Twilight Thunder - Chapter 9
"Have you found nothing?" she snapped, staring not at him, but at Lord Celeborn.
"A black shadow dropped bloody clothes on us some days ago," Lord Celeborn replied coldly. "We have neither seen nor heard anything since."
"But can you not smell?" Faye demanded. "The wind carries the stench." She took a deep breath, rising to her feet. "Orc filth. The air is thick with it."
Elladan was the first to join her, followed closely by Glorfindel and Haldir. The wind was changing direction, shifting from west to north, and the smell had become so strong that the horses below were starting to become nervous. Faye growled.
"Gather up," she said. "We follow the stench, we find the Orcs."
Elladan was very worried for his mother, so he prepared to depart the campsite quickly. His brother was right beside him, and they shared a glance. No words were needed to express the feeling that passed between them. They would travel through the darkness of Morgoth himself to find Celebrían. If Faye's sense of smell could lead them to the Orcs that took her, then they would follow unfalteringly.
Although the moon and stars offered very little light, Faye guided them northward along narrow, treacherous paths. Elladan could feel his horse becoming more nervous as the smell grew worse. The wind had slowed to a bare breeze, but the smell was still potent. Elladan wondered why they had not noticed it before now.
"Do you hear that?" Elrohir asked suddenly.
Elladan stopped his horse and listened. Sure enough, a low echo of hoots and jeers sounded not too far ahead. Faye froze in her tracks, growling softly. The low hiss of metal against leather sounded as swords were drawn from their sheaths, and Lord Celeborn appeared beside him.
"Is that the Lady Faye?" he asked softly. "Galadriel said Arwen. . ."
"Arwen?" Faye asked sharply, turning. "Where is she?"
"Safe in Lórien," Lord Celeborn replied. "Galadriel is caring for her."
Although he couldn't be sure, Elladan could have sworn Faye sighed in relief at that moment. However, her relief vanished instantly when, over the sound of the Orcs, came a soft, high-pitched scream. Everyone gave a start, and Lord Celeborn beckoned to the others.
"That was Celebrían!" he declared. "I recognize her voice. She is in pain."
Elladan didn't wait for a signal. With Elrohir by his side, he drove his heels into his horse's flanks, ignoring the potential danger and riding at full speed towards the source of the sounds and smell. The others were quick to follow, and Faye kept perfect pace with them. It had been proven long ago that she was capable of running faster than a horse, as Glorfindel could easily vouch for. Faye turned to him, and for a moment, their eyes met.
"Keep going," she said. "I'll light your way."
Then, she turned to Elrohir, and in mid-stride she sprang upon his horse, perching behind him for a single moment before leaping up into the rocks and vanishing from sight. Elrohir's horse stumbled slightly, but did not fall.
"I cannot see the path," Elrohir called as he corrected his balance. "Elladan, can you see where we are going?"
Elladan could not, for they were now crossing into a jagged cleft in the mountainside, and no light whatsoever penetrated the dark. Suddenly, a tiny scraggy bush growing from between cracks in the rocks caught fire, illuminating the narrow path. There were several such plants, and like clockwork each one began to burn. Elladan had never personally witnessed Faye's ability to start fires before, and now he silently praised the Valar for it. They were getting closer to the Orc camp, and they did not want to be the ones caught by surprise.
The path opened into the campsite itself so suddenly that Elladan was momentarily disoriented. The Orcs' attention was focused on Faye, who had leapt into view over a line of boulders to Elladan's right and was charging towards a cave at the other end of the circular clearing, setting tents and tinder on fire as she ran. Another scream pierced the air, coming from within the cave, and as the Orcs turned to face the new arrivals, Faye pushed through them and disappeared into the darkness. Some Orcs moved to follow, but Elladan charged forward, spurring his horse straight into the crowd. Caught off-guard, many of the Orcs were unarmed, and Elladan dismounted his horse and began cutting down the disgusting creatures with furious abandon. Never before had he felt more hatred. His mother was being tortured, his sister seriously injured, and Faye almost killed because of these beasts and whatever creature commanded them. He was not planning on sparing any of them, and after taking a quick glance around, he smiled grimly when he saw that the others seemed to be doing nothing less.
The filth-soaked ground inhibited movement, and as Elladan swung his blade around to block a strike from an Orc armed with a strange silvery sword, he almost stumbled as his boot caught in the thick, sticky substance. The Orc struck him across the jaw, and he stumbled backward, just barely keeping his balance.
"Elladan, look out!" came Glorfindel's voice.
The Orc lifted the strange blade with a snarl of victory, and charged forward. Elladan dove to one side only just in time, striking the much firmer ground at the mouth of the cave. He jumped back on his feet and twisted around, but before the Orc could reach him, its sword vanished. The creature stopped, staring at its hands in surprise. Elladan took the opportunity to relieve the Orc of its head. He had no idea where the blade went, but he was glad it had disappeared.
