Scion of Snaga - Chapter Fifteen - In Dreams


Toting Cilyawen through Mirkwood was not high on Mothlin's list of favorite things to do. They rested by the stream for as long as they dared, which was not very long, but it was by no means all the rest Cilyawen needed to heal. Their progress was agonizingly slow, but one look at Cilyawen, feverish and slumped limply over Tari's back killed any complaints from either Mothlin or Elenanar. Every night when they stopped, Mothlin would boil water and wipe the wound clean, and Elenanar would check her neat stitches that closed the gap in Cilyawen's flesh.

"She's not healing, is she?" Mothlin finally asked one night, a week after they'd escaped from Dol Guldur.

Elenanar sat back wearily and dropped her face into her hands. "No," she admitted from between her fingers.

Mothlin scooted over to her side and put his arms around her. Elenanar slowly relaxed against him as much as she was able to, but her body was still impossibly tense. Mothlin supposed his must be as taut with nerves as hers, and he kissed her forehead gently. She uttered a long, shuddering breath, still staring at Cilyawen. "All we need to do," said Mothlin quietly, "is get her to Lórien or Rivendell, somewhere she can be tended properly."

"But look at her!" Elenanar said frantically. "She's sick, she's hurt, and she's not going to make it even to Uncle Thranduil's palace!" She had gone tense again - Mothlin held her tightly and soothed her, wishing he could have a nervous breakdown of his own. Elenanar had put into words what they'd both realized at the very start of the journey back.

"We have to hope," he said heavily, "for a miracle."

She looked up at him, her eyes hopeless and dry. "I don't think miracles exist anymore, Mothlin," she said dully.

"Don't say that!" he cried, and took her by the shoulders. "We never know, do we? It's possible - barely, but it might happen."

The look in her eyes was one devoid of hope, and Mothlin felt moisture prick the corners of his own eyes. "Mothlin, you'll kill yourself with hoping," Elenanar whispered.

"I have to hope, don't I?" he asked, and she fell silent and put her arms around him.

***

Cilyawen was tossing and turning, and her nightmares took shape before her closed eyes.

She stood on a plain, utterly bare and uninhabited, with windswept grass that blew the stench of death into her nostrils. Cilyawen backed away from the smell, covering her face with a hand. She had to get out of this place, she had to leave it, there was no choice.

Someone was coming for her, weren't they? She knew she had not been left here on purpose, or abandoned. No, she had never been abandoned in all her life. Everyone had wanted her, and that was the root of all her problems. So someone was surely coming, and all she had to do was wait until they came, provided they were a good someone.

A name swam into her mind, and she seized at it with a surge of love. Elrohir! Elrohir was the one who would come for her, wasn't he? How she wanted to see him again, to take him in her arms and pretend that none of this had ever happened... But maybe he wasn't the one coming. Maybe it was someone else. Maybe Elrohir had to send someone in his place to get her - but he wouldn't leave her here, she knew that. All she had to do was wait...

I am so tired of waiting, she thought, so tired of letting my life happen to me.

And then she heard hoof beats behind her, and she turned with a smile and Elrohir's name upon her lips, and cried out to see a man, clad in black armor with a twisted face and one burning, flaming red eye dismounting and coming toward her. Cilyawen ran away from him, but that took her toward the smell of death, and she reeled as her senses were overwhelmed by the ominous reek -

She felt the red-eyed man's hand upon her arm, and she screamed and shook him away and fell senseless to the plain while the fumes of death and dying washed over her.

***

"Cilyawen!" Elenanar cried in horror as the Elf started to tip over Tari's side. Elenanar grabbed for Cilyawen's body, but she slipped away - and then Mothlin was there on Tari's other side to catch his foster-mother and gently replace her. She tossed fitfully, and clutched at Mothlin's hand with her eyes open wide and unseeing. The look of terror in them chilled Mothlin to the bone, but he gripped her hands tightly and whispered, "Hush, Naneth, hush. We'll get you back safe. You're all right. Hush." He smoothed the sweaty tendrils of hair from Cilyawen's brow, and she calmed under his hand, closing her eyes and whimpering once before sinking back into her restless sleep.

