddenly on Amandil and his household. And that is the how we learned what truly happened, for Elendil confronted two of these changed men, overpowered then when attacked, and took them back to Rómenna. And one was…healed. More or less. There is no true healing from this, for the memory of actions taken while under the influence of darkness continue to haunt the soul. But Sauron’s shadow was removed from the mind of one of the men."
"How was it done?" Arwen asked.
"It was not done until after the fall of Númenor," Celeborn answered grimly. "They tried healing them both before the fury of the Valar was unleashed, but the man who was not healed…" Celeborn trailed off for a moment, wondering if he should proceed. But Arwen’s warning look quickly banished any hesitation. She wanted to know all, no matter how painful it might be. "I suppose I should not be so quick to judge. It may be that he was healed in the end, for he did not make an attempt on Amandil’s life. Instead, he took his own."
"Suicide?" Arwen said, her voice rather breathless.
Celeborn nodded. "I suppose it was a noble sacrifice. But I would not say that he had been healed. It was done as a last resort. He could not kill live and allow Amandil or Elendil to live as well. One had to die. He chose himself."
"What of the other one? What of the one they saved" Arwen asked.
"As I said earlier, it was done after the fall of Númenor. After Sauron’s direct influence upon the man was broken. There was much athelas involved, and there were many healers. They searched long for the man’s true self, which had fled his mind and cowered under covers of darkness. But since Sauron no longer controlled the darkness, they could break through and guide the man back into the light. He was forced to confront his greatest fears in doing so, but it was done. According to Elendil, it was a difficult process. In the initial healing stages, the victim was convinced that fear was the only emotion that he would ever know again. In order to fight it, the victim needed the support of his colleagues to walk him through the process, something that was nearly impossible because it was hatred of his colleagues that the darkness bred. Sundering friends seemed to be the greatest focus of the shadows."
"Could it have been used for other things?"
"Perhaps, but as for what those other things are, I do not know. Our records do not mention them. Indeed, when accounts of this changing process are mentioned at all, they are mentioned in passing as grievous casualties of the war with Morgoth. In most of the scrolls, nothing more is said of them."
Arwen nodded slowly, absorbing this information while maintaining a safe, emotional distance from it. "I understand what you say, my lord, but what of now? How do you know that this is the intent for Legolas and Merry? I see no evidence of that."
"Here comes my greatest uncertainty, yet it is the best guess I have to fit the situation. And more than that…" Celeborn hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should share his brief glimpse of Galadriel’s hand in his thought process, but then decided against it. "First of all, the darkness in the forest is based upon a sorcery that Sauron taught to many Black Númenóreans within his service. Thus, it is logical to assume that we face a Black Númenórean. The fact that Elladan’s Orc hailed from Mordor is more proof for that point. So what would a Black Númenórean want with Fellowship members captured alive? If he was to kill them, he would have done so already and left the bodies for us to find. If he was to ransom them or use them as bait, he would not have bothered with hiding the trail of the Orcs. What is his plan, then? He obviously intends to use them for something, but whatever that something is, it will take time to accomplish. And it must be something within the grasp of a Black Númenórean."
"But the evidence is circumstantial at best," Arwen protested. "Yes, I agree that your theory fits the facts, but other explanations could also be found."
"There are also other facts which I have not listed," Celeborn continued. "Again returning to the Orc that Elladan found, do you not find it unusual for a renegade Orc to obey a master so completely? Remember that Elladan saw a great fear within the Orc just ere the creature pushed himself onto your brother’s blade. And there is the darkness itself to consider. Since these twisting shadows are created by a Black Númenórean, we can read some of his thoughts and intents. Did you know that Gimli and your husband nearly came to blows last night ere they split the group? I spoke with some of the elves that returned, and many witnessed that when Gimli dropped his axe, the darkness seemed to swallow it. That, to me, would indicate a desire to do harm. And many more elves mentioned that they felt estranged from their comrades whenever they ventured too far away. Again, I believe this is indicative of an intent to sunder and to separate. Even though they are not the direct targets of our enemy’s purposes, the elves upon the trail have begun to feel betrayed. They have begun to feel fear. It is the first step down a dark and dangerous road. I shudder to think of what has happened by now to Legolas and Merry."
