For more seconds than Legolas could keep count, no one spoke following the Istar’s revelation.
Legolas was stunned into disbelief as his gaze looked away from the horrific scene before them to rest finally upon the face of the wizard he and Melia had known until now as Dimulmaion. Accusation filled his eyes as he waited for Dimulmaion – Pallando to explain although rage did not immediately grip him. This was largely because his mind was whirling through his recollection of Dimulmaion’s revelations about his identity. Begrudgingly, the elf was forced to admit that at no time did Dimulmaion ever deny being Istari even if his words were somewhat cryptic at times. Presently, the wizard himself did nothing to illuminate the situation, his own eyes fixed in open anguish on his emaciated brother before him.
Melia however, was not restrained by memories of what Dimulmaion had said previously and wasted no time in demanding openly another piece of clairification.
“If you are Pallando then who is that?” She asked pointing to the other.
Dimulmaion continued to stare at the other Istar, his eyes brimming with sorrow but he answered her question nonetheless because they deserved an answer for no matter how cleverly he had masked his identity, he did in truth deceive them.
“That,” he said without moving his gaze from his Istari brother. “That is Alatar, a Maiar of Orome, as was I.”
“I knew you would not turn your back upon me Pallando,” the Istar Alatar spoke, his ghost like face attempting to smile but to those present, it looked instead like a grimace of pain. “I knew that you would find me someday.”
“I never turned my back upon you Alatar,” Dimulmaion replied as he approached the Istar slowly. “I left because you were more dedicated to your dreams of creating new life then you were to fighting the will of Sauron. It was not what we were sent here to do.”
“I was trying to fight the will of Sauron!” The Istar cried out like a child attempting to justify the pulling of wings from an insect. “I wanted to create something that would be adverse to his will, something that could not be swayed by his evil or become corrupted by it.”
“And you have created something,” Dimulmaion replied, his gaze sweeping across the obscene hatchery about them. “Something that has no need of being corrupted by his evil.”
The Istar eyes dropped to the ground, shame overcoming his face for he knew to what his friend referred. “I did not mean to do this,” he whispered, lips quivering as he tried to explain himself. “They said they would help me. They said that they wanted to realize my dreams. I sought to use them as a means to an end but did not realize that I was the one being used.”
As he spoke, his body seemed to tremble as if taking his attention from one act to accomplish another was weakening him even further. He seemed so frail that it was impossible to believe that this being was a Maiar spirit sent from Valinor to save Middle earth from Sauron’s darkness. How had that mission become so utterly twisted into this abomination of itself?
“You made a bargain with Nazgul!” Dimulmaion rebuked sharply. “How could you do that? How could you allow yourself to be party to this abomination?”
“It was my way of fighting Sauron!” Alatar burst out, his voice threatening to break into a sob at any moment at Pallando’s lack of understanding. “I thought if I used the river women, creatures of purity, without any stain of darkness to them that I could make my creation work.”
“Your creation!” Melia burst out, having heard more than enough to be provoked into speaking. “My mother is one of those that you took! Is she here? In one of these, these things?”
“Your mother?” Alatar stared at her in shock as if noticing her for the first time. “Which one is your mother?”
“Ninuie!” Melia almost shouted in fury, unable to believe that somewhere in this disgusting collection of cocoons was her mother or rather what was left of her.
If seeing his Istar brother had not brought him to tears, then hearing the name of one of his victims surely did. The Istar started to sob loudly at the mention of Ninuie’s name and for an instant Melia did not know how to react. She looked to Legolas for help but the elf was just as bewildered as she regarding his manner. For a moment, none of the company could say anything because they were robbed of all thought upon hearing the Istar vent his tears of grief they did not know or understand.
“You are the child,” he managed to gasp through his tears. “You were the child she spoke of.”
“She spoke of me?” Melia took a step towards him but Legolas caught her arm to ensure she did not approach the Istar too closely. Despite the man’s remorse, Legolas still did not trust that the Istar was a benign as he appeared.
“You and the man were all she ever spoke of,” he said in a small voice. “In the beginning, she used to beg to be released so she could be returned to him. As the years followed, she stopped making the plea but I often heard her muttering their names. In the end, the names were all that were left of who she was.”
There were tears in her eyes as Melia turned away from Alatar, not wishing him to see her weep. She felt Legolas’ hand on her shoulder, trying to offer her comfort but it seemed paltry in light of what she had just learnt. She cast her gaze upon the hatchery and saw that within their cocoons, the river women were oblivious to their presence. She saw hands flailing sluggishly through the resinous fluid they were trapped within like amber, trying to break free of the membrane that kept them out of the world. Nails clawed at the walls, some strained the material to breaking point but it was not enough to escape.
