39. Darkness Beneath the Mountains
Darkness beneath the Mountains
Elrond could not say why the idea of his wife accompanying their children to her parents' realm bothered him so. It was not as if it were a new idea or a journey none of them were accustomed to. Celebrían had even made the journey with but a small escort on at least three occasions, as was true of Arwen as well and even more often. Elladan and Elrohir were accomplished warriors who fought often at the sides of the Lords of the Dúnedain as well as serving as scouts for Glorfindel's warriors. No one could take either of them unawares, and the two of them fought so well together that there were those among the orcs who referred to them as the Great Warrior in Two Bodies. And both Celebrían and Arwen had trained with both blade and bow.
With all of this true, why did the idea of the four of them traveling to Lothlórien at this time trouble him so? If only he would have a clear vision to give him an idea as to what threat it was he sensed!
Two days before the party was to leave the valley, Elrond found himself, while walking the path of dreams, looking down upon the Hithaeglir as if he were flying among the Great Eagles. East of the mountains the land was brown and sere, for there had been repeated droughts for the past several summers. Few Men could be seen upon the plains above the Celebrant, and even those animals native to them had withdrawn to the eaves of the great forest that was no longer referred to as Greenwood the Great. Little traffic could be discerned anywhere, even in the passes of the mountains where usually parties of Dwarves and Men sought to bring trade from one side of the Misty Mountains to the other.
West of the range there was more activity both near the feet of the mountains and in its high places. That intrigued him, and he circled lower, trying to discern what it was the moved in the shadows beneath the rocky walls and in the darker valleys.
Yrch! There were thousands of orcs to be seen all along the westward slopes of the mountain where the height of the prominences protected them from the brilliance of the sunrise to the east. All through the region between Imladris and the pass of Caradhras he could see the foul creatures teeming! And he could sense the malevolence of their purpose as if it were a foul reek emanating from them.
He roused to full awareness, for he believed he now knew what it was that had been causing his disquiet.
"You must travel east of the mountains," he told Celebrían as they broke their fast together, having disclosed his vision to her. "The westward slopes are filled with yrch-kind and trolls, and I sense that their intent is to rend and destroy."
"You are certain of this, meldonya?" she asked.
"As certain as I can be," he answered her.
She considered this for a time, and at last met his gaze, her own expression perplexed. "You know what my nanethhas said, that too oft in going out of one's way in order to avoid bringing one future to be one without intent makes that particular future certain."
"I do not see a particular future, my beloved—I merely see that foul creatures mass on the western slopes of the Hithaeglir."
"Yet in your vision, you have indicated that you saw this when Anor had risen east of the mountains, but was not yet high enough to shine upon the lands of Eriador. Had Anor been near setting rather than just rising, would it not be possible that the yrch-kind might have been more active east of the mountains rather than to the west, as at that time the shadows would have filled the eastern slopes?"
What could he answer? Certainly her reasoning was sound. But, was it sound enough? All he could do was to tell her that his heart told him that the eastern route, at this time, was most likely safer than to travel down the Greenway until they should turn off over the Redhorn Gate.
Still, he also gave warnings to Elladan and Elrohir, Arwen, and to Curufil and his wife Celestië, who were chief guard to Celebrían and mistress of her handmaidens, and exacted promises that each would do his or her best to persuade Celebrían to take the eastward paths as much as possible.
"I will do as I can," promised Curufil.
Celestië sighed. "But if she should prove willful …" she began, but did not finish.
"I ask only that you advise her," Elrond assured the two of them. "I cannot say why it is that I think of her as being in the most danger, but that is the warning I feel in my heart."
Curufil nodded his understanding, while Celestië murmured, "It shall be as you say." The warnings felt in the heart of Elrond Eärendilion were not to be taken lightly.
Glorfindel led forth a large contingent of warriors to sweep the High Pass of possible enemies before Celebrían's party left Imladris. They checked all of the usual paths used by those traversing the pass as well as probing anywhere orcs or mountain trolls might lie concealed. Several doors into goblin dens were sealed as effectively as possible, the blocked entrances marked for Curufil's scouts to recognize as Elrond's wife and children passed that way. A mixed party of Men and Dwarves coming from the valley of the Anduin made their report on the state of the pass on the eastern slopes of the mountains. They'd noted but one party of orcs north of the pass, which made off further northward at speed as soon as it was recognized it had been seen.