"But it is only a string of facts that you have loosely tied together," Arwen said, her voice strained with desperation. "You have created a chain of events that seem to support this idea, my lord, but there is no inherent connection other than the one that you have made. Is it wise to place so much faith in so far-fetched a possibility?"
"Far-fetched? Perhaps. But a possibility, nonetheless." Celeborn shook his head and sighed. "In truth, I know not how to explain myself, Arwen. I know only that my mind distrusts as yours does, but my heart is sure. This is what is happening. And we must free Legolas and Merry quickly before they become too enthralled in the power of he who holds them. If you wish, you may think of this certainty as…intuition," Celeborn finished with a wry smile.
"Intuition?" Arwen’s eyebrows went up. "Were not you the one who always advised us that intuition was not enough?"
"In this case, it is," Celeborn said, rising to his feet. "I will go now to wait for those returning from the trail. They will undoubtedly have questions for me based upon what I told Elladan before he left. And I would not have them spending time searching for me when it could be better spent by resting."
"It is not only your heart that is certain of this," Arwen stated quietly, her dark eyes studying her grandfather. "Even though you claim that you have suspicions, your mind also knows that this is happening. How?"
"I have learned that answers come in many forms," Celeborn said, moving toward the door and hearing Arwen rise to follow. "But trust me for now, young one. And if I am proven wrong then so much the better, for our friends will be spared this particular nightmare. But at least we shall have prepared Imladris and ourselves for the worst."
* * * *
The Mouth of Sauron was beginning to regret his decision to attack the remaining members of the Fellowship. Had he waited perhaps even one more month, he could have better fortified his stronghold against the elves of Rivendell and so bought himself more time. But by then, it would have been too late. The Fellowship would have dispersed again, and his ability to control the Orcs would have greatly diminished as their lust for blood and vengeance increased. Fear could control them only as long as fear remained the dominant emotion. It had worked for perhaps a year, but now, with nothing to assuage competing emotions, fear was beginning to lose out from time to time. He suspected there had even been a deserter or two within the past few months. With a sigh, the man who was not quite a man shook his head. Ever since the fall of Lord Sauron, things had gone horribly awry for the enemies of Gondor. Why should this particular situation be any different?
Sighing yet again, the Mouth of Sauron attempted to turn his thoughts away from the encroaching Rivendell forces and back to his latest set of problems. Through narrowed eyes he studied the unconscious forms of elf and hobbit. His work with them had been rushed by necessity, and it was certainly not going as well as it could be. But for the elf, things were proceeding at an acceptable pace. The prince of Mirkwood was moving along somewhat erratically, but at least the darkness was having an influence. The hobbit, on the other hand…the hobbit was another mater entirely.
Meriadoc Brandybuck was proving to be a most unusual puzzle, and had he not felt so pressed for time, the Mouth of Sauron might have actually enjoyed the challenge. Never before had he met a being that so thoroughly resisted his influence. The hobbit had an uncanny immunity to dark suggestions, and the Mouth of Sauron wondered if this was how two of these creatures had been able to withstand the Ring on the long journey to Mordor. But if this was indeed the case and the Ring had failed in corrupting hobbits, how was he, a mere shadow of the Dark Lord, to do any better?
"Because this particular hobbit is in my care, and I may attack him directly," the cloaked figure reassured himself, but his comfort was half-hearted. He was quickly running out of time, and at the rate things were going, not even the elf would be fully prepared to return to his companions by the time the elves found this underground stronghold. "I shall have to move with even greater haste," he sighed at length. "But what consequences that shall have, I cannot say. And yet, what other choices have I? None that I can see."
