Scion of Snaga - Chapter Eight - Thieves in the Dark

Sauron watched as, once again, the Orcs hauled Snaga before him. Her spirit was weakening - he could tell. He swore to himself. She must not be weak when the time came. She must be strong - but she must be malleable to his will.

It seemed that that was not possible. He could have her either weak and obedient, or strong and defiant. He decided to go with strong. There were ways of subduing a prisoner that he had not yet tried on her. "Why has she not been fed properly?" he demanded of her Orc guards.

It amused Sauron to see Orcs fidget uneasily. Finally one of them spoke. "My lord, you commanded -"

"I reverse the command, you fool. Feed her well. See that she is healthy." The Orcs muttered, but bowed. "And none of your filthy draught, now!" Sauron added as they turned to leave his presence. "Elvish food. Food to build her strength." Now completely bewildered, the Orcs bowed again and shuffled out of the underground chamber.

"Why so kind all of a sudden?" Snaga asked him bitterly. "You're going to kill me anyway, so why bother making me healthy?"

He smiled evilly, wishing she could see it and feel fear. "Ah, but it's the manner of your death that is important." He touched her cheek - she pulled away from his spectral touch in horror and disgust. "But make no mistake, Snaga, you will die."

"My name is Cilyawen," she said coldly.

"Here your name is what I choose to call you."

"What a fool you still are!" she laughed suddenly. "A true name is not what one is called by others; it is what one calls oneself. It is what I choose to stand for me and all that I do. I am the maiden of the passage. I escaped you, for all your power and strength and evil, and I will not give in to you now that I have known freedom. You cannot make me bow to you anymore, much as you try, and if I die, I will die as myself, not as who you think I am!"

Sauron realized that he was poised to strike her, to maul her, to kill her. He restrained himself with an effort. This was abominable. He needed her strong, so he could not punish her for her words. He spat, but the spit went nowhere. "And you will die," he repeated lamely.

"I know that," she answered, and now he saw more than a trace of a quiver in her voice. Not so steadfast and brave after all, then. "But I will not let you reach me," she added.

It was too late. Already he was reaching into her thoughts, extracting images of a tall dark-haired Elf who was quite handsome by Elven standards, of an equally tall and beautiful Elf with golden hair - Galadriel, Sauron thought with a hiss of hatred - another tall dark-haired Elven woman with unsurpassed beauty - and a familiar face, one he knew intimately, one whose presence in Snaga's thoughts made Sauron want to crow with victory. It was her foster-son, the orphaned Elvish brat who even now was being hunted by his thrall, chased inexorably closer to the ruins of Dol Guldur. Good, he had a hold on her now. Now he could truly start to reach her. Perhaps obedience and strength were possible after all.

***

She was back again in the dungeons of Dol Guldur, hearing Ghnakh's footsteps draw closer. This was familiar - it was her escape from Dol Guldur with Gandalf and Arwen. She crouched low in her filthy cell, long dagger at the ready for when he opened the door. Then she heard another voice talking in Black Speech, and her heart sank. She would fight them all, though, if it meant she had a chance at freedom. Ghnakh opened the cell door, and she stabbed him with her dagger -

And looked into the blue eyes of another Orc, who pulled off his helmet and he was Arwen, and she smiled and laughed to find her cousin, as she'd known she would -

Except that then Arwen became Elrohir, and with a cry of even greater joy she threw herself at him and kissed him -

But Elrohir's companion was not Gandalf, because he took his own helmet off and he was an Orc, and he drew his sword and ran at Elrohir, and she cried out and tried to put herself in the way of the blade, but she was too late, it ran through him to come out on the other side, and he sank to the ground, his blood pooling onto the floor -

And then he was Mothlin, her beloved foster-son who was a true son in all but the fact, and he was lying in her arms the night she had found him, but this time he looked up at her and gasped, "Naneth," as he had that night, but this time she knew he meant her and not his dead mother -

And the Orc who had killed whoever it was she held in her arms raised his sword and laughed, and he wasn't an Orc anymore either, he was a great powerful being who she had never seen in the flesh, but who she knew was Sauron. He laughed again, and she knew once more the cold icy terror of being entirely in his power, subject to his will, and she knew that this time she would never escape -

And she sat up, gasping, clutching the thin blanket she had been provided with, and staring around at her subterranean prison, completely empty of anyone but herself.

Cilyawen lay very still, staring around the dark prison, breathing heavily with fear. She knew it had been a dream, but it had all been so real - Elrohir stabbed as she clung to him, Mothlin dying, and Sauron...Oh, blessed Valar, Sauron had been the worst.

