Twilight Thunder - Chapter 6

Celebrían lay chained by the wrists in a dark, wet cave. The chains were mercifully loose, so she could move around a bit, but after lying here alone for so long, she had no energy left to move. Her stomach had long since given up on growling, and the only water she had been able to get was what dripped off the walls and pooled in a small hollow just within her reach. Unwilling to sleep, scared witless from the grunts and laughs of the Orcs outside, she did the only thing she could think of doing to keep her sanity.

She sang.

Every song she had ever learned, every melody she had ever enjoyed, poured from her parched lips. She could hear the Orcs laughing as they listened to her, but she ignored their jeers. They had not disturbed her since chaining her here, and she had lost her fear of being punished for her singing. The Orcs hadn't stopped her yet, so she assumed that they weren't going to. Yet every grunt they made caused her heart to beat ever faster.

She was halfway through a song that told the tale of Luthien and Beren--one of her favorites--when there was suddenly silence outside. She stopped singing and listened. She heard Orcs shifting around, but none of them were speaking. The air around her suddenly became very cold, and she trembled and bit her lip. Slowly, she started singing again.

"Where is she?"

The bitter, icy voice derailed her singing again, and Celebrían gasped. She recognized that voice. It was the vampire that had attacked her escort.

"She is within, mistress," an Orc replied. "Unspoiled, just as you commanded."

"Where are the others, mistress?" a second Orc asked.

There was a deep growl, a sickening cracking sound, then silence again. The air became even colder. Celebrían pressed herself against the wall, fear flooding every inch of her. The vampire creature sounded furious. Maybe. . .yes, that was it. Her heart soared as she realized that Arwen and Faye must have escaped.

This hope sparked an ounce of defiance in her, enough so that she was able to hold her head high when the shadowy woman appeared, bearing a torch in one hand and her sword in the other. She set the torch on a holder nailed into the cave wall, and Celebrían winced as light filled the small cave. The woman was badly injured, torn practically to shreds, and with every step she left a trail of foul-smelling black blood. Orc blood dripped from between her exposed fangs, and her eyes glowed menacingly. Celebrían forced herself to hold that terrible gaze, narrowing her own eyes.

"My daughter escaped you," she hissed. "She will bring help, and you will die."

The woman dropped the sword and approached her, striking her in the face with the back of a fist. The strength of the blow flung Celebrían to the length of her chains, and her arms jerked painfully when she landed. Blood flowed from her nose and eye. The woman pressed a foot into the back of her neck, forcing Celebrían flat against the cold ground.

"Yes, your daughter escaped me," the woman replied viciously. "I underestimated your protector. For four days we battled on land and in the skies. It was sheer luck that our fight brought us to your home." She pressed her weight down, and Celebrían yelped in pain. "Do not waste your energy on hope. I defeated your vampire slave and left her to die at your husband's feet."

"That will be your undoing, beast!" Celebrían cried, gritting her teeth. "By your mistake you informed my husband of my plight, and Arwen will bring the wrath of the Lord and Lady of Lorién upon you. It is only a matter of time."

The woman growled and released her, and Celebrían sighed in relief. Her wounded shoulder protested as she sat up again, but the wound, although still festering, was almost sealed. The pain was a dull ache that Celebrían had gotten used to in her imprisonment. The woman retrieved her sword and returned, holding it threateningly at the base of Celebrían's throat.

"Do you know who I am?" the woman asked.

"I do not care," Celebrían replied.

The woman smiled, pulled the sword back, and drove it once again into Celebrían's shoulder. Celebrían shrieked as the burning pain returned, reopening the wounds on her palms as she desperately fought to remove the blade. However, the woman's strength was too great. She kept the sword firm and steady even as she crouched down before her.

"What you feel is the poison of my master," the woman growled. "This blade was forged by his hand and presented to me. Already the poison is slowly eating you alive, and with time the pain will grow worse. You were able to heal yourself the first time. How long can you keep it up?"

She removed the blade, and Celebrían crumpled to the ground, gasping. She wanted to grasp her shoulder, but her chains were pulled too tight for her to bring her arms around. Celebrían could only watch as the woman brought the bloody blade to her mouth and slowly licked off the residue.

Never was she to know that at the precise moment the blade entered her, both her husband and her mother had faltered. Galadriel had collapsed at Arwen's bedside, and Elrond had fallen from his horse in mid-gallop. Celebrían, her mind clouded by fear and pain, did not hear their mental cries.