A grimace twisted the face beneath the dark cloak, and a brief flicker of torchlight caught eyes that were as pools of black ink. Uncertainty gnawed at him as it never had before. But then, he had never experienced a situation like this one. This was perhaps the last chance for Mordor’s power to rise again. If he failed—and there was a significant possibility that he would—then the threat of Mordor would be broken forever. Orcs might continue to harass travelers daring the Misty Mountains or the Ephel Duath, and foul things might creep about the crags and craters of Orodruin and Minas Morgul, but never again would a force capable of threatening the might of Gondor rise from the ashes of Barad-dûr. It was a sobering and depressing thought for the Mouth of Sauron, and not for the first time, he fervently cursed the fate that had turned the tides and brought down the Eye.
Eventually the Mouth of Sauron brought himself back to the current situation, though the memories of the past were never far from his thoughts. And as he once again contemplated the elf and the hobbit, he came to a decision.
As far as the elf was concerned, he would proceed as planned. He would hasten things slightly and try to create a sharper focus in the elf’s training, but as a whole, he would change little. He feared to press the elf too hard too quickly, for if he actually succeeded in completely breaking the elf and depriving him of voluntary thought, it would do no good. The elf had to be capable of thinking for himself, although such thoughts would certainly be watched, monitored, and altered if need be.
But as for the hobbit…something a bit more drastic seemed to be in order. The current procedure was doing nothing, and plans had to be changed. The hobbit’s mind had to be made more open to…suggestion. The man who was no longer quite a man hesitated a moment and then reached for a flask that he had attached to his belt. He had not wanted to use this on either prisoner but most certainly not on the hobbit. The contents within the bottle had only been used on elves for the purpose of ruining them. There was no telling what the effects might be on a halfling. Beyond that, there was very little possibility that the hobbit would retain the ability for independent thought if given this draught, something necessary for the plan. There was also a very good chance that this would kill him.
I still have the elf, the Mouth of Sauron reminded himself, glancing at the prone figure of Legolas. And yet…the plan will be far better with both the elf and the hobbit. He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind so as to better analyze the situation. But the press of time and the complications of hastening his work would not leave him alone, and in the end, the Mouth of Sauron gave up attempts at rational thought. He had never been truly rational since the fall of Mordor anyway.
Eventually deciding that the possible successes warranted the risks, the Mouth of Sauron knelt and propped Merry against him. Tipping the hobbit’s head back slightly, he laid a cold hand on the side of the little one’s head and willed him to wake. A groan and a shiver indicated that he did have some control over this creature, though it was not nearly enough. Merry did not open his eyes, nor did he in any way acknowledge the fact that he was regaining consciousness. After one final moment of hesitation, the Mouth of Sauron forced the lip of the bottle into the hobbit’s mouth and tipped it up.
The reaction was instantaneous. Merry froze, stiffened, and then began to struggle frantically. Prepared for this, the Mouth of Sauron tightened his hold on the flailing hobbit and forced the rest of the concoction down his throat, whispering warnings about what would happen to defiant slaves. Merry didn’t seem to heed these warnings as he was too intent on trying to escape, but eventually, his struggles began to die away, replaced by violent shudders and raspy breath.
Confident now that the hobbit’s stomach would not refuse the foul substance, the Mouth of Sauron dropped Merry to the ground and stood. In a few hours, he would know whether or not he had succeeded. If he had, then he could begin his work in earnest. If he had not, the hobbit would make a fine plaything for the Orcs. In the meantime, though, he would concentrate upon Legolas and bring him up to speed. There was very little time remaining to them. He knew not their exact position, but through the darkness he had laid upon the ground, the Mouth of Sauron could sense that the elves were very close. If this was a race, then they were now entering the last stretch of miles, and the Mouth of Sauron intended to see that he finished first.
