"We need to find a road," Morion said as they slogged through the marsh, getting stuck in thick mud, and being attacked by swarms of flies. They had left the horses behind with instructions to meet them when they left Mirkwood. Would it work? Who knew, but it was worth a try. Those horses were pretty smart, after all.
"They'll be on the road!" Khamul hissed.
"Why are you so interested in the dwarves anyway?"
I'm not interested in the dwarves. I'm interested in the Ring! "It's a bit strange, don't you think?" she said. "Gandalf leading a band of dwarves, and then deserting them suddenly."
"It is strange," Morion agreed, "but perhaps he promised to lead them safely to Mirkwood. He has a soft spot for the people of Middle-Earth."
"There's something going on," Khamul said. "The dwarves are going to kill the dragon, and the only way they'd even have a chance of winning is with Gandalf. So why's he going?"
"Perhaps he realized they were being followed and has gone to look for us."
"Well he just rode right by us and he didn't seem to be looking anywhere except straight ahead."
"I don't know," Morion snapped, swatting at a large fly. "I think you know something, Khamul. You wouldn't go trekking through a swamp following some worthless dwarves unless you knew there was something in it for you."
"If I knew something I'd tell you!" Khamul snarled.
"I don't believe that for a second! What are we getting into? Tell me! Now!"
"Even if I did know something, why would I tell you? Anyway, I don't!"
"Fine," Morion said, still looking at her skeptically. "I'll be sure to remember that. You don't know anything about these dwarves, have no idea about why Gandalf was with them. No idea at all."
"I'm – VALAR!"
"What is it?" Morion yelled, spinning around. He screamed and jumped away as a giant spider lunged at him. It was a huge beast: its head three feet across, its legs like massive branches, and its body…
"I can see why the elves don't like Sauron," Khamul gasped, drawing her sword.
The spider hissed and lunged forward, its pincers clacking together, ready for the kill.
Morion drove his sword into its nest of eyes and black blood burst forth. The spider fell to the ground, twitching and jerking.
"At least they're easy to kill," Khamul said as Morion cleaned his sword.
"There are a lot of them though," Morion said. "They've had almost two thousand years to multiply in here."
"Looks like it," Khamul muttered, noticing for the first time all the webbing that hung on the trees.
"The dwarves will be killed by these," Morion said. "Perhaps we should go back to Minas Morgul. I don't like the idea of having Yanta or one of the others in charge."
If the spiders kill the dwarves, then they'll have the Ring, Khamul thought. They either won't know what it is and it'll lie here for eternity, or they will, in which case they'll deliver it to Sauron. And while I don't particularly mind it lying here forever, I do care if Sauron gets it back.
"Let's just see what happens," Khamul said. She shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe they're on some kind of secret mission for Gandalf."
"I doubt that very much," Morion said. "Anyway, if the spiders don't get them, the dragon will."
"Maybe the short thing can kill the dragon."
Morion snorted. "Perhaps it can fly as well."
"Maybe it can," Khamul snapped.
The two continued to slog through the marsh, which began to turn into more solid – albeit it mossy – ground. There were a few more spider sightings, but the huge creatures scuttled away when Khamul and Morion began to draw their swords. Evidently they had learned of their comrade's fate.
"It's getting better," Morion said. The forest was lighter, the ground firmer, and the animals and plants didn't seem quite as dark and oppressive.
"Yeah…" Khamul muttered.
"Is something wrong?"
"I don't know. We're heading east…right?"
"Then we'll run into the elves sooner or later, and this is starting to look like the kind of place they'd hang around."
Morion glanced around. "You're right," he said. "We need to be quiet."
"Like that's really going to help. The elves are probably watching us right now."
"Then they're in for a very unpleasant surprise."
No elves made themselves known as Morion and Khamul walked through the forest. They entered a beautiful clearing filled with flowers and long grass. It was the ideal spot for an elf, but it was empty.
"They're watching us," Khamul said, drawing her sword. "They're somewhere around here…"
"I don't think they are," Morion said. "Strange, isn't it? An elf-filled wood bereft of elves."
"If they aren't here, then where are they?"
"The dwarves were on the road, which is a far faster way of traveling than through the brush. Presuming they weren't eaten by spiders, they would be in elf territory by now."
"Dwarves and elves, Khamul."
Morion smiled. "You won't need your sword. I suspect the elves and dwarves can do our dirty work for us."
"They wouldn't be that stupid," Khamul said. "Fighting? Well…maybe."
"The elves are distracted by the dwarves' arrival, so we might be able to get close to the elf king's palace and perhaps learn some things."
"I doubt he's got sensitive information just lying around."
"You never know," Morion said with a smile.
