Lalaith Elerrina--Ward of Rivendell - Chapter 18
The scene changed again, revealing a dark, fire scoured corridor. The distant, constant pounding of anvil against metal rang through the corridor, a sign of the orcs' constant thirst for war, and the occasional scream of a Nazgul that still seemed to echo hauntingly even after it faded away. A figure traversed the corridor, not hunched and scurrying as would the figure of an orc, but walked upright, her back straight, though most of her clothing was rough sack like cloth, made by the orcs, worn and dirty, save for a white shawl draped around her shoulders. Her steps were slow and subdued, and she walked with the grace of a lady, the proud grace of one in captivity, but who refused to believe it.
Her name, Lalaith understood, for she could see into her mind, was Eolyn. In her youth, she had been among the fairest of the daughters of Men. She had been, at one time, a daughter of one of the great Lords of Númenor, and in the bloom of her maidenhood, her beauty had captured the heart of a young noble man, Anarion, the younger son of Elendil, a kinsman to the king of Numenor. Anarion was kind to her, handsome, and as noble as his birth. When her father had, as many of the Numenorians, been deceived by the black craft of Sauron, Anarion had persuaded her to come with him on his father's ships, and thus she was spared the Drowning of Numenor. After their ships had been cast upon the shores of Middle-earth, and she had found herself alone, bereft of all those she had loved, her father and mother dead, and all the happy, bright eyed maidens who had once been her friends, Anarion had been beside her to comfort her in her grief, and she had found herself slowly learning to love him in return. They married, and she had borne to him a son. Meneldil, they called him, and though the time in which she lived had been perilous, for Sauron was still abroad in the land, and his might was great, she found happiness and peace in the devotion and love of her husband, and in the rearing of her child.
But then came the forging of the Last Alliance, and a great host of Men and Elves made war against Sauron and his dark forces, and a day came in which there was a last final assault, and her beloved Anarion, and her father in law, the King Elendil, were both slain by Sauron. Her husband's brother Isildur, finding his courage amidst his anger and grief, took up the shard hilt of Narsil, broken beneath Sauron's foot, and cut the One Ring from the Dark Lord's hand, defeating him.
Eolyn well remembered the day the servant of her husband's brother had come to Minas Anor, bearing the evil tidings of Anarion's death. At the first, she had wept bitterly at the news, inconsolable, unapproachable. She had gone to her room, and had barred the door, and closed the curtains of her window, and lain down upon the bed she had shared with Anarion, admitting no one, not even her son, Meneldil, who was grieving at least as greatly as she. She did not eat, nor did she sleep for days. But when her tears were dried, and her strength exhausted, she rose again, and unbarred the door, coming back, but only as a shadow of the woman she had been, to the light of day, and to the realm of the living. Never again would she laugh or smile, or do any more than what was required to survive. Meneldil pleaded with her that he might see something of the woman who had once been his mother in her eyes, which were now dull and dead, void of feeling. But though she felt his grief, though she longed to do as he wished, she could not. Her heart was too broken. She could feel only anger. And this, she did not want Meneldil to see. She hated Sauron with a rage that consumed her, and she hated the vile, twisted servants that did his bidding, and she became obsessed with thoughts of vengeance, scheming in her mind, how she could gain power to crush the black evil sown by Morgoth and his servant Sauron, forever.
She had heard of the Ring of Sauron which Isildur had claimed for his own, first from her husband, before he had been killed, before Isildur had cut it from Sauron's hand. But never did she see it until Isildur came himself to her city, Minas Anor to plant the White Tree in the memory of his brother, and to give her and her son comfort and counsel, bearing the ring visible for all to see, on a chain around his neck. And from the first moment she had seen the shine of its gold, strange whispering thoughts entered her already wounded, weakened mind, and she had wanted it for herself.