“Which one is she?” Melia demanded when she looked up at Alatar again.
“She will not know you,” Alatar answered, still appearing as if a fog was resting over his mind.
“Tell her!” Legolas added his voice to the mix forcefully.
Alatar’s eyes drifted across the floor of the chamber before coming to a rest upon a cocoon at the far end of the chamber. Melia’s breath caught when he paused and nodded in her direction. She swallowed thickly; barely aware that Legolas was holding her arm protectively when she walked towards it. It appeared no different than any of the other cocoons that were found within the chamber. She could see the faint outline of a body inside it, struggling to escape the prison of flesh. A wave of nausea welled up in the pit of Melia’s stomach seeing the figure’s hand clawing at its boundaries, trying to rip through the membrane that held her within.
Despite her revulsion, Melia placed her hand against the slick wall and recoiled inwardly at its warmth. She was reminded of an insect egg she had once seen and the connection almost made her gag in disgust. The cocoon’s membrane was warm against her skin and beneath its thin layer, she could feel the gelatinous fluidity of its contents. The figure inside became very still, most likely because it sensed her presence. Suddenly, a fist struck the flimsy walls of the membrane, trying to break through in order to catch Melia’s hand. The Ranger shrank back in fright and was then overcome with anguish when it dawned upon her that it was from her own mother that she recoiled with such disgust.
Legolas felt his heart break with sorrow for his love when Melia buried herself in his arms for comfort. He could feel her sobbing softly against his chest and burned with anger that after searching for so long, this was the reward for Melia’s efforts, to find not her mother, but a creature that bore little resemblance to the woman who gave her life. He would have killed Alatar for causing Melia that injury alone.
Dimulmaion or Pallando, whatever you call yourself,” Legolas declared firmly, unable to endure seeing her pain as he held her close. “This cannot go on. These poor souls deserve peace. They cannot be allowed to exist in this way.”
The wizard drew a deep breath, meeting Legolas’ eyes and it was at that instant that the elf saw how difficult this was for him. The Istar Pallando had come in search of his friend, hoping to bring him redemption but Legolas suspected that not even Pallando could imagine how far into darkness Alatar had descended. In his heart, Legolas felt great sympathy for Pallando and to some extent, Alatar as well, his devotion to an ideal had driven him to commit the worst atrocities imaginable. Legolas now knew where that overwhelming evil he had sensed since approaching the mountain originated. It did not come from Alatar; it came from the creatures trapped inside their cocoons.
“No, it cannot.” Pallando nodded in agreement and faced his old friend once again. “Alatar, these beings you created out of Umno’s blessed must be released from their torment. What has been done to them cannot be undone and their torture continues as long as they live. Let them go, Alatar, let them go to the Hall of Mandos, as they should. Do that and we will sail the Straight Road and return home.”
The vague expression on Alatar’s face seemed to clear at Pallando’s suggestion and he stared hard at his brother. For a brief instance, Legolas felt hope flicker in his heart at the possibility that Pallando’s heartfelt entreaty might have succeeded in convincing Alatar to surrender without further conflict. However that hope withered when Legolas saw the Istar’s eyes sharpen into points of flint and he stood up, his body stiffening with anger.
“You did not come here to help me!” Alatar cried out in betrayal. “I thought you came here to take my place! I have been waiting so long for you to find me, to help me! Now you wish me to abandon my duty?”
“What duty?” Pallando retorted in bewilderment. “These women have been twisted into obscene parodies of themselves. You have destroyed them more completely than any being has ever destroyed another! Let them go! Let them know peace in the bosom of Mandos. It is the least you can give them!”
“I am not keeping them alive!” Alatar screamed in fury. “They do not require that of me! They drain the life of anything they desire to feed upon. The only reason that they have not stolen your lives is because I have exerted what little strength I have left to keep them from killing you like they killed the drakes.”
“Then what are you doing?” Legolas asked, his own confusion rising. “If you are not keeping them alive and they have no need of you to be nourished, why then have you remained here?”
Alatar turned to the elf and hissed, “I have remained here to see to it that they remain here. What they are cannot be unleashed into the world! I know what I have created and I have tried to undo it but the knowledge eludes me and so I remain here, keeping them and the world safe from each other.”
“If they are so dangerous, why not simply destroy them? Give them the release from this twisted existence that they deserve.” Legolas demanded.
“Because he does not know if he is strong enough to kill them,” Pallando whispered, understanding at last why Alatar had bound himself to his creations in this dark place at the edge of all things.
