Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone - Chapter Seven - The Keep of Angmar
Uncertainty filled Legolas as he saw that bleakness in Jaessa's eyes as she uttered those last words. He only saw it for a moment however, for she immediately raised her hands to cover her face.
He stepped forward, hand outstretched to comfort her, then he stopped as she lowered her hands again, and her face was perfectly composed.
"Jaessa," he began hesitantly.
"You would oblige me by forgetting that happened," she whispered quietly, not meeting his gaze.
"I am sorry for what I said," he began again.
"Forget it," she waved one hand in dismissal, then changed the subject, "Do you have any idea who might be behind the gathering of Orcs to Angmar?" she asked with her usual directness.
He opened his mouth to go back to the subject of her home, but a flash of pleading in her eyes made him think better of it, and instead he responded to her question, shaking his head.
"I thought that all of the powerful servants of Sauron fell when he did. I cannot think of any that would want to gather the orcs, much less someone with enough power to do it. The Southrons and Easterlings may have fought for Sauron, but I don't think they were pleased to have to fight alongside orcs."
"Could the Orcs have just gathered here on their own?"
"Yes, except that they would not be abroad in daylight without some stronger being than they forcing them to it."
Jaessa sighed, looking towards the Keep of Angmar, wrapping her arms about her as a sudden chill swept over her. There was nothing else to do, she would have to enter Angmar.
"You were right about one thing," she said, meeting the Elf's gaze for an instant, before again lowering her eyes. "If Zandra is there I cannot just leave. I am going in."
"What? After just . . ."
She raised one hand to silence him. "I can enter in ways that will arouse no one's notice. Not for me a gate. There is no castle made of stone into which I cannot enter. Can you pass through solid stone? No, and I cannot take you with me. For me it is minimal magic, but to take someone else requires enough power that it might be noticed. I will go in by myself, I will search for Zandra, it might take a while so don't worry. I will take no unnecessary risks with either my, or my sister's safety. And I will return before nightfall."
"What if it takes you longer?" Legolas asked.
"Then I will return tomorrow and continue my search. I will not stop until I am certain that Zandra is not there. I will not risk her life and her freedom in such a way." Despite her words, her face was like cold stone. Legolas felt sick inside at what he had brought about. He had thought her emotionless before, but this was much worse. She turned away, and began to walk up the hill. He had to say something.
"Jaessa," he called, and she turned, he floundered helplessly for a moment, unable to think of anything to say. "Bring light. Zandra is terrified of the darkness. Save her from the dark for me."
A swift nod, and then Legolas watched in amazement as Jaessa began to sink slowly into the earth.
The comforting warmth of the earth encircled Jaessa, filling her with its familiar peace. For an instant she was tempted, as she always was, to remain. Here nothing could hurt her, here she need not worry about the pains and ills of the world. Here she need not ever again hear of Dae Kular, and all the anguish it brought to her soul. But Zandra's brilliant green eyes beckoned her. Her dreams while on board the ship, of Zandra imprisoned in the darkness, haunted her. If Zandra was here, she would bring the light of her childhood back to her eyes, and she would free her.
She moved forward through the stillness. She tried once to describe to Tinania what it was like moving through the earth, but her sister had no frame of reference, surface bound as the was. On the one occasion when Jaessa had brought Tinania underground with her, Tinania had said it felt just like being pulled through the water by Zandra. But that is not how it felt to Jaessa. She felt as though she were the earth, as though her body had been left behind, or else swallowed into the whole. It seemed to her that it was only her thoughts that moved forward. Her body lost its shape, and was assimilated into the earth, to be reformed when she emerged.
She drew near a tunnel, and could sense the vibrations of a large group marching heavily along it. Already she was familiar with the earth's groans at the foulness of the orcs' touch. She waited patiently, until the vibration subsided, and stepped into the tunnel.
Darkness met her gaze, but here within the earth she did not need her eyes to find her way. The earth itself told her of forks, and turnings. She need have no fear of meeting an unexpected obstacle. Silently she glided down the corridor, her senses alert for any change, any hint that her presence was detected.
After a few minutes she came to a fork, she began to turn in the directions the orcs had taken, thinking that such foul creatures had undoubtably gone with the intention of torturing whatever prisoners had been so unfortunate to have survived transport to this place. That Zandra might be in that number she refused to consider until she knew for certain.
She walked a few steps down the tunnel, but stopped abruptly. Jaessa. It was not so much a sound as the feeling of her name, echoing through the stone beneath her feet. Jaessa, daughter of earth. The feeling came again, stronger, more urgent. Pulling her, tugging at her feet, beckoning down the right fork.
Who are you? she thought to herself. Or was it a who? Was she just imagining things? Had the horrors of her past finally turned her mind?
Come. the feeling insisted. It would be foolish to go. It was probably a trap. But how could they know she was here? Of course they couldn't know. Only someone with a greater earth sense than she could have noticed the minimal power that phasing used.