A horrific, ear-splitting screeched echoed behind him, and he turned just in time to be bowled over by a shadowy figure bearing the blade that had just disappeared from the Orc's hands. The figure was wearing a thick dark cloak and nothing else, and he averted his gaze the instant he realized it was a female. The shadowy woman screeched again, completely ignoring him despite the fact that she had landed practically on top of him. Pushing him away, she scrambled to her feet, her attention obviously elsewhere. Elladan quickly retreated out of the woman's range.
Just in time, too, because Faye appeared almost immediately afterwards. Also ignoring him, she dove towards the shadowy woman, completely oblivious of the sword. The woman was ready for her, scowling devilishly as she met Faye's charge with the tip of the blade. Faye screamed as the blade impaled her, but did not stop fighting. She twisted around, forcing the other woman to lose her grip on the sword. Suddenly weaponless, the woman hissed as Faye grabbed the hilt and pulled the sword from her body. For a moment, the hole was visible, then it sealed over, leaving only the rip of fabric in her dress as evidence of the injury. Elladan swallowed his sudden nausea, maneuvering around them and entering the cave.
The sounds of battle lessened as Elladan made his way through the murky darkness. Dim firelight flickered on one wall a little ways ahead, showing that the narrow passage turned to the left. Fear gripped his heart, for he heard no sound. No cries, no moans, not even breathing. His pace quickened as the turn came nearer, but even though he was a well-experienced warrior with years of training, nothing could have prepared him for the sight that lay before him now.
Celebrían lay at the far end of the small, circular cavern illuminated by single torch suspended in one wall. Chains hung from the wall above her, but she was not attached to them. Her wrists, however, showed evidence of captivity. She was pale and horrifically skinny, naked, bruised, and covered partially with filth. A rotting animal pelt lay forgotten in a heap near her feet. She lay on her back, unmoving, lifeless eyes staring up at the ceiling. Choking back a sob, Elladan approached her, quickly removing his cloak and wrapping her in the warm cloth. Her shoulder was inflamed with one of the most seriously infected wounds Elladan had ever seen, and the skin around her throat was black and coated in fresh blood, though there was no wound there to show why. He breathed a sigh of relief when he found a pulse, but it was weak and slow.
"Naneth," he called, gathering her pitifully light body into his arms. "Naneth, it's me, Elladan. You're safe now."
Celebrían did not respond. Elladan lifted her closer, speaking into her ear.
"Naneth, wake up," he begged. "Please wake up."
Still no response. Elladan sighed, biting back tears. The sounds of battle were growing thin, and he hoped that meant the fighting was over. As quick as he could, he made his way back to the entrance, shifting Celebrían to one arm and gripping his sword in his free hand. Sure enough, the Orcs were almost all dead, but Faye and the shadowy woman were fighting like dogs in the center of the clearing. Faye still had the silvery sword in her hand, and the shadowy woman was spending most of her efforts trying to avoid getting stabbed. Though the blade was clearly hers, she seemed afraid of it. Elladan guessed it was poison-coated, for although the wound was gone, the skin around Faye's midsection was starting to turn purple.
Finally, Faye forced the shadowy woman off-balance, and in that moment, drove the sword into her side. The woman screamed and flailed her arms, and tendrils of pure darkness began to envelope her. Folds of cloak became the membranes of bat-like wings. Within seconds, the woman was replaced by a giant bat, and the sword vanished. The wound, however, continued to gush blood. The bat was in a frenzy, swinging her wings around and cutting down the Orcs that were gathering around her. After a few moments, the bat managed to kill off almost all of the remaining Orcs. A few were smart enough to turn and run for their lives.
The bat finally managed to take flight, shrieking in pain with each flap of her broad wings. She stared down at Faye, her eyes boiling with fury.
"Poison, poison!!" she shrieked in an icy, harsh voice. "May it kill you as fast as it will me!"
"Be gone, demon!" Faye shouted back, seemingly ignoring the curse. "Remember what you have done here! I will make you burn for what you have done to us!"
The instant Faye uttered the word `burn,' a ball of fire lanced from her fingertips, striking the bat in the chest. The bat screamed in agony, turning and flying out of sight, fire trailing behind it. Once it was gone, silence descended on the clearing. Fire burned all around, but there was no danger of anyone being caught in the flames. The fire was strangely concentrated.
Celebrían suddenly moaned, drawing everyone's attention instantly. Elrohir, who was standing a few paces away, bit his lip to silence a gasp. Horror was plain on everyone's faces. Lord Celeborn, seemingly forgetting all dignity, rushed forward, beating even Elrohir.
"Celebrían," he whispered, his voice pained.
Elladan surrendered her to the Elf Lord, feeling Glorfindel settle a hand on his shoulder. Elrohir had gone pale, and Elladan cast a concerned glance at him.