Elrond, accompanied by Glorfindel and two other most trusted warriors, accompanied the party up the High Pass and halfway down the eastern way. Seldom did the Lord of Imladris wear a sword in these latter days, but he did so during that journey, seeking to offer what protection he could to his family as they set off east and south to Lothlórien. As he at last kissed his wife and children in a final farewell, he murmured, "Please, my best beloved, return safely to me, and keep to the eastern road."
"I shall do my best, meldonya," Celebrían returned, but she would not promise more than that.
Elrond watched after her with a heavy heart, and prayed that the Valar should watch over her and their children before he turned back westward to return to their home.
She is here, and they all arrived safely, Elrond.
Elrond straightened from where he'd been bending over a letter he'd been preparing for Círdan, surprised at this unexpected touch on his mind. "Galadriel?" he asked, both aloud and using osanwë. Few of the Elves within Middle Earth used osanwë at all, and no one throughout the Mortal Lands other than his wife's nanethcould—or would even attempt to—use it over such distances as Galadriel could project her thought.
She has told us of your concerns. I agree with them, and have told her so. I will do what I can to convince her to return the same way as she came to us. With that, Galadriel removed her attention, and he sighed with relief.
Azog sat on the throne-like chair he'd taken for his own, glaring at the one who'd come from Dol Guldur, the one who had named himself the Mouth of Sauron. "So," the great orc growled. "So, several of the she-Elves have come to the hidden wood. What of it?"
"The Master wishes one or more captured for his purposes. Those that come from the north return there in the fullness of time. Keep thou an eye upon the paths into and out of the forest of the Elf-witch, and when they come forth again, take one or more of them for thine own. Thou knowest the manner in which Elves are forged into orcs—do what thou must to bring at least one of them to that estate. Do this, and thou shalt be well rewarded for thine efforts. In time another of the Master's greater servants shall be sent to fetch her, and from her our Dark Lord shall bring forth other great ones to harry his enemies."
Azog straightened. "Others to challenge the likes of me, you mean? Others from whom he shall choose the one to supplant me here in this realm I have made my own?"
His—guest's—laughter made even the great Azog the Defiler to shudder. "And for what reason would the Master seek to supplant thee? Hast thou had designs upon other realms—say, perhaps thou seekest the rule of his fortress of Dol Guldur, or wouldst be the new Lord of Mordor itself once it is renewed? Nay, neither of these posts dost thou desire? Then there is no reason to believe that the Eye is upon thee with disfavor. Nay, there are more dark realms under the earth than merely this one, and other places to send such orcs as he would see bred by such a one as he seeks. And there are places where the Elves hide themselves that would tremble to see such orcs as the Master would see brought forth standing upon their doorsteps. Thou hast been charged with this task ere this. Why hast thou failed our Dread Lord up to this time?"
And yet you say that I am not looked upon with disfavor,Azog thought resentfully. "It is not without effort on our part," he said, at last turning his eyes away from the ruined Man who stood before him. "Yea, the Elves from the north come and go, but always with strong guards. The Silver Queen and the Daughter of Night are those we see most, but not yet has any of our people been able to lay a single finger upon either, much less those who accompany them."
The Mouth leaned forward, and Azog turned to consider him suspiciously. "Take one of them, however it must be done. But one is all that the Master asks of you."
"How are we to do this? It is not only those that travel with them that guard them, but also the Witch's own soldiers, each one of them imbued with the power of her land. How many times have we sought to enter the hidden paths into her woods only to have our orcs slain cruelly, left to die under the stark stare of the Sun itself? And we may be many here upon the slopes of the Mountain, but the Elves are not easy to take unawares. Usually they come and go by the western route, and this route have we watched as we have been charged to do. But this last time they came down the valley of the Great River rather than over the pass of Caradhras. We could have taken her upon the Stair----"
"Then force them to go over the pass when they wouldst leave!"
Azog paused. "How would we force them to take the Stair and the Pass rather than to return as they came?"
The smile given in answer was as hideous as any made by one of Azog's people. "Fire the woods along the river's valley. There has been drought, has there not? The woods will not withstand flame, but would burst up in rage with but little provocation. Why else hast thou thought that rain has been withheld for so long? Nay, the Master has done what he can to see thee successful in winning him his desired prize. Let them start north along either the feet of the mountains or the river, and then turn them back with fire once the Witch's guard have returned to her side. Force them to come to thee. And attack them from above. An Elf may be swift to evade a blade or arrow, but boulders from above when in a narrow place will crush an Elf as surely as it will an orc."