A road appeared after a while. The ringbearers walked alongside it, wanting to be able to leap into the brush if someone approached. Elves had an uncanny ability to sense the rings. But would they be able to sense the One if it was in the vicinity? Khamul doubted it. Sauron wouldn't make the vessel of his power visible to elves.
"It's a hill," Khamul said, spotting the end destination of the road.
"It's the elf king's palace," Morion corrected.
"He lives in a hill?"
"I don't know!"
"Doesn't sound very pleasant," Khamul muttered. "How do we get in?"
"There's a door right there," Morion said, gesturing to a large set of double doors.
"Yes, but how do we get in? I doubt they're just going to open them and invite us in."
"We'll have to sneak in," Morion said. "When a large cart comes by, we can jump in the back."
"What if a large cart doesn't come by?"
"Then we can stay out here and wait for something to happen!"
"Or perhaps wait for someone to let you in?"
Morion and Khamul whirled around and came face to face with a smirking elf. He was tall with long black hair and handsome features. His gray eyes indicated he was Sindar, but his bearing was too noble for a Moriquendi.
"Who're you?" Khamul snarled, her sword's point at the elf's throat.
"Killing your salvation is a poor choice," the elf said calmly, pushing Khamul's sword away.
"I've seen you before," Morion said. "Somewhere…I can't remember where."
"If you were to ask Thranduil, I am his dear son, Legolas. If you were to ask Morgoth, he would curse and tell you I am Feanor, escaped from the Land of the Lost."
"How did you escape?"
"It won't work for you," Feanor said, laughing. "My soul was there, my body had long since been burned to ash. I escaped through a palantir into the newly-dead body of Thranduil's son."
"And you want to help us break into your father's palace?" Khamul asked.
"I just said I wasn't his son."
"Right. Let me see, you are actually the legendary elf Feanor, who escaped through a palantir into a dead body. Right. Yes, that makes so much sense."
"He was with Morgoth," Morion said quietly.
"He can't possibly be telling the truth!" Khamul stopped, suddenly remembering Aica's little escapade into Lorien. She had let an elf out of the palantir. "Oh."
"I see you've heard of me," Feanor said.
"Yes…I guess you aren't insane."
"I am not mad."
"Good. Well, why are you letting us in?"
"I have no love for the Moriquendi," Feanor said.
"Yes, I gathered that when I learned you slaughtered a great deal of them," Khamul said.
"That was long ago. I despise being one of them. Besides, perhaps you will…find something…useful."
The Ring. He was talking about the One Ring. It was in Thranduil's palace. "Really?" Khamul asked. "Where might be this useful…thing?"
Feanor shrugged. "I'm afraid I've been unable to locate it."
"You're keeping secrets from me, Khamul!" Morion hissed.
"What makes you think that?" Khamul hissed back.
"What are you two talking about?"
"Clearly there is something valuable in Thranduil's halls! Feanor is kindly letting us in so we can take it!"
"What is it?"
"I don't know!"
Morion scowled. "You don't trust me, is that it?"
"Of course I trust you!"
"Then why won't you tell me what we are risking life and limb for?"
"We aren't risking our lives."
"So that makes it perfectly fine to lead me into what may very well be a trap!"
"It's not a trap," Khamul said. She looked at Feanor. "Is it?"
"Of course not," the elf replied. "Everyone is very busy deciding what to do about a party of dwarves that has been captured."
"Anything else besides the dwarves?" Khamul asked. "A short thing, for instance?"
"I said there was something to find," Feanor said.
So the dwarves are imprisoned, but the short thing with the Ring is free, but in the halls, Khamul thought. Well, then we only have to find him before someone else does. I wonder why Feanor's telling me this. Wouldn't he prefer to find the thing and take the Ring for himself? He doesn't strike me as a particularly sharing person.
"If you're done arguing, come right this way," Feanor said, gesturing toward the palace.
"What do we have to lose?" Khamul said.
"A lot," Morion said. "Secrecy, for one. The Wise still refuse to believe Sauron has returned. If the elves see us, his servants, here then they will know for certain that he is back."
"We can gain a lot more," Khamul said.
"A short thing? Or something the short thing has in its possession?"
Morion was getting too close to the truth for comfort. "Where's the entrance?" Khamul asked the elf.
"There's a side door for servants," Feanor said, gesturing to the side of the grassy hill. "It empties into the wine cellar. You should be able to get around unseen; there's a feast tonight."
"Won't the wine cellar be rather busy then?" Khamul hissed.
"The steward is a drunkard. He wouldn't notice if a giant spider was sitting across from him, drinking as well." Feanor felt around for a door and then opened a hole in the hill. "Hurry up!" he snapped.
"No one's inside," Khamul said, glancing around as she walked in. She took a deep breath of the air. Wine, some food…and something metallic…Mt. Doom. The Ring was nearby.