When Elenanar lifted her eyes from Cilyawen's face to Mothlin's, she started in shock. Mothlin was pale and drawn suddenly, and his hands shook as he extracted them from Cilyawen's grip. "Mothlin, don't you dare," she whispered.

He looked up. "What?" he asked, not understanding.

She came over to him and caught his trembling face between her hands. "Mothlin, don't you dare overreach yourself," she said firmly. "You're the one who knows how to fight. If you get exhausted, that leaves Cilyawen and me without much protection. And you're the one she knows - do you think she'd calm down like that for me?"

"You're the one who broke into Dol Guldur," Mothlin pointed out.

Elenanar snorted in a most unladylike fashion. "I was incredibly lucky. I just swung with my sword and managed to hit things for the first time in my life, that's all. It's fine for me when I have nothing else, but is that the protection you want for Cilyawen?"

"You were better protection there than I was," Mothlin said shortly.

"Oh, Mothlin, stop it! It's pointless to bring that up -"

"That is the point," he answered, and moved away from her. "Let's keep going."

Elenanar wanted to cry at the look on his face. Instead she stepped back behind Tari, who had paused to crop a small patch of healthy-looking grass. "All right. But let me know when you get tired," she warned, and they moved forward again.

***

She was standing on the plain again, and the red-eyed man was gripping her elbow just as before. "Let me go!" Cilyawen cried, and wrenched herself away from him.

He laughed, and she knew who he was. "I will never let you go," said the voice of Sauron, and to prove the truth of his words he caught her arm again and held her fast. "You were born to be mine, and now you cannot help staying with me. We will stay here forever," he said with a hideous laugh.

"No!" Cilyawen screamed, and drew back a hand to strike him across the face - if only she had her daggers with her! - but he caught the hand, and now she was a prisoner, unable to move. He smiled, and his one red eye glowed in expectation of revenge, and she shrieked in rage and fought with all her strength against him -

***

This time Mothlin was expecting her fall, and he caught her before she slid very far. Cilyawen cried out softly and struggled against him. He grabbed her hands, trying not to jostle her, but she pulled back her hands and the raw edges of her wound tore open.

Instantly Elenanar was there, catching Cilyawen on the other side and helping Mothlin lowering her to the ground. "Needle, thread, hot water," she ordered tersely. Mothlin was already rummaging for the needle, tossing everything else helter-skelter out of the pack. Elenanar threaded the needle and got a fire started while Mothlin ran for the nearest stream, which wasn't very near.

This time Mothlin let Elenanar tend the fire under the pack, and he sat with Cilyawen's head in his lap, stroking her fever-warm forehead and cooling her cheeks with the backs of his hands. She moaned, staring up with unseeing eyes toward the canopy of trees. The look on her face, one of mingled anger and abject terror, chilled his soul.

"Almost ready," Elenanar said shortly from the fire. Mothlin pulled out his dagger and started to slice a piece of cloth from his sleeve to clean Cilyawen's wound with - and stopped. Cilyawen was tossing restlessly, rolling her head from side to side. Her fingers, trailing in the earth, tightened around a clod of soil and gripped it tightly. Mothlin tried to catch her hands and, failing that, her face, but she twisted free of him, threw back her head, and screamed a broken scream in a broken voice.

Mothlin's dagger slipped from his fingers, and he shivered uncontrollably. Cilyawen's scream cut off abruptly, and at that moment he felt something inside him grab and twist. He cried out as well in pain and confusion, and struck blindly at the air in front of him, hoping vaguely to hit away whatever was pulling him inside out. But it was deep within him, not outside, and he felt himself spiraling inwards, tumbling head over heels towards a barren wasteland where two figures struggled -

***

He stood on the plain. Far away, he could see two shapes moving, twisting, tugging, pulling at each other, and he started toward them. He felt something touch his face, his far-off body, and he thought it strange that he knew he existed elsewhere.