For the first time since the arrival of his fell visitor, Azog smiled.
The goblin that led Azog into the cavern some three days' journey north of the eastern doors to Moria bowed in a servile manner and indicated the rough walls of the place. "We have this place in readiness as you have directed, Lord Azog. Will it do for what's to be done here?"
The great Uruk grunted noncommittally, pushing past the smaller of his brethren so as to go through the whole series of rooms, torch in hand, examining every inch of the miserable place. There were three chambers, the innermost of which was larger than the second but smaller than the outermost room.
"These are natural?" Azog asked.
The smaller orc shrugged. "Partly natural, partly dug out.
Azog returned from the central chamber to the innermost one, once again examining it closely, now paying greatest attention to the floor. At last he looked up to meet the guide's eyes. "Clear the floor of all loose stones, even the smallest of pebbles. And make a firepit—here. Yes, here. That raised place there—square it off that it may be used as a place of torture. And set rings into the stone here, here, and here. Bring chains heavy enough to burden an Elf, and bands to bind them to the floor. Make certain that the chains are not long enough to allow our prisoners to stand comfortably. Niches to hold oil there and there—not too much light for the room. And this pillar----" He stopped in front of a great pillar of living stone near the center of the chamber, measuring it up and down. "Place three rings facing each a different direction, as high as can be managed. Let those chained here strain to touch the floor!"
His fellow grinned in evil delight.
Leading the goblin back to the second chamber, Azog ordered, "Build a forge here, and let there be crucibles for the melting of lead and other metals. Bring a rack of knives and irons and tongs apt to torture. High chains there to hold up to five prisoners side by side. A table there…."
When he had finished with his orders, the smaller creature essayed, "Then we will know sport here."
His own smile cruel, Azog answered, "Oh, indeed we shall know sport—sport such as I have not seen in over an age. We shall indeed know sport!"
A group of six orcs and two Men sent from Dol Guldur were sent to dwell some ways north of the pass with orders to watch for a certain signal, at which time they were to set fire to the dry forests on the slopes of the mountains before retreating into their subterranean passages; westerly winds ought to spread the flames swiftly eastward to the banks of the river. A path was prepared from the upper chambers of Moria to the heights over the pass of Caradhras that could be easily traversed by orcs even on the brightest of days, and chosen fighters, again both Men and Orcs, practiced ascending and descending this route until it could be scaled with little thought. Another passage was opened from the same chamber in Moria out to an area north of the expected fire zone from which they could more easily come to the caverns where the hoped for she-Elf and those who survived the initial assault were to be taken as soon as they were captured. All of this was finished swiftly, and there was no sign that the Elves from the north had thought to emerge as yet from the Elf-witch's domains to return to their own lands.
Well and good,thought Azog. He could wait—that he knew. Now he set himself to do just that, having set watchers to look for anyone emerging from the haze that was all his kind could discern of the cursed Golden Woods. Once the northern Elves came out from under the protection of the Witch, he would have them swiftly enough.
"The two of you could help us, you know," Arwen called to her brothers, who lounged nearby with a few of the march wardens who'd come in from the bounds of the Golden Wood with word that Celebrían and her party were on their way north, following the route along the eastern slopes of the Hithglaer. She worked on the lawn at the foot of the mallorn in which her grandparents dwelt. Her loom had been set up for her here, and she and her handmaiden and friend Celebfiniel, daughter to Celestië and Curufil, were in the process of stringing it with wool from the Shire that she'd brought with her from her father's house. She wished to weave a blanket for the child expected by the newest Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain and his wife, and planned to take it with her when she returned home at the beginning of the autumn months.
"We leave the work of your loom to you, our sister," Elladan returned. "We have been helping in the twisting of bowstrings for the past several weeks, and have had our fill of fibers and twists for the moment."
Elrohir added, "It is enough for now to contemplate the stringing of a harp. But one does not play music upon a loom."
"Ellyn!" murmured Celebfiniel. "Too proud to help anyone with any task they feel is best left to others."
Arwen laughed and started to answer, but stopped, her eyes suddenly wide as a portion of her awareness was caught by surprise. Someone, someone she loved dearly, was crying out for aid, but at that moment the output of pain and shock cut short the cry as suddenly as it came.
Above her she heard the crash of glass and a terrible cry of grief from her daernaneth. "Celebrían!"