* * * *
Somewhat removed from the main body of elves, Rúmil crouched low upon his branch and swept his eyes over the writhing darkness. At first glance, this cloud of shadows had not changed since they’d first encountered it, but to the experienced eyes of one of Lothlórien’s best trackers, there was something decidedly different about it this day. The darkness was strangely agitated, or so Rúmil deemed, though he wondered if emotions could be ascribed to so intangible an entity. None of the other elves seemed concerned by this, but Rúmil knew better. He was accounted the best forward scout in Lothlórien, and he had long ago learned to read the subtle changes in the enemy’s darkness. While he had never met this particular form of shadow, the nuances were the same. And as the writhing mist seemed to become thicker and more turbulent, Rúmil’s level of anxiety became higher and higher.
The elf glanced over as Orophin dropped onto his branch, and then he directed his eyes back out into the forest. "Something is happening. I believe the enemy is uncertain, and his doubt is causing him to make hasty decisions. Yet at the same time, our foe believes these choices are wise even if they are hastily made." Rúmil grimaced slightly and debated about actually descending into the darkness as Elladan was doing so as to get a better feel for what was happening. "I like this not. The enemy is too confident. He is too sure of his plans. He feels haste and doubt but not fear. This darkness does not yet seek to thwart us, though it does delay us."
"But what does it all mean?" Orophin asked.
"As for that, I do not know and I fear to guess," Rúmil sighed, for once wishing that he had his brother’s patience. He was tired of analyzing the darkness and wished for answers, but answers were not going to come until something happened. Rubbing his temples, Rúmil stood and moved to a different branch, slightly lower than his previous one. "Where is Haldir?" he asked when he felt Orophin move with him.
"He accompanied some of King Thranduil’s archers out on a scouting mission. They are in the trees further south of our position, but they should not be far away," Orophin answered. "The king of Mirkwood seems rather anxious. I have heard rumors that he was going to take the elves of his realm and break from this group come daylight. He wishes to leave off following the trail and pursue the Orcs on instinct, or so the rumors say."
"We shall have to do that soon," Rúmil murmured, more to himself than to his brother. "And I am rather surprised we have not done it yet. Nor are there any other elves I would rather have searching for an Orc stronghold on instinct alone. Our kindred in Mirkwood have protected their kingdom for centuries using such tactics, for they had naught else to aid them. Still, perhaps it is a bit premature to turn away from a known trail. And given the shadows upon the ground, a misstep or wrong turn now could mean several more days worth of searching."
"But what if it is time?" Orophin wondered. "Perhaps the messages you see in the darkness are a signal to us. Perhaps it is time to leave the trail."
"Counsel from the shadows?" Rúmil rolled his eyes and shook his head in mock frustration before turning to study his brother. "Are you ready to entertain every notion, be it wise or foolish, that enters your head?"
"What other way is there?"
It was exactly the type of answer that Orophin was accustomed to give, and it was usually the type of answer that drove Rúmil to the end of his patience because this answer was almost always given in the middle of some argument or another. Fortunately, they were not seriously arguing yet—though that could always change with Orophin around—and Rúmil was able to smile indulgently at his younger brother’s strange mentality. "Some would think it best to eliminate erroneous thoughts and keep only those most plausible explanations before reasoning each one to its logical conclusion."
"But many important details might be missed in that way," Orophin protested. "And often it is the details that define a situation rather than the sweeping explanations you might offer."
"Perhaps, but sometimes it is better to aim for a broad and generalized understanding rather than for complete comprehension. It saves time, and time is usually limited."
"But what is time to elves?"
"More than you might believe," Rúmil said, "but there are few enough left who understand that."
Orophin regarded his brother curiously for a moment with a gaze that had always managed to irk Rúmil no matter how hard he tried to ignore it, and then the younger elf shrugged and looked away. "Perhaps you are right. I shall have to think on this."
"Must you think on everything?" Rúmil sighed.
"All things are of worth, though their worth is not always seen," Orophin answered with a quiet laugh. "But there are few enough left who understand that."
If there was one thing about his younger brother that annoyed Rúmil more than anything else, it was his ability to take words, turn them around to his fit his own needs, and then offer them back to the one who had first spoken them. These words usually assumed the form of an insult, and the present time was no exception. Rúmil was about to offer some choice remarks about young elves that failed to heed the advice of their elders, but a sudden change in the atmosphere stopped him. Freezing where he was, he held his breath as a precaution against making any sound at all and studied the surrounding forest with piercing intensity. Sensing that something was amiss, Orophin became equally silent, quieting his own breath and waiting with his endless patient for the cause of the sudden change to be revealed.