Suddenly she realized that she was several feet along that other corridor. She could not remember consciously moving. She stretched her awareness down into the darkness. Something was different about this tunnel than the other. A . . . resonance. A feeling of . . . darkness.
Kay, think! she reprimanded herself, You're acting as stupidly as Legolas! Walking down an unknown corridor when some unknown calls is remarkably foolish! You are wiser than this. But she did not stop.
The corridor ended abruptly in a perfectly round room, the air chilly and strangely dry. Stale, like the air in the ancient catacombs of old Earth. She could sense that some designs were carved into the walls, so she lighted the diamond around her neck. Its glow seemed to be completely absorbed by the dark stone. She could faintly see arcane carvings covering the walls and floor. Magic symbols. Symbols of dark power. The cold air and the resonance of evil power raised goose bumps on Jaessa's arms. But this was nothing to the dread that filled her as she looked to the center of the room.
Three stone tables stood, carved from the same dark stone as the rest of the room. The head of each pointed away from the center of the room, towards specific groups of markings on the walls. She stepped forward to the nearest table, stretching out her hand, but not touching the stone. More markings were carved into the table. She studied them carefully, but most were not familiar to her. She caught a few symbols that clearly related to water, and her heart stopped, before thudding on more powerfully than before. She had no doubt that the markings were somehow related to Zandra.
Who created this room? Who had gathered the orcs? Who had Zandra captive within their power? She was afraid to find out.
Jaessa looked to the table on the other side of her, carved into the floor below it was a narrow channel, sloping down into the center of the room. There lay a basin, and she saw that there were three channels leading to it, one from each table. She walked slowly, almost against her will, towards the basin. It was unremarkable, compared to the elaborate carvings that decorated the rest of the room, but the dread in her heart increased every step she took closer to it.
Inexorably her eyes were drawn up from her examination of the basin, to the third table. Her sense of dread came from there. Why that table more than the others? She stepped across the channel leading from the table on her right, and passed the basin.
She raised her hand slowly, tracing in the air one of the markings. Icy cold flooded her being. This was a symbol she knew well. Earth.
Her bare fingers brushed the cold stone, and she gasped as shock flooded her. This was no stone that she had ever sensed. It was almost as though it were the physical manifestation of pure evil, and the whole room was carved from one solid piece, even the tables were part of the room!
The air suddenly seemed heavy and stifling, and her breathing grew labored.
At last, Earth Child, you come to me! a dark voice echoed mockingly into her mind. She whirled about, seeking its source, but there was no one. It seemed to come from all around, from the stone itself. So good of you to put yourself so neatly into my hands, though I could wish you had chosen Gondor rather than here. This place is not yet ready for you.
Harsh Orc voices suddenly filled the corridor, coming ever closer. Jaessa thought frantically, how would she escape? She was trapped! But wait, why would this voice need to summon the orcs, unless, he could not hold her himself! She could escape, but first, . . .
"Where is Zandra!?" she cried, "Who are you?"
All in good time my dear one, you will know all soon enough. As for your sister, I should not be so hasty in wishing to find her. For on the day you see her again, you both shall die.
Howling Orcs burst into the room. Jaessa could remain no longer, nor did she wish to. Even as the Orcs closed on her, she felt herself sinking into the stone.
But this stone was not as other stone, it was near saturated with evil. It resisted her effort. So, rather than sinking swiftly, and speeding back out of the mountain, the blackness clung to her, holding her back, trying to keep her for its master. One burly Orc grabbed her about the throat, fighting to keep her there. She pulled it down with her, and left it there, frozen in the stone. As she fought through the dark stone, she could sense the voice ordering the Orcs to scour the mountainside for her.
She pulled free of the evil power, and sped back to where Legolas awaited her. She emerged from the ground, and clasped her hands to her bruised throat, groaning. She had killed the orc.
Then the pain came.
Legolas heard the angry cries of the Orcs from within the keep. Where was Jaessa? Had she found Zandra? He turned toward the hill, to rush up to see what he could, when he heard gasping behind him, and saw Jaessa rise from the ground as Zandra had once done from the water. Ugly purple bruises were already forming about her throat.
"Jaessa!" he cried, before rushing towards her. Before he could reach her she suddenly collapsed back to the earth, arching her back, a harsh scream emerging from her throat. In a spasmodic movement she curled into a fetal position, crying out in terrible anguish, her arms wrapped tightly about her abdomen.
"Jaessa! What's wrong! What happened!?" As quickly as the attack had started, she grew limp, breathing heavily in the aftermath.
"They're coming!" She managed to gasp, "we must get out of here!"
"Yes but!" he began.
"There's no time!" there was a brief flash of light, and then there stood before him, not Jaessa, but the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. With the basic form of a horse, and the magnificent color of a dark chestnut coat, great dark wings sprang from its flank. "Come on!"
He climbed on her back, just in front of the wings, and with a wild surge she leaped into the air, soon leaving the keep of Angmar far below them