Isildur, after all, could not use it well. His mind was not strong enough to wield such a powerful weapon of Sauron's. But her feminine mind, she fancied, was strong enough. Strong enough to use it for good, and not for the twisted evil purposes for which Sauron had first crafted it. She was a woman, she reason, and she it was, who felt more, who had grieved more, who had loved Anarion, and thus hated Sauron all the greater. She could never be twisted to evil by the ring as easily as could a man. And it seemed to her as if the ring was meant for her alone, and her thoughts became consumed with possessing it, though she never found her chance. For her brother in law was killed before she could find a way to take it for herself, along with his three eldest sons and nearly all of their consort, slain by a band of marauding orcs as they passed from her lands in Gondor, northward toward Elendil's realm in Eriador. Three only, of their company, survived, and returned over the mountains, bearing with them, the shards of Narsil, Elendil's sword, to Rivendell, the realm of Lord Elrond, Half Elven, where Isildur's wife and youngest son had dwelt during the war. But the survivors had not the ring with them.
The ring was gone, passed out of all knowledge. Eolyn had only been mildly surprised that she had felt more grief for the loss of her, her ring, than at the deaths of her kinsmen. And only shortly after hearing of their deaths, and the loss of the ring, she left Minas Anor, to search for the ring herself, leaving no word to Meneldil as to where she had gone or why, taking only food, water, and a single shawl of fine, white linen, a wedding gift from Anarion, woven by the elves, that he had told her would last for thousands of years. She had no purpose to stay, she reasoned, for her husband, the essence and joy of her life, was dead, and her son full grown, no longer in need of his mother.
She sensed the nearness of the ring when she traveled near to the banks of the Great River, the Anduin, near to where Isildur's company was slain. But before she could search more for it, she was waylaid by a band of patrolling orcs, and rather than being slain, she was bound and questioned by them, for they were curious and even a bit fearful that a woman would dare to be traveling alone. Fearless in her hatred of them and of Sauron their master, she cursed them with all the powers of the Valar, and insisted that as a Princess of Numenor and of Gondor, it was she who would find the ring of their master, and use it against them, crushing them into ash and nothingness.
The orcs, she had thought, would be angry at her vows, and kill her there, but they had seemed only amused. Amused enough, that they had carried her as their prisoner, back with them to the heart of Mordor, to the Tower of Barad-Dur, and there she remained. Snaga, they called her, which she learned meant slave, in their tongue, but never did they force her to perform any menial task, nor did they harm her in any way, allowing her, instead to wander whither she would within the tower, keeping to her own affairs, and leaving them to theirs. Even those the orcs called the Nazgul, the silent, faceless wraiths, shrouded in darkness, dared to not so much as glance at her. But neither did they ever let her leave.
Years passed, but age never claimed her face, nor did death, and Eolyn began to fear that some strange curse had been cast upon her, and that she might never die. As the centuries slowly passed, and age made her wise, she realized that her longing for the One Ring had been folly. That she would never have been able to use it for good any more than Isildur could have, for it had its own evil mind and will. But now, that knowledge did her little good. Never could she escape from Barad-Dur. The orcs did not mistreat her, but she knew they hated her, and she hated them, and she hated Mordor, and its grimness and blackness. She hated most of all, those silent, foul beings the orcs called the Nazgul. She knew they had once been Men, those of her own race, but they had fallen into darkness beneath Sauron's power. They disgusted her, and she wished to die if only to be rid of them. But more than that, she longed for death so that she might find peace, and join her husband once again. But death did not come.
Nor did a chance to escape. Her legs would never outrun the wolves the orcs kept as their mounts, and the only horses in Mordor were those who had been stolen from the lands of Men, and tortured into mindless submission for the use of the Nazgul. Their poor minds were lost to them, and they would never obey her will. She thought often, of taking her own life, but no matter how long she went without eating, she found by some strange design, that just as she did not age, neither could she die from starvation. And her captors were careful to keep their weapons far from her, fearing that she would use such against them. So she remained in Mordor, bereft even, of the hope of death.