"Orcs," Rúmil murmured. "And they are close. Far too close. We should have sensed them before now, but I believe this darkness has managed to cloak their presence." Rúmil stood and drew an arrow from his quiver, fitting it to his bow. "You said Haldir was south of us with elves from Mirkwood?"
"Yes. He should be directly south," the younger elf answered, his voice quiet with hidden concern.
"Then make haste and return, Orophin. Warn Lord Elladan and King Thranduil."
"What of you?" Orophin asked.
"I go to find Haldir," Rúmil said. "Quickly now before they sense our presence!" And without waiting for a response, Rúmil leaped forward and began speeding through the trees, keeping a sharp eye out for any sign of his brother and the other scouts. If they had not sensed the Orcs by now, they needed to be warned.
He had not gone far when he was stopped by the sound of harsh cries and the sudden whine of arrows. Orc voices rose in a loud chorus, and the black mist seemed to tremble as though the hidden ground was shaking. And bursting forth from the branches before him—almost crashing into Rúmil in their haste—raced Haldir and several Mirkwood elves.
"Orcs!" Haldir exclaimed breathlessly upon seeing his brother.
"I noticed. Were you not watching the forest as you are supposed to do while scouting? I sensed these creatures while—"
But Rúmil was not allowed to continue berating his brother because black arrows suddenly slammed into the branch upon which he was standing. Jumping back with a sharp curse, Rúmil’s eyes swept the ground and widened at what he saw.
"We sensed the Orcs, yes," Haldir said, pulling Rúmil backwards as the elves from Mirkwood stopped to fire, covering their retreat. "But we thought there were only two or three spies that we might dispatch with ease. When first we saw them, there were only four and so we loosed our arrows. Yet one cried out as he died, and that is when the rest of their companions came into view." Haldir glanced over his shoulder at the stream of Orcs racing beneath the trees. A few of them were climbing now, hoping to force the elves to the ground. "It seems secrecy will no longer aid us," he observed.
With a nod, Rúmil shook off his brother’s arm, mastered his own shock—for while he had also sensed Orcs, he had not sensed nearly this many—and lifted two fingers to his lips. A long whistle shot out, alerting all to the sudden danger, and Rúmil followed it with a series of shorter whistles, informing the other elves of the estimated number of Orcs as well as the fact that there were now Orcs in the lower branches.
"Sixty?" Haldir asked when Rúmil finished even as he drew his short sword and leaped forward to dispatch an Orc that was climbing the trunk of their tree. "I do not count sixty Orcs."
"Of course not, for you only counted four," Rúmil retorted, stringing his bow and quickly loosing an arrow into the horde. "I decided it was best to overestimate rather than underestimate." Shooting off three more arrows, he began to retreat even further, for Orcs were running beneath them, intent on reaching the larger elven host, which was now close enough to be smelled by the foul beasts. "Back!" Rúmil ordered, hastening his own steps. "We are not strong enough to fight here."
The elves from Mirkwood began to retreat with great reluctance, apparently loath to abandon a fight. But a sudden curse from Haldir turned them and they abruptly realized that Orcs were coming up from their rear, separating themselves from the main elven company. "Higher!" one of the Mirkwood elves cried out, leaping up several branches and turning the retreat into a rout. "Stay together!"
Quickly ascending into the tops of the trees, the elves hurriedly passed over the Orcs in the lower limbs that had thought to steal in from behind. Their progress was swift even though they stopped every few branches to loose arrows and cover their own retreat, but the Orcs upon the ground were faster than they, and the elves could not seem to get ahead of them.