Then she sat up and shook herself as bravely as she could. "Stop being a fool!" she scolded herself, still darting frightened glances around the cell. "This is exactly what he sent you that nightmare for - so you would be scared and subservient. Stop doing what he makes you do!"

But she knew, with a terrified certainty, that she could not hold out if many more of those dreams were sent into her mind while she slept...

***

Mothlin thought, not for the first time, that he was very lucky to have Elenanar with him. For all that she hated being a patrol guard, she knew the paths of Mirkwood like the back of her hand, and she could find and follow them too. It had been she who had thought of the fastest way to reach Dol Guldur, and she amazed Mothlin by how easily she could find a path.

"It comes in handy, of course," she shrugged when he asked her. "But it's not a skill I would have desperately wanted."

Curiously, he asked, "And what is a skill you desperately want?"

Elenanar blushed. "I can't tell you," she mumbled, her face as red as an autumn leaf.

Mothlin grinned mischievously. "Of course you can!" he urged. "Tell me!"

"No!" Elenanar refused, lengthening her stride to walk ahead of him, so that he could no longer see her red face. "No, I - I just can't. It's too embarrassing."

"Elenanar, I'm not going to laugh!" Mothlin protested, catching up. "I'll let you ride on Tari if you tell me," he coaxed. "Please? I'm very curious now."

"Oh, fine." Elenanar kept walking at her breakneck speed. "If there was one thing I wish I could do..." She stopped, and Mothlin coughed to keep her talking. "Well, I wish I could kiss," she said very quickly, and boosted herself up onto Tari's back.

"You what?" Mothlin demanded.

"I knew you were going to laugh!" Elenanar accused. "It's embarrassing to say it to a boy."

"I happen to be a thousand and sixty-five!" Mothlin complained. "I'm not a boy."

"Fine. It's embarrassing to say to a male." Elenanar looked skeptically at him from where she sat on Tari. "Satisfied?"

"I guess I'll have to be," he muttered. "But - blessed Valar, of all the things you could wish for - why that, Elenanar?"

"Because," she retorted, "you have no idea how humiliating it is to have someone try to kiss you, and you don't know what in Arda you're supposed to do! I do know, and it's..." She swallowed hard and shook her head. "Suffice it to say that he...let it be known...that I was not experienced, and then no one showed interest in me anymore, and then Legolas packed me off to the patrol guards. It's not an experience I like to remember."

Mothlin looked up at her, startled by the undercurrent of anger in her voice. Her eyes were unnaturally bright. As he watched, she blinked fiercely and coughed. Mothlin felt ashamed of himself for pressing her. "Elenanar - I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."

"Thank you," she said quietly.

They traveled in silence for a short time, until Elenanar pointed out the upcoming fork. "We want the left one," she told Mothlin.

He looked up at her, where she sat on Tari. "Elenanar, when we get back from Dol Guldur, introduce me to that Elfling fool. I would dearly like to teach him the meaning of courtesy." He cracked his knuckles to exaggerate the point.

His words had the hoped-for effect - Elenanar's wet face broke into a sunny grin. She laughed, and Mothlin grinned up at her. "I'll do that," she promised. "Remind me when we come back."

***

They made camp that night in a tiny clear area of the forest that took even Elenanar an hour to find. Mothlin had gotten quite footsore following her around as she muttered, "I know it's here somewhere! I wish I had a map...why do they never make maps of this forest? Where is it...?" She had finally located it, however, and Mothlin had spread out his cloak and Tari's saddle blanket while Elenanar got out the saddlebag with food. Their rations were running low, and Elenanar looked very guilty when Mothlin handed her a few slices of bread and took the same for himself. "I can go back," she offered quietly, not eating the bread. "It's not fair to you -"

"I have plenty of lembas for when we run out of real food," Mothlin answered unconcernedly, biting into his first slice of bread.

"But you didn't expect to have another person to feed - it's just not fair to you."

Mothlin looked up from the bread. "Elenanar. Stop it." He reached over and took her hand. "I don't mind at all. In fact, I like having a person to talk to." Tari raised her head and neighed, affronted. "I love you, Tari," Mothlin called quickly to appease her. "But it's just not the same. So please don't mention that again. We can manage." He raised his eyebrows at her and grinned. "Eat."

Elenanar slowly lifted the first slice of bread to her lips and took a bite.

After their meager dinner was finished, they lay down to sleep, Mothlin on his cloak, Elenanar on Tari's saddle blanket. "I didn't realize how tired I am," Mothlin remarked through a yawn as he lay down.

Elenanar muttered a noncommittal grunt that might have been "Good night" and rolled over on the blanket. Mothlin grinned, closed his eyes, and would have been astonished at how quickly he fell asleep if he had been awake to see it.