Her memories, though, she could keep. And though centuries passed, the image of Anarion's face never faded from her mind. And now as she walked the shadowed corridors of Barad-Dur, she smiled to herself, not seeing the fire scoured corridor, or the distant, ceaseless pounding of hammer against anvil, forging the endless supply of weapons that fed the orcs' hunger for blood and war. She saw only his face, as she remembered her happy life with him, and the sweet, satisfying love they shared together in the years before he had died, murdered by Sauron. She remembered also, the first time she had looked upon the face of the son she had borne for him, and the moment the tiny, squalling infant had first been placed into her arms. Her precious Meneldil would be long dead now, but she would have descendants, great Lords and Stewards of Gondor. Still, she remembered the soft infant feel and the sweet scent of her son as a baby, wrapped tightly in a blanket, and sleeping peacefully in her arms. She hugged her shawl, as ageless as she, about her shoulders, the only bit of comfort she had within these barren walls. Oh, what she would do to have the chance to hold a baby again!
Almost as if in compliance to her wishes, an infantile wail pierced her ears, close by, a cry of a baby in pain. And suddenly as if the long centuries had never passed, the instincts of the mother within her flared, and she dashed forward in the direction from which the sound was coming from, shoving a passing orc out of her way as if brushing a bothersome fly from her face. The corridor opened into a room, hot and smoky with the fire of a forge, where two orcs, chortling cruelly to themselves, were bent over something lain out on a hard stone table. Something one of them had to hold down as the other pressed down a heated brand upon whatever it was she could not see, and the painful wail rose to a piercing shriek.
"What are you doing?" Eolyn shrieked in the tongue of her birth, darting into the room, and pushing both orcs back. Surprised, the two of them staggered away, and looked up to glare at her. The metal brand one of them had been holding, had been dropped, and clattered to the stone at her feet, its twisted tip still red and glowing. She looked down upon the stone table the orcs had been bending over, to see a tiny sobbing baby, flailing helplessly, pink and golden haired, and flawless, but for a new brand, the letters of the orcs' speech, spelling out snaga burned into the back of her right shoulder which was still smoking against her tender pink skin. She snatched the infant up from the table and wrapped her white shawl hurriedly about her, then clutched her tightly to her breast. The infant's wailing immediately stopped, though she sniveled, and buried her head against Eolyn's neck. "Leave her alone!" She shouted again at the stunned orcs.
"It's the will of Lord Sauron, worthless snaga." One of the orcs growled low in the black speech of its kind. Eolyn had learned to understand their speech, but she had never spoken it back to them, the very utterance of it, feeling like an abomination on her tongue. "Give it back." The orc demanded. "Mind your own affairs." It took a threatening step toward her, but when Eolyn squared her shoulders and faced the thing, undaunted, it backed down.
"Sauron wanted us to teach her of his ways, and he'd make her as powerful as Morgoth used to be." Growled the second orc, equally fearful to approach Eolyn. "But she's unteachable. So Lord Sauron wants us to cast it into the fire."
"But we decided to have some fun, first." The first orc laughed with a cruel snort. "We wanted to see how loud it could cry."
"Hideous, evil creatures!" Eolyn shouted at them. "Could you not let it live, leave it untouched as I?"
"You're one of the Secondborn." Mocked the first orc. "You're not as dangerous as that little snaga. You showed how weak your mind is. You can be twisted more easily than that thing. And we're still waiting to see how useful you can be to Lord Sauron."
Eolyn looked down at the little, yet lovely face bundled in her shawl as the baby gazed up at her through bright blue eyes, in pleading. The infant seemed to sense she meant no harm, and her little fists clung tightly to her, as if asking for help, her pink baby lips trembling as she continued to whimper. Her sweet little features were indeed elven, fair and flawless, her tiny, perfect ears rising into a delicate point.
"What of her parents?" She demanded looking back up at the orcs.
The two orcs traded a secretive glance, and the first orc muttered, "Dead."
The second one laughed at what the first orc had said, as if at a joke. "Dead, dead, dead!" It snorted gleefully.