"What do you want with me?" Celebrían gasped, her voice little more than a low moan.

"I want to see your husband suffer for the indignity he brought upon my master," the woman replied almost conversationally, examining the blade of her sword. "Your pretty daughter escaped me, but I have seen Elrond's face. Your pain alone will be enough to shatter him." She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath, expelling it in a deep growl. "Yes, I can feel his pain now. He suffers because you suffer."

"Leave Elrond out of this!" Celebrían cried.

"Elrond is the reason you lie here now!" the woman snarled back. "I have spent eons hunting those that defeated my master. I have brought pain and death and despair to every last one of them. Elrond is the last, and I will taste his madness before I rip out his heart."

Celebrían's vision was rapidly beginning to blur again, and she shook her head to clear her vision. The burning was slowly becoming worse, and it was an effort on her part simply to sit up. The woman growled and struck her again, and she screamed when the tension on the chains jerked her arms painfully behind her. She lay where she had fallen, gasping.

"You will not move until I say you can," the woman said sharply.

Celebrían slowly turned her head and looked up at the woman, now thoroughly dizzy.

"Who are you?" she whispered.

For a long while, the woman was silent. Then, she knelt down and grasped Celebrían's chin, lifting her forcefully into a sitting position. She smiled widely, baring her fangs.

"I was once like you," the woman replied. "Simple, carefree. I used to dance in the sunlight and give praise to the Valar. But I was dragged into darkness. I was beaten, tortured, burned with the blackest of hellfire, driven to near-madness, brutalized, mutilated, and finally forsaken of all that I had ever thought bright and beautiful." She grasped Celebrían by the throat and lifted her into the air, slamming her back against the cave wall. "But my master came for me. He healed my wounds and gave me power. He gave me dominion over death. And so I serve him. Had he asked me to slay my own dam and sire, I would have brought him their heads, and shed their blood with a song in my heart."

The woman released her suffocating grip, and Celebrían fell to the ground. The woman stood over her, a smirk on her horrid face. Celebrían wanted to kick at her, but she could not move her legs.

"I heard you singing," the woman said suddenly. "The tragic tale of the Elf-witch Luthien and her man-slave Beren. I know that tale well." She smiled again. "Not very kind, what Luthien did to me. She stole my image to trespass into the lands of the Dark One. How I wish I had been there. I would have loved to hear her dying screams."

Celebrían knew the tale of Luthien and Beren well, and all color drained from her body as she finally realized the woman's identity. She shrank back against the wall, trembling in terror.

"No," she said hoarsely. "No, it can't be you."

"It is me," the woman replied. "I am the woman of secret shadow, the servant of Sauron. I am Thuringwethil."

Suddenly, an Orc appeared, terror in its eyes as it quaked before them. Thuringwethil turned, growling dangerously.

"What?" she snapped.

"Mistress, a party of Elves from the golden woods arrived in the Redhorn Pass a day ago," it said. "They are starting to reclaim the bodies. Should we stop them?"

Thuringwethil turned back to Celebrían, and slowly started to smile.

"Let the bodies be claimed," she replied. "They are of no further use." She turned her back on Celebrían and started walking towards the Orc, who stumbled back against the cave wall as she passed. "Cleanse the she-Elf's wounds. We don't want her dying just yet."

Then, the woman was gone, and the Orc was looking at her gleefully, immediately cheered by the departure of the vampire. It disappeared for a moment and came back with two larger Orcs and a goatskin bottle. The two brutish Orcs grabbed Celebrían and lifted her to her feet, and she gasped when her shoulder was pulled. The Orcs laughed, and the third one uncorked the bottle.

"Time for your medicine, she-Elf," it said.

The Orc thrust the bottle into her mouth, and horrible burning liquid began to pour down her throat. Celebrían screamed, trying desperately to spit the liquid out. The Orcs howled with laughter.

"If you think that hurt, wait until you feel it on your open flesh," one of the Orcs cackled.

Celebrían had never felt more agony in her life. Even the blade of Thuringwethil's sword didn't burn so much. She doubted tongues of fire would cause as much pain. When the Orcs finally left her, she slumped to the ground, trembling and gasping. Her face was wet with tears of pain and terror.

"Mother," she whispered, reaching out with her mind and soul, desperate to communicate with someone, anyone, who could save her. "Mother, save me."