The figures were drawing closer - or was he getting closer to them? He didn't know, and he suspected it would give him a nosebleed to try and figure out. He quickened his pace, taking longer strides, and wished that the person who had his body would stop shaking it. It was very distracting.

Now he was close enough that he could see the figures. One was an Elf-woman, tall and slender, with long pale-gold hair and arms that once were strong - Cilyawen! came the flash of knowledge. The other was even taller, clad entirely in black armor with a pronged helmet. The gauntlets on his hands made his fingers into claws as he grabbed Cilyawen and would not let her go. As he sped up, Mothlin could see through the helmet one burning red eye, and knew who this person was.

And now he could hear what they said. "Let me go!" cried Cilyawen, aiming a fruitless kick at Sauron's knees.

He laughed, and it was terrible to hear. "Never," he cooed, his eye blazing with malice. "Never, never, never. You will suffer as I do." He twisted her wrist back, and she shrieked in pain and crumpled. He did not let go, but bent with her, gripping her wrists. She turned and spat in his eye, and he howled and released her for one brief instant.

And then Mothlin pounded up, and Cilyawen sprang to her feet and ran to him. Her steps were slower and weaker than he remembered them from Rivendell, but it was glorious to see her eyes alight with life again. "Quick, Mothlin!" she said urgently. "Give me your daggers!"

He reached for them to hand them over - and then realized he didn't have them with him. One lay on the ground by their bodies in Mirkwood, and the other hadn't even been belted to his waist. "I don't have them," he gasped, and looked at her helplessly.

Her face darkened, and she bit down hard on her lip. Sauron rose to his feet, bellowing in rage. "Cilyawen, why is he here?" Mothlin asked, panicked. "He's just an eye now - I ruined the other one! Why is he like this - why here - why now -"

"This place isn't real," Cilyawen answered, "any more than the places we go in dreams are real. Here he can be whatever he wants." Her eyes were grim as she turned them on Sauron, who was coming toward them like a madman. But for all his crazed look and too-swift pace, every move he made was coldly deliberate.

"We're going to die, aren't we?" Mothlin asked.

"Probably," Cilyawen said. Mothlin could taste the regret in her voice, and in his. "I'm sorry," she added, much more quietly.

"Why should you apologize?" Mothlin demanded. "None of this would have happened if it hadn't been for me! I'm the one who should be apologizing!"

Sauron was almost upon them, but Cilyawen grabbed his hands and said, "Stop that! You are not to blame for any of this. Lay blame where blame is due, and even Sauron can hardly help it - it's his nature. It is not your fault."

And then she whirled, releasing him, and ducked Sauron as he barreled at her. He turned on a dime and came back at them, impossibly fast. Mothlin darted to one side and made to grab his sword, but one of the huge gauntlets came sailing at his face, and he ducked and lost his grip on the hilt. Cilyawen sidestepped another blow, but she was getting slower and weaker with every step. No wonder - her body was hardly in the best condition.

Sauron stopped and turned, staring suddenly at Mothlin - and a vicious smile twisted his one-eyed face. "Come here, thrall," he said.

And to his horror, Mothlin found that the thrall was not dead, for he felt himself take a step, and another, and another, towards Sauron. He struggled, he fought, but the Enemy was too strong, and soon he stood beside Sauron and fought to be able to grab the sword and stab him through his other eye - but he could not, and despised himself.

But Sauron drew the sword himself and handed it to Mothlin. "Kill her," he ordered, nodding at Cilyawen.

The thrall leaped to obey -

And Mothlin grabbed it between the fingers of his mind, dug his heels in, and said, "No."

Sauron's face darkened under the helmet. "Kill her, thrall," he said. "I command you, kill her! You cannot refuse me!"