Alatar, blinded by the passion of his work had allied himself with the Nazgul, in much the same way as Saruman and hunted the river women, one by one and brought them to Dol Goldur. At the fortress of Sauron’s evil, second only in darkness to Baradur, Alatar had put foolishly into effect his desire to create a being of purity, free of corruption, unaware that his noble ideals had already suffered that very same malaise and instead of creating purity, he had created abomination. Too late had he realized what he had wrought and tried to correct his mistake by spiriting them away from Dol Goldur when the Nazgul had withdrawn from the fortress to begin their pursuit of the One Ring and the hobbit who possessed it.
He had brought them to Ered Mithrin, hoping that its distance away from the war that Sauron had unleashed upon Middle earth would see him forgotten in the dark lord’s reckoning. Despite Sauron’s destruction, Alatar was unable to reverse what he had done to the river women and so they remained in their cocoons, the butterflies that would never emerge into the sunlight for to do so would mean that everything else living in it would die. Alatar had kept them trapped but even Pallando could see that he could hold on no more. Alatar had thought that his arrival here would mean that Pallando would take his place but the wizard had no intention of prolonging the existence of these poor unfortunates.
Legolas was correct. This had to end here.
“While they are trapped in this shell, they must be vulnerable,” Legolas swept his gaze over the hatchery like a warrior preparing for battle. In essence they were, although Alatar and Pallando did not know it yet. There was only one course to take and though it pained him to do so because all these women were turned into instruments of destruction through no desire of their own and yet they would pay the ultimate price for it. “Perhaps that is the way to destroy them.”
“Destroy them?” Melia stared at him. “That is my mother in there!” Her eyes looked at him with accusation.
“Melia,” Legolas said gently, knowing no way to put this gently. “I cannot imagine asking this of anyone but she is not your mother. She has not been Ninuie since this Istar turned her into his creature. A river woman would die rather than become so destructive to all life. Do not let her suffer inside the shell of her ruined body. Let her go to Mandos and find some measure of peace.”
“I cannot!” She turned away from him, crying out in sorrow at the choice that was being forced upon her. Tears ran down her cheeks as she saw the cocoon before her and the thing within that was once her mother. She approached it stealthily once again and placed her hand on the membrane, heeding not Legolas’ words of caution. Her heart felt as if it would shatter within her breast and she wept again as she saw the figure inside move through the fluid inside the membrane to reach her. When Melia pulled away in revulsion, she knew that Legolas was right. What was inside this shell was not her mother.
Legolas came to her, feeling more helpless than he had ever been in three thousand years and hating himself for forcing her to make such a terrible choice. “Please,” he almost begged her. “I would rather die than hurt you but you must see the truth in what I say. She would not wish to live this way, no one would.”
Melia wiped her tears away and nodded slowly, “I will not see her suffer any more than she already has. Let it end for her so at least she and my father can be reunited in Mandos’ realm.”
Spinning around, she raised her dagger and decided that if this thing was to be done then it would be she who did, preparing to plunge the weapon into the membrane in order to end the suffering of the creature within it once and for all.
“NO!” Alatar screamed defiantly and raised his hand in her direction.
The Ranger was swept of her feet and swatted aside like a rag doll. Legolas watched in horror as Melia tumbled into the ground behind them, her body making a terrible sound of impact as she landed.
“Melia!” Legolas cried out and ran to her side.
“Alatar what are you doing?” Pallando demanded, unable to believe that the Istar had attacked the Ranger.
“I will not risk their freedom!” The Istar cried out and turned his attention to his brother. “I do not know if they can be killed but I will not risk the foolishness of others to give them their means of escape!”
“They must be destroyed Alatar!” Pallando tried once more to reason with his brother but it was becoming clear that Alatar’s mind had deteriorated in the face of his long confinement here, no doubt aided in part by the terrible guilt he must have felt for what he had done.
“NO!” Alatar screamed again, becoming more irrational by the minute.
Pallando attempted to approach him but the wizard found himself swept off his feet by an unseen force. He fell hard against the ground and discerned quickly that it was Alatar that had attacked. His heart sank at the realization that his old friend was beyond reason and that Legolas had been correct, that in the end, Alatar would give him no other choice but to fight.
Pushing himself up on all fours, Pallando raised his head and saw Alatar glaring at him, still surrounded by his cocoons, his eyes wide and almost feral with madness. Through his white beard, Pallando saw that Alatar’s teeth were bared. With sorrow, Pallando realized that Alatar was insane as he appeared and tried one last time to reach his old friend.