"And her kin?" Eolyn snarled, even as tears sprang to her eyes at what the orcs said. The poor infant, she guessed, must have been the sole survivor of a band of Elves, ambushed by these orcs, and mercilessly slaughtered.
"West." Said the first orc. "They'll never get her back."
"Far west." Said the second, and then they looked at each other again, and snorted noisily in the cruel laughter of orcs.
"The elf, Cirdan?" She demanded. "The shipwright? On the coast?"
"No, you stupid snaga." The first orc guffawed.
"Who?" Eolyn shouted, her frustration mounting.
But the two orcs would not answer, and instead, laughed shrilly as at a joke they refused to share.
Perhaps Lord Elrond was her kinsman, Eolyn guessed. If he dwelt still in Rivendell, he would be in a land that the orcs of Mordor might refer to as being in the far west. At the fall of Sauron, Elrond had not yet married, but surely he had, in the centuries uncounted that had passed, found a bride, and borne children, old enough now, to have their own children. Perhaps this tiny infant was his granddaughter. Perhaps that was why she seemed so important to these orcs. Eolyn, long separated from the world of Men and Elves, could only guess, but it seemed the most probable answer.
"The lineage of the worthless little leech is not your problem. Give her back, snaga!" The first orc demanded, beginning to grow bolder.
"I will not!" Eolyn cried, clutching the baby even closer, her motherly instincts boiling now.
"What can you do?" The second orc growled. "You cannot escape. If you try to protect that thing, we'll kill you too!"
"And why would you do that, if you've been keeping me alive, all these years?" Eolyn asked, her voice suddenly growing quiet, thinking that perhaps now, she would know why they had kept her alive this long.
"When Sauron finds his ring and gets his power back, he plan was to take a portion of it, and forge of it, with his dark crafts, a ring as powerful as his own." The orc looked at its companion, and they both snorted in laughter. "He plans to put this new ring on your finger, and make you his Queen, more deadly than any of the Nazgul."
The second orc snorted. "But if you try to help the elf monster, we'd have to kill you. So give the brat back."
"I will never be one of the wraiths, nor Sauron's Queen!" Eolyn cried. "Nor will I allow you to hurt this baby!"
"She isn't giving it back." The second orc grumbled menacingly.
"Then she's as bad as the brat. We'll kill them both!" Roared the first orc, and with these words, it raised its clawed fingers, and came at Eolyn to strike her. But it had forgotten the branding shaft it had dropped to the floor. Eolyn reached down, and snatched it up in her free hand, thrusting it with more force than she thought she could muster, into the vile creature's abdomen as it came at her, impaling itself onto the heated brand.
A sickening gurgle of anguish erupted from the creature's throat and it crumpled, writhing as it died. Eolyn jerked the branding iron free, and as the second orc squealed in rage, and pounced at her, its own claws outstretched, Eolyn, again with the strength of a mother defending its young, lifted the rod, and cracked it into the orc's face. She could feel the sickening crunch of bones as the rod dented the orc's face inward. Stiffening, the creature, instantly dead, fell backward, right across the glowing coals of the forge. To her amazement, the orc's black oily flesh ignited in an instant, its body engulfed suddenly in flame.
Though the creature was an orc, evil by its nature, the sight of its enflamed corpse was still sickening to Eolyn, and she dropped the branding iron and turned away, stumbling out the door, not knowing where she was going, but only wanting to get away. Perhaps she could hide the baby somewhere, her mind raced, panicking. And they would never find it. But that was foolishness, she reminded herself. What would they do, if they discovered she was the killer of the two orcs? And they surely would. No matter that orcs were argumentative creatures by nature, and were constantly destroying each other. If she was to slay any herself, they would kill her without any questions, and there would be no one to protect the baby. And how would she, a tiny helpless child, fare, all alone in the heart of Barad-Dur? The only way for the baby to live, Eolyn told herself, was to do what she had, for two thousand years, not learned how to do for herself. She had to escape Mordor.