"Maybe your thrall can't," panted Mothlin, struggling with the effort to remain himself, "but I can."

"You are my thrall!" Sauron screamed.

"Not anymore!" yelled Mothlin, his throat tearing with the force of the cry.

And he astonished himself and crushed the thrall mercilessly, and threw himself, not at Cilyawen, but at Sauron. Footsteps pattering behind him told him that Cilyawen had seen this stroke of good luck and come to help. Mothlin thrust at Sauron with the sword, and the Enemy struck him away, his blow exaggerated by his anger. Mothlin fell on his back and remembered to hold the sword away from him so as not to spit himself on it. He tasted blood in his mouth - he wiped it away and got back up. Sauron's blow this time was more hysteric - he was frightened of Mothlin, of an Elf who could resist him, and he was weaponless, and Mothlin held his sword. Mothlin screamed a wordless cry and went at him for a third try -

And froze, staring.

There were two Cilyawens standing in front of him.

"This place isn't real, any more than the places we go in dreams are real. Here he can be whatever he wants." He heard Cilyawen's warning in his mind, and he wanted to scream. They were identical, both gasping for breath in the same moment, both with the exact same rips in their clothes, both with the same wound, both with the same look of fear in their eyes.

Which one was Sauron?

His concentration shattered into confusion, and the thrall broke loose. Mothlin screamed and clutched at it with invisible fingers, trying desperately to hold it in, but it was free and it was in control. He raised the sword and leveled it at one of the Cilyawens, and Mothlin struggled vainly as he moved in a rush at the Cilyawen, who retreated, horror and shock on her face, as the other one began to laugh. No, Mothlin thought, no, this is the real one, Sauron is the one laughing, no, stop, no, no, NO!

The sword slid into her flesh like a stone sinking seamlessly into a quiet pool.

Mothlin screamed, and Cilyawen screamed and sank to the ground. The thrall, exulting in triumph, lost its control, and Mothlin grabbed it back - only to find that he was firmly holding down nothing. It was gone. The thrall did not exist anymore. And Cilyawen's blood was pouring out onto the plain, red, gushing, so, so dear to him. He could not cry - no tears came - but he shrieked in anguish and whirled on Sauron.

The other Cilyawen stood in front of him, laughing hysterically and staring at the body on the ground. Then she turned to Mothlin and cried out, "You did it! You did it!"

Mothlin could not speak. He darted forward, sword outstretched, and the Cilyawen ducked it and cried, "Look at the body, Mothlin! Look at it!"

He looked, and his knees gave way and he sank into the earth. Sauron lay before him, armored and motionless, already stiff, his red eye closed. There was no blood.

He looked up at Cilyawen. She came to him and took the sword from his nerveless fingers. "What happened?" he managed.

"I think," she said, sounding - astonishing as it was - amused, "that the thrall was very confused. It had been given a command - to kill me - and it wanted to go to its master. I think it did the best it could, under the circumstances."

And then Mothlin could laugh too, and he did, flinging his arms around Cilyawen's knees and laughing and shaking with relief. "And I almost killed you," he whispered.

She smiled and raised him to his feet. "Lucky for both of us the thrall was still alive," she said. And Mothlin felt himself being turned right-side-out again, and heading back to his body, and he caught Cilyawen's hand as he left -

***

Elenanar's gasp caught in her throat and turned into a sob as Mothlin relaxed in her arms and started to breathe again. He coughed and looked around, his eyes wide with wonder. "Mothlin -" Elenanar choked, staring at him with fright and incredulity in her eyes. He started to laugh, very quietly, and then put his arms around her and kissed her soundly. Tears started to run down her face - he brushed them away with a fingertip and held her close.

At their feet, Cilyawen started, and began to breathe again as well. Mothlin looked down at her and smiled, and then back at Elenanar, a look of profound relief on his face.

"She's back," he said.

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