Her brothers had straightened to their feet, their fair faces gone stark with shock and dismay. "Our mother! Someone has taken our mother!"
The loom crashed to the ground, but no one noticed. Celebfiniel stood stricken. "My parents!" she whispered. "My adar—I fear he is dead, and my naneth! What are they doing with my naneth?"
"But they are on their way north," Arwen said. "How is it they might have been taken by such surprise?"
From the heights of the talan above them they could hear a quick exchange between Celeborn and Galadriel, and then a great gong was struck and Elves began dropping from their aerial dwellings to gather beneath the mallorn that housed their Lord and Lady, making certain swords and long knives and quivers were in place and stringing their great bows. Celeborn descended from his talanwith a swiftness and purpose Arwen had never seen in him before, calling for volunteers to go forth at his side and seek his daughter and her attendants. Galadriel, meanwhile, called for Arwen to come up to her. "Hurry, child!" she called. "We must prepare things so that we might consult the Mirror!"
Elladan and Elrohir flanked their daeradaras he began choosing those he would take with him. Arwen gathered her skirts and began the ascent to her grandmother's side, but paused at a cry from the path toward the western borders of their land. A messenger was running toward them. "There is a long curtain of fire along the eastern slopes of the mountains," he cried, "starting some leagues north of our borders and stretching from the mountains themselves to the banks of the river! None can go that way!"
None can go that way? But Celebrían, daughter to the Lord and Lady of Lothlórien and wife to Elrond of Imladris, had started that way early that morning from the banks of the Nimrodel accompanied by her guard Curufil, her friend and handmaiden Celestië as well as a few other ladies of her train, and a picked guard of warriors from both Lórien and Rivendell. If none could follow either the path by the river or the one following the feet of the mountains northward, then where had they been driven?
Galadriel looked westward toward the peak of Caradhras. Her voice, little better than a murmur for her, yet carried to all gathered beneath the mallorn. "They would have had to turn back to take the Stair…."
Arwen felt as if the foundations of her world had fallen away beneath her. She took a deep breath, focused her attention on her daernaneth'sface, and resumed her climb; but it was an automatic act, for her mind was reeling and her heart felt empty.
Word that the assault on the northern Elves had begun reached Azog, and he ascended as swiftly as he could to the upper levels of his personal Dwarf kingdom just as those who'd taken part in the attack withdrew into the chamber with their prisoners. There were four women, but one was already dead while he wasn't certain that a second would survive even the beginning of the process that would bring her to his own estate.
He examined the two who appeared to be viable, and although with the swelling of their faces he could not be certain of their features, he was reasonably sure that one of them ought to be the Silver Queen. Neither of the others was the Daughter of Night, and he was relieved that this was so. Had he taken both of these high-born Elves and one of them was so badly damaged that she died, he was certain that the displeasure he'd suffer from Second Master would have been most harsh, and most likely fatal. No, better to take one for certain that to deliver a corpse of one that Second Master desired as a possible prize, no matter that the other could be brought to the desired corruption. As for the male Elves----
Azog examined them closely. One was unconscious, but his hair was silver, not the ebon of the foul Peredhel. Of the two with darker hair, both were clearly of pure blood, and the rest all had hair of fairest gold. Azog felt his belly clench at the sight of them. Once, he knew, his people had resembled them, but no longer. Long ago had First Master brought his parents to the appearance he knew. He was far stronger than these, and capable of greater feats than any Elf could achieve, and he had no desire to return to the nature his parents had been born with, not that he knew precisely what that nature might have been. He would show these, weakened by scruples he did not share, what orcs could do. Once more he would bring Elves from their allegiance to the Light to depths they'd not realized resided deep within their beings.
"From those who have been highest come the greatest of our kind," he murmured to himself before he straightened to face his minions. "Take them to the place of forging!" he commanded. "I will follow."
He watched with satisfaction as the mixed party of his orcs and Second Master's mannish servants bore those who'd survived the attack away.
When it was dark he went out carefully to examine the area where the attack had taken place. Eleven Elves had died there, and he was again relieved to find none was of such a kind that Second Master would desire. He let those who accompanied them take the corpses—they deserved a good feed, he believed.
Before the Elf-witch's folk could reach the place it had been scoured clean of all signs of the attack, save for the head of one of those who'd come from her own hidden realm, a fitting taunt left by Azog the Defiler.
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.