"Run!" Rúmil suddenly ordered. "Do not stop to loose your bows! Let us trust that the branches are thick enough to shield us from their bolts." Catching his brother by the arm, he pulled a few arrows from Haldir’s quiver and shoved them into his own, replenishing his vanishing stock. "Make for Lord Elladan and King Thranduil so that they might know what we face. I shall swing east and see that all who were scouting have been brought to safety."
"Safety go with you," Haldir shouted as Rúmil broke away.
"Look to your own welfare, brother," Rúmil answered with a defiant grin as he wove in and out of the branches. He was soon out of Haldir’s sight, for the thick trees were quite good at blocking vision, and he quickly made his way eastward. Rúmil’s movements were completely silent, and the Orcs beneath were heedless of his passage. He longed to take his bow and begin dispatching them, but even with the addition of Haldir’s arrows to his quiver, he did not have enough bolts to endure a prolonged fight. In any case, the first order of business was to see that all scouts reached the safety of the main group. He could not give away his position until he knew that everyone had made it back.
A sudden shout of triumph rose up in front of him, and Rúmil momentarily froze, cursing bitterly. He recognized the sounds, and the associated memories were not pleasant. They were the sounds that Orcs made when they downed an elf, and breaking out of his shock, Rúmil hastened onward with even greater speed, hoping he would not be too late.
He skidded to a halt above a collection of six Orcs, and the sight below him made his blood boil. They were crowding over an elf, jeering and laughing, while the elf—who wore the colors of Rivendell—twitched slightly but made no move to escape. An arrow protruded from his shoulder, and his dark hair had fallen in disarray about his head, stained with blood from a wound to his temple. Thoroughly enjoying themselves, the Orcs closed in, poking and prodding until Rúmil could take no more. What he did next he did without thought for consequences. Completely ignoring the more rational part of his brain that told him it was already too late, Rúmil let out a harsh cry and dropped straight onto one of the Orcs.
Sweeping his short sword from its scabbard—he preferred the bow, but in situations such as this, the sword was a far more satisfying weapon—Rúmil relieved one Orc of its head, stabbed another in the back, and took out a third with a swipe that split open its gut. The other three Orcs, taken by surprise, retreated hastily into the forest at the same time that they began bellowing for help. Knowing he had but moments until more foul goblins arrived, Rúmil knelt swiftly and examined the fallen elf that he had risked his life to save. But as he had already sensed, it was too late. The last breath was taken even as Rúmil placed his hand on the other elf’s neck and felt for a pulse. A sweeping sorrow flashed over Rúmil, but he knew better than to stop for grief at a time like this. Pulling the dead elf over his shoulders, he looked for a low branch onto which he could leap, found one, and hurried toward it with all possible speed.
But he had taken too much time, and a sudden shout from behind informed him that pursuit had begun. With a powerful leap, he propelled himself upwards onto the low branch and was about to jump to a higher one when a blast of fiery pain assaulted his right leg. With a strangled cry, he stumbled and fell, crashing to the ground and dropping his burden as he instinctively rolled to absorb the impact of the fall. Looking to his leg, he grimaced at the black arrow buried in it and reached to pull it out. Yet even as he did so, a wave of nausea swept over him and the pain in his leg suddenly intensified. Poison, he realized with a sickening chill. The arrow is poisoned. That is why the other elf died so quickly.
Trying to ignore the sudden fear that possessed his racing heart, Rúmil braced himself and pulled the arrow. He was unable to stifle the resulting cry, and at his outburst, the Orcs laughed. They were advancing slowly now, and there was victory in their eyes. They knew they had him, and Rúmil was now forced to accept this fact, for he did not think he could put any weight on his leg. But he was not about to be taken without a fight. If they wanted him, they would pay for it with their lives.
His position was awkward, but nevertheless, he readied his bow and began to shoot. The advance now became faster as the Orcs tried to reach him and stop his archery, but Rúmil picked up the pace in response, felling Orcs left and right as they began to surround him. His bolts flew with deadly accuracy, and his hands moved faster than mortal eyes could track, but there were too many Orcs. While he was looking to the right, an Orc moved in from the left and kicked the bow from his hands. More Orcs then moved in, pinning him beneath their hands and stretching his body out upon the ground. Amidst the sudden barrage of kicks and punches, Rúmil caught sight of one angry goblin raising a wickedly curved sword above its head, ready to avenge the Orcs that Rúmil had killed.