"What did they do to her?" Elrohir asked, his voice so soft that only Elladan could hear him.
"I don't know," Elladan replied. "But maybe Faye can help her."
Hope sparked in Elrohir's eyes. Both of them simultaneously remembered the miracle she had performed on Maida so long ago. Glorfindel tightened his grip.
"Faye!" he called. "Come to us! You can help Celebrían."
Faye turned, and Elladan saw the sadness in her eyes. Celebrían moaned again, and Faye bowed her head.
"I cannot," she replied. "I was too late. Celebrían. . ." She approached Lord Celeborn, gently brushing her fingertips over Celebrían's forehead. "She has been bitten. I saw it with my own eyes. Thuringwethil tried to turn her."
Gasps sounded, and fury bubbled inside Elladan. He saw his emotions mirrored on Elrohir's face as well. Glorfindel had tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword.
"If I tried to save her, I would do more damage than the beast and the Orcs ever did," Faye continued quietly. "I would turn her into a monster."
"Then we must get her to Lórien!" Lord Celeborn declared. He turned to the others. "Gather the horses. We ride out immediately."
"No!" Faye said quickly, raising her hand to stop them. "Lórien may be closer, but the only hope left for her now is in Rivendell. She must be taken to Elrond."
Elladan could see that the Lórien Elves were taken aback by her declaration. Haldir, who stood next to Lord Celeborn, narrowed his eyes, silently challenging her.
"She will receive the healing of the Lady of the Golden Wood," he said flatly. "There is no point wasting time."
"No, Haldir, I think she is right," Lord Celeborn said suddenly. He had been examining the wound on Celebrían's shoulder. "Only the poison of Morgoth can cause this kind of infection." He paused for a moment, seemingly trying to compose himself. "Haldir, I want you to return to Lórien. Tell Galadriel what happened here."
Haldir nodded solemnly. He glanced at Faye, his expression considerably warmer than Elladan had ever seen it, then moved off. The others started gathering the horses and preparing for a quick departure. Lord Celeborn's horse was brought forward, and Elladan held Celebrían while he boosted himself into the saddle. Elladan saw a slight stir of life in Celebrían's face, and a fierce hope radiated in him. He was not going to willingly allow a single rest on the return trip, and though several others were injured, none needed help more desperately than his mother.
It soon became clear that Faye had no intention of returning to Rivendell with them. Elladan had turned to offer Faye a ride on his horse, but she backed away from him, masking a wince of pain. The coloration on her belly was turning darker, and Elladan frowned in worry. He did not need two loved ones on their deathbeds this day.
"Faye, you need help," he said.
"I will go to Lórien," Faye replied, shaking her head. "I need to be sure that Arwen is okay."
Elladan knew that he was not going to be able to change Faye's mind, so he did nothing as Faye turned and vanished into the night. Elrohir approached him.
"She'll be okay, my brother," he said. "She'll do what she sees best."
Elladan sighed, nodding his agreement. He turned his horse and started following the others, riding up alongside Lord Celeborn. He saw Celebrían's eyelids flicker, and he smiled gently.
"Do not be afraid, Naneth," he said. "You are safe now."
Finally, Celebrían fully opened her eyes, gazing at him weakly. Elladan expected joy to form on her face, but there was no emotion at all. She simply gazed blankly at him for a moment, then sank back into unconsciousness. Elladan bit his lip to keep back the sudden tears.
"Will she survive?" he asked.
"If we hurry, she may have a chance," Lord Celeborn replied grimly. "All we can do now is ride and pray."
* * * * * *
Endis had been wandering the desolate snowfields of the Misty Mountains for many days, and the beast was beyond tired. The bridle and bit were gone, for the leather straps had been caught on a rock and snapped days ago, but the saddle was still firmly in place. Skinny from living off of nothing but lichens and snow, Endis now stumbled slowly across another snowfield.
At first, the horse believed he was alone. Then, he spotted a form walking not too far away. Endis snorted and raised his head, shaking loose snow from his mane and spurring himself into a trot. He recognized the being in the distance, and although he normally wanted to be as far away from her as possible, he was overjoyed to see his master now. He neighed, and the being stopped and turned to him. He then noticed that his master was not alone. Another horse and rider was following her, previously hidden by a bend in the path they walked on.
He ignored the other horse and its master, approaching his own fearlessly and pressing his nose against her arm. He snorted again as his master patted his cheek and rubbed his forehead. He could smell blood on her, and could sense that she was in pain. Endis allowed his master to lean against him and pull herself into the saddle. Most horses would be terrified of allowing a predator to sit upon their backs, but Endis was no longer afraid. He had seen a creature far worse. The other horse and rider passed him, and his master pressed his flanks gently. He started following the other horse, realizing that his days of wild freedom were over.
Until his soul left his body, he would be loyal to his master