“Do not make me fight you brother,” Pallando pleaded out, unashamed to beg. “I do not wish to hurt you.”
“All I wanted was for you to come and help me!” Alatar screamed in turn, providing further proof of how far his mind had deteriorated. “To take my place before my life ended! I wanted to make things right again and you have taken that away from me!”
Another surge of power ripped Pallando from the floor and slammed him hard onto his back. The wizard let out a groan of pain and knew that if he did not retaliate soon, he would be injured beyond his ability to recover. Alatar’s insanity had made his powers wild and frenzied. It would exhaust him far sooner than normal to expend his strength in this way but before that his strikes could cause Pallando considerable damage. Pallando lashed out as he saw Alatar approach him, the Istar’s eyes were wide and his pupils opened to the sun, clearly beyond all measure of rationality.
Hurling his own power forth, Pallando threw Alatar to the floor, face first. The crunching of bone filled the air with its sickening sound and Pallando rose quickly to his feet, hoping to incapacitate him before he attacked again. Unfortunately, as Pallando was only a few steps away, Alatar raised his eyes to his brother, revealing a smear of blood running across his nose. There was fury in his eyes as he screamed and threw out his arm, his fingers pointing at the space above Pallando’s head. Pallando looked up in time to see great chunks of rock breaking free from the ceiling, plunging towards him. He leapt out of its way just as it crashed upon the ground, shattering the marble work beneath it.
Pallando saw the rising cloud of debris and knew that he could not hold back because Alatar was not bound with similar restraints. By now, his brother had risen to his feet and was preparing to launch another assault. Pallando did not give him the chance to do so and sent a broken piece of ceiling flying at the disgraced Istar. Alatar froze the rock in mid air and for a few seconds, the fragment remained trapped in the space between them, suspended over the floor as it struggled to choose which direction it would go. Pallando could see the strain in Alatar’s face as he maintained the battle of will and magic, his jaw clenched and his teeth biting down in a grimace of grim determination.
Suddenly the rock exploded, unable to take the pressure placed upon it. Both Istar turned away as some fragments became flying projectiles that bit into their skin and drew blood. The rest of it crumbled to the floor in a cloud of dust. It was at this point that Pallando discovered that Legolas and Melia were strangely absent during this battle. While the most sensible explanation would be that they chose to take cover since bystanders would most likely suffer gravely when caught in the crossfire of battling wizards, Pallando knew his companions would not stand idly by and allow him to face Alatar alone.
It did not take him long to realize why they had remained strangely quiet during this engagement. Pallando saw what was happening to Alatar’s hatchery and came to the shocking conclusion that Legolas and Melia were dealing with a much greater problem.
When the battle between the two wizards had first begun, Legolas had been kneeling at Melia’s side, ensuring that she was not injured severely after Alatar had lashed out at her for attempting to end her mother’s misery. Fortunately, the Ranger suffered only minor bruises and scratches, nothing that would impede her ability to fight. Though she was a little dazed when he helped her to sit up, Melia’s senses returned swiftly enough when she became aware of the pitched combat taking place between Alatar and Pallando.
“Are you alright?” He asked concerned as she gripped his arm and used it to support her attempt to stand.
“Yes,” she replied quickly, wiping a line of blood from across her cheek. “Nothing is hurt that will not heal in time.”
“The Istar is mad,” Legolas declared, glancing over his shoulder to witness the progress of the battle so that he could ascertain how he might help Pallando.
“He was mad before this,” Melia retorted bitterly, feeling no sympathy for the man.
All she could feel for him was pure hatred for what he had done to her mother. However, her attention was soon drawn away from the conflict between the Istari as her gaze rested upon one of the cocoons before her. Her eyes widened in fascinated horror as she saw a hand push against the membrane that surrounded it and then break through. The balled fist tore through the flimsy material, ripping it apart easily and sending a gush of wet fluid spraying about in all directions, splattering the other cocoons, the floor upon which it rested and even soiled Melia and Legolas’ clothes.
“By Valar,” Legolas whispered softly. “They are awakening.”
Tearing her way through the shell that had kept her prisoner for so long, the creature that stood up from the ruins of her fleshy cage was naked and covered with slime. Her form was very much like a woman with hair slick with fluid to appear almost black. The true color of her skin could not be discerned for the resin covering her skin was amber in its hue and masked her pigment. She paid little attention to her two observers, more concerned with her own appearance. She examined her long tapering fingers, ran their tips across her face and seemed to accustom herself with the world she had just stepped into.