Restrained as he was, the elf could do nothing to save himself, and so he braced his mind for death. Wide, gray eyes watched in horror as the dim light of the sun gleamed red off the blade that would end his life. He briefly wondered if he should turn away and close his eyes or if he should keep them open and focused upon his killer. The Orc probably didn’t care what he did, but Rúmil was becoming slightly curious as to whether or not he would be able to see death as it swooped down upon him if he kept his eyes open. It was an interesting dilemma that occupied a rather detached part of his brain, but the debate swiftly turned academic when the curved sword began to descend.
So ready was he for the end that Rúmil was completely unprepared for what happened next. The sword swinging down upon his chest suddenly careened to the side and light flashed off a broader weapon as the Orc fell headless. The hands that restrained Rúmil fell away and the Orcs yelled in sudden fear and confusion. A strange shout rose up above the din of the goblins, and still recovering from his shock, Rúmil had just enough time to look up and see a short, bearded creature leap over him and fall upon the Orcs like a thing possessed. Gasping in surprise and wincing at the exploding agony in his leg, Rúmil managed to roll to one side and raise himself up on his elbow in time to see Gimli, son of Glóin, single-handedly rout the Orcs. The sheer surprise of his attack as well as the dwarf’s ferocious countenance that spoke of a crazed desire for vengeance was enough to drive away the few goblins who were not killed by his gleaming axe. But as they had when fleeing before Rúmil, these Orcs called for aid while they ran and answering shouts were soon heard.
"Haste now, Master Elf," Gimli said gruffly, sprinting back to Rúmil’s side and bodily pulling the elf to his feet. Unable to help himself, Rúmil cried out as his weight fell upon his right leg, and Gimli swiftly moved to brace him. "Lean upon me and we shall soon reach safety. Your brothers heard your cry, but they were tied up in battle with Orcs in the trees and could not come. But I expect to see them shortly."
"How did you come to be here?" Rúmil demanded breathlessly, amazed at the notion that he now owed his life to a dwarf and even more amazed that he was actually allowing the dwarf to support him as he hurriedly limped away.
Gimli glanced up at Rúmil as though the elf had just asked what color the sky was. "Were you not listening? No others were able to come. I was more or less free because I do not stay in the treetops, which is where the Orcs are going. Haste now, for I think that your friends the goblins are returning. And they do not sound pleased with us."
Rúmil’s instincts were twisting themselves into chaos and he could not sense the presence of more encroaching Orcs. But he found himself believing Gimli—he could not really say why—and tried to walk faster. His faith in the dwarf was rewarded when arrows began to whistle past them, causing Gimli to start ducking behind tree trunks. But while this protected them from the poison-tipped darts, it slowed their progress significantly and the Orcs began gaining. But try as he might, Rúmil could not coax more speed out of his faltering legs, and he could feel the Orcs’ poison start to creep up the side of his body. He was about to suggest that the dwarf go on without him when arrows began to fly from the opposite direction, raining down upon the Orcs and buying Gimli and Rúmil the time necessary to pull away from their pursuers.
"They took their precious time in coming," Gimli muttered, continuing to pull Rúmil along as elven arrows began driving back the Orcs.
Rúmil laughed slightly while hope crept back into his heart. Perhaps he would indeed live to see another day. But even as he entertained this thought, pain suddenly blossomed in the middle of his back. Stricken, he froze and looked down in horror as a crude arrowhead broke through the skin of his chest.
The shout came from somewhere above him, and much to his surprise, Rúmil discovered that he was lying on his side upon the ground with a dwarf hovering over his shoulder, demanding that he respond to his name. And as the surrounding world began to fade, Rúmil decided that this had to be one of the most improbable ways to die.
"Gimli…" Rúmil finally managed to answer.