He woke to a high-pitched yell of anger and distress, and an equally angry reply, snapped under someone else's breath. "Why can I never get a good night's sleep?" Mothlin grumbled to himself as he opened his eyes.

And froze. There was a light shining directly in his eyes, and the vague shape of a person was framed in it. He heard another yell, and this time his brain, struggling to understand what was going on, registered the yelling voice as Elenanar's. "Be silent, girl!" he heard someone else hiss. Then there was a shriek of pain, and a muttered curse. He guessed Elenanar had not taken kindly to being called "girl" again.

Then he stopped wondering about Elenanar, because the person silhouetted against the light was pulling a dagger from a waist sheath and advancing on him.

Mothlin didn't think - he reacted. He rolled out of reach of the person with the dagger and scrambled to his feet. His hands flew to his side sheaths - and he gasped as he remembered that his daggers were with Tari. The person was advancing faster now, running at him, and Mothlin was weaponless.

"Berne, you fool, don't hurt him!" shouted Elenanar's voice. The figure paused, and Elenanar went on, "And put out that light before it draws the spiders!" The light, except for a small torch held in Berne's hand, went out. "That's better," Elenanar said.

"Your Highness," came a voice from what seemed to be Berne, "you must return to the palace immediately."

"I will do nothing of the kind," Elenanar refused flatly. "This Elf needs a guide to take him through Mirkwood. He called upon me in the name of the king, and I must honor that pledge." Mothlin bit back an incredulous smile at the ease with which she lied. "So you can tell Adar that I'm sorry, but I have a more important task to do than try to shoot a bow." By the scant light of Berne's torch, Mothlin saw Elenanar fold her arms across her chest and wait.

Berne rounded on Mothlin. "You!" he barked. "Is this the truth?"

"It is," Mothlin said instantly. "I called upon her in the name of King Thranduil." He glanced at Elenanar for help - what on earth did that mean?

"Did you know that she was a princess?" Berne snapped.

"Not at first," Mothlin replied with perfect honesty.

Elenanar huffed angrily. "Since my word has been proven true, will you stop believing that he kidnapped me, Berne? I'm sorry if I caused any trouble at the palace, but I can't go back just now."

Berne looked decidedly uncomfortable. Mothlin choked on a laugh - from the leader of a daring ambush to rescue the Princess Elenanar, he had just turned into an incompetent fool who didn't trust the word of his princess. "Very well," he said waspishly. "Beleg! Come on." He spun around on his heels and stomped away from Mothlin and Elenanar's camp.

No sooner had they disappeared than Elenanar and Mothlin both burst out laughing. "Did you see his face..." Elenanar gasped, clutching her stomach. "Oh, it was so funny!"

"What - why were they after us anyway?" Mothlin managed to ask between gales of laughter.

"They thought you'd kidnapped me, I think. Some such stupid notion." Elenanar gasped one final laugh and sat slowly down on Tari's blanket. Reminded that he hadn't heard his horse, Mothlin looked out into the dark forest and whistled once.

There was no answering whinny.

"Tari?" Mothlin called, his heart sinking. "Elenanar, they wouldn't have taken Tari, would they?"

In the space of a moment, Elenanar went absolutely white. "I will skin them alive," she whispered shakily. "Come on! They can't be far gone." She sprang to her feet. Mothlin called Tari's name one last time, in the vain hope that she might not have heard him. And this time, he heard what were unmistakably her neigh of pure anger and fury, and the much quieter voices of Berne and Beleg from the same direction.

Elenanar, hearing them at the same time Mothlin did, sucked in a huge breath of air and shrieked, "Berne! Help!"

Mothlin turned to stare at her, but the noises of Tari's protests grew louder, and he heard her thundering towards their camp. As she drew into eyesight, Mothlin saw that Berne was mounted on her back, and Beleg was running beside her. They raced back into the camp and gasped, "Princess, what -"

Mothlin quickly stepped to Tari's side and pulled Berne off her back unceremoniously. "Thank you," Elenanar said coldly. "Next time, do not steal our horse."

"But - but are you in danger?" Berne stammered stupidly.

"Why would I be in danger except from your foolishness in taking our horse?" Elenanar snapped. "Be gone, and do not trouble us again."

Utterly cowed by the raw anger in her voice, Berne and Beleg slowly backed away into the forest.

Elenanar nodded. "There." She lay back down on Tari's blanket and sighed sleepily. "Good night, Mothlin," she mumbled.

Mothlin stroked Tari's nose and put his arms around her neck. The horse nibbled his hair affectionately, but he could feel her shaking with anger under his hands. "Ssshh," he whispered quietly. "It's all right, girl. You're safe now." Finally Tari calmed down enough to let Mothlin out of her sight, and he was able to lie down and sleep untroubled for the rest of the night.

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