* * * * *

Thuringwethil looked down at the party of Elves below. They were from Lorién, and she was sure one of them was Lord Celeborn. The bodies of the Elves slain in the battle were wrapped and laid out, and songs of mourning echoed in the cold night air. She shivered, feeling the sting of the wind in her open, bloodless wounds. She cursed the vampire Faye, for the wounds hurt her more than she would ever allow her minions, or the sobbing she-Elf, to know. She was desperate for fresh blood--Orc blood was too putrid to offer her more than staving off hunger--but the party of Elves below were too well-armed and numerous for her to risk attacking in her weakened state.

Growling deeply, she turned and flew off, her eyes and ears focused on finding something, anything, upon which to feed. She had unnatural speed to her wings, and she knew she could make it to Lorién by daybreak if she wished it, but then she would have to hide in the forest to avoid the sun, and she would be defenseless if captured. So she circled high above the mountains, gliding through the silent skies.

Suddenly, she spotted movement on a snowy slope far below, near the shifting point where snow turned to rain on the mountains. Quickly she plummeted, identifying the source as a dark bay gelding still wearing a saddle and bridle, and stumbling through the snow with its head held low. Thuringwethil recognized the beast. It was the same one the vampire Faye had been riding. She was slightly surprised it was still alive.

The horse noticed her approach, and with a wild shriek it started running. Thuringwethil swooped after it, extending her powerful claws and ignoring the fierce pain that radiated from the shredded muscle in her left leg. Her eyesight blurred slightly as more of what precious little blood she had left in her escaped into the wind. She knew that if she did not catch the beast, she would be in worse trouble than the vampire Faye. She was nearly out of energy.

Suddenly, the horse locked its legs and slid to a stop, and with a frustrated screech Thuringwethil overshot it. She tried to turn around and go after it again, but she had come too close to the ground, and one wingtip struck the hard-packed snow. Knocked off-balance, she went careening to the ground, transforming back into her human shape just in time to keep from breaking every bone in her wings. For a moment, she was stunned. When she finally managed to sit up again, the horse was gone. She threw back her head and let out a frustrated shriek. The she-Elf was going to pay dearly for what the vampire Faye did to her.

A low howl diverted Thuringwethil's attention. She gave a low grunt of surprise when she spotted a scrawny gray wolf approaching, teeth bared threateningly. She guessed the scruffy beast had been hunting the horse before she frightened it away, and now it had decided she was a good replacement. Hunger was driving it to ignore the warnings a vampire's presence gave most animals. Thuringwethil smiled darkly, feigned a groan, and collapsed onto her side.

The wolf was upon her instantly, and Thuringwethil quickly jerked around and buried her fangs into its neck. The wolf yelped and struggled, but it did not stand a chance. The burning-hot blood rushed through her, drawing her wounds closed and giving strength to her limbs. She let herself return to her bat-form, rending her prey in her mighty jaws. She had no physical need for anything besides blood, but she relished the feel of the wolf's flesh sliding down her throat nevertheless. It was all she would need to regain her strength.

The pain that came from her many wounds quickly faded as the healing process continued. Finally, Thuringwethil raised her head to the star-dappled sky, shaking drops of blood and bits of gore from her jaws. The tears in her wing membranes were repaired, and her body was once again whole. Now she was ready to finish what she had started.

Thuringwethil leaned down over the dead wolf and skinned it with her iron claws. Carrying the bloody pelt in one of her talons, she started back towards the campsite. She had a plan for those Elves settled in the Redhorn Pass, but she would need something from the she-Elf to do it.

She landed silently on the outskirts of the campsite, returning to her natural form and gathering the wolf pelt in hand. Her servants were asleep, and she entered the cave unchallenged. The she-Elf lay partially conscious, completely drunk from the droughts of Orc-liquor forced into her. She smelled heavily of the disgusting substance, but her wounds were clean. Even the wound in her shoulder seemed to be healing, though this confused Thuringwethil. Her poisoned blade should have affected the she-Elf far worse than it was. The stricken creature should have been dying by now, and begging for Thuringwethil to end her suffering.

The she-Elf looked up at her as Thuringwethil approached, but was too drunk to let out more than a dull moan as she ripped off her torn and filthy traveling clothes. Naked and exposed to the unforgiving cold, the she-Elf immediately began to tremble. Thuringwethil growled softly, draping the wolf pelt over the she-Elf.

"I have shown you more mercy than you deserve," she growled. "You think you're suffering now. Just wait until I return. You will be cursing the Valar for giving you life before I am through with you."

Thuringwethil then turned and departed, leaving to seek out a place to wait out the coming day.

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