"Quiet," Gimli hissed, seeming to forget that he had just been calling the elf’s name. "Do not try to speak. I cannot remove this arrow now. Not here. But it cannot remain as it is. Stay still. This shall hurt." And before Rúmil could even think to ask what was going on, the dwarf had seized the shaft still protruding from his back and broken the main part off, leaving only a small stub protruding from the wound.
Though Gimli had been quick, the movement caused a sudden swell of agony in the elf’s chest. His breath came in painful hitches, and he tasted blood in his mouth. The poison that had been upon the arrow’s tip spread outward into his chest and he felt his heart shudder in response. "Gimli…" he gasped again, trying to get the words out.
"Are all elves so stubborn!?" the dwarf exploded, holding tightly to Rúmil’s shoulder as the elf began to shudder. "Do not waste your energy on speech!"
"Thank you…" Rúmil whispered, closing his eyes as his vision turned fuzzy. His mind had finally processed the personal risk Gimli had taken in coming to his aid alone, and this was something that could not be ignored no matter what the cost. "I…was wrong…about dwarves. Or at the least…I was…wrong about you. I am sorry."
There was a quick pause, and the dwarf’s hands upon his shoulder suddenly went still. Then the moment passed and Gimli was back at work, trying to press torn strips of tunic around the arrowhead in Rúmil’s chest so as to keep it still and stop the bleeding. "Foolish elf," the dwarf muttered. "You lie here wounded and wish to thank me. There is nothing to thank. I did not reach you in time."
"Legolas was…right to name you elvellon," Rúmil murmured, words and breath now becoming next to impossible. "I doubted…when I heard of it, but he was…right. You are an…elf-friend. It is in…your actions and in your…eyes."
"What did I tell you about talking?!" Gimli demanded.
The sound of a new horrified voice forced Rúmil’s eyes open again and he looked up as the faces of Haldir and Orophin suddenly swam into view. He attempted a wan smile, but a fit of coughing took him and the resulting pain left him too weak to even keep his eyes open. He dimly heard something of a conversation taking place above him and wondered what they discussed. He wished he had the strength left to once again thank the dwarf and apologize for his earlier words, but he knew now that Gimli understood. Gimli had always understood. It is unfortunate that only at the end do I see the worth of the dwarf, Rúmil sighed.
Then he felt arms around him and sensed the presence of his brothers close at hand. They were lifting him up and preparing to carry him away. The occasional whistle of an elven arrow came to his ears, and he wondered how the fight was going. He still felt that Orcs were near, which meant that the elves were still in danger. But none of that really mattered anymore. At least not to him. The Orcs could not hurt him where he was going. He felt strangely light, almost as though he was floating. He wondered if this was what it was like to be an eagle. He’d always wanted to fly with the eagles.
"Rúmil!" Haldir’s anxious voice intruded into his thoughts, but everything seemed so far away now. "Rúmil, stay with me. Fight it!"
Fight what? the elf wondered as the world continued to drift into the distance. Oh, death. I suppose I should fight it, but the wound is mortal. There is no chance for me and the poison has reached my heart. Strange. I always thought that Orophin would be the first to go, what with his wandering mind and penchant for trouble. And I wish that I could bid both him and Haldir farewell. But I trust that they shall find comfort in one another. They usually do, and that shall be my hope. Until the end of this world, my brothers. I shall ever be waiting for you. And with this final thought, Rúmil’s head slumped forward onto his bloody chest as the poison overwhelmed his struggling heart. His lungs expanded one last time, blood filled his throat, and the world became completely silent.
—Regarding Celeborn’s explanation of events in Númenor, most of it is extrapolation and my own overactive imagination. Amandil and Ar-Pharazôn were great friends, Amandil was cast from the council shortly following Sauron’s release from prison, he sought the blessings of the Valar, but more than that is pure fiction. Fanfiction, actually. ;) So take it for what you will. Those wishing to know what really happened as far as Tolkien envisioned it will have to refer to the Akallabêth in the Silmarillion.
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.