For an instant, she looked like any woman and Melia found herself clutching wildly at the hope that perhaps the Istar was wrong, that whatever had been done to the River women was not as terrible as it appeared. The person before her was no monster, merely a woman appearing confused at her surroundings. If she were not a danger to others than perhaps Ninuie would be the same as well. Melia knew that desire sounded desperate but she was hurtling towards an unimaginable conclusion and was doing all that she could to avoid it.
“What are you doing?” Legolas demanded when he saw Melia take a step towards the creature.
Legolas had no such illusions about the nature of the beast before him. While it was wearing the skin of a woman, beneath it was anything but that. His elven senses could detect the terrible evil emanating from it, the evil that lay dormant now to Melia’s eyes. She was blinded by hope for her mother’s existence and fear of what she needed to do in order to release Ninuie from her torment. Legolas could not blame her for believing the creature before her was redeemable but he knew better. Even as she approached it, Legolas could see its eyes narrowing at Melia, looking at the Ranger not as a person but as prey.
“Melia!” Legolas called out before she got any further. “Hold your ground.”
Melia froze in her tracks but she was not ready to believe that there was danger, not when she could see other cocoons beginning to stir with life. They were clawing at the walls of their shells, breaking out the way that this one had done. She saw the cocoon her mother was in, starting to tremble with movement and knew that soon, she would be face to face with her mother.
“Legolas, it is alright,” Melia cried out in turn. “She does not want to hurt you.”
Legolas was not listening. The archer had already removed his implements and was loading his bow in readiness to fire. His eye was fixed upon the creature that was staring at Melia with her dark gaze. At his request that Melia stop her approach, she turned her eyes to the elf and Legolas saw the malevolence there, followed by black hatred for interfering with her prey’s advance. “Back towards me Melia,” Legolas ordered.
“But Legolas……” Melia started to protest.
“DO IT NOW!” He fairly roared, making Melia jump a little.
Melia swallowed thickly, facing the woman again and fighting the feeling that wished her to continue onward. Her prince would not make such a demand lightly and Melia could not ignore the order he had given with such intensity. Slowly she began to retrace her steps. The river woman saw that she was complying to the order of her lover and seemed to take great exception to this. Whether or not it was instinct or premonition, Melia did not know but when the woman raised her arm towards the Ranger, Melia’s first thought was to run. It was an instinct that proved correct when a dark veil seemed to surge forth from her fingertips. Diving out of its way, she heard the woman howl in rage upon missing her intended target. The dark veil came to rest on piece of wood that was probably a part of furniture in the days when Durin’s folk inhabited the city.
It crumbled and withered before Melia’s eyes, decaying in seconds when it should have taken years.
No sooner than it had disintegrated before their eyes, Legolas let his arrow fly. He aimed so that he would only need to shoot once. She saw the arrow coming and screeched an unearthly sound before raising her arms again. The strange power consumed the flying projectile and snapped it as it flew in the air. It tumbled towards the floor, its shaft withered, the quiver rusted and flaking. She raised her eyes to Legolas only to see another arrow surging towards her and this time, it was one she could not stop in time. It slammed into her forehead, tearing through flesh and bone. Black blood spurted out from the wound as the arrow’s force tore through her skull and emerged at the back of her head. She dropped to the ground wordlessly, her blood creating a pool beneath her dead body.
“Legolas! Watch out!” Melia warned loudly.
Legolas turned away from the river woman he had killed in time to see another had emerged from her pod to witness the death of her sister at his hands. Her eyes were glowing with fury as she hissed at the elf and once again that surge of power was moving swiftly towards her prey, only this time it was not Melia who was its intended target but rather himself. Legolas leapt out of the way, dodging what would almost have been certain death. He landed hard and saw Melia throwing her dagger at the beast, trying to give him time to escape the deadly reach of the creature determined to kill him.
As he scrambled to his feet, he looked up to see Melia’s dagger slicing through the body of the river woman. More and more of them were beginning to tear the walls of their prison and Legolas knew that if they were allowed to emerge from their shells, nothing would be able to stop them. He stood up as he saw more and more fingers piercing the flimsy membrane that kept them trapped, ripping away the material that had kept them secured for so long. He thought quickly as to what needed to be done and came to the swift conclusion that they were most vulnerable within their cocoons. They had to be destroyed before they emerged.
The elf thought furiously as to what was to be done and a solution came to light immediately, though he wished there was some other way to go about it. He raised his eyes to see Melia hurrying away from the creature she had struck with his dagger just as she spewed forth more evil power. The black veil did not strike his love but instead the fallen creature he had killed. Legolas saw Melia’s eyes widen in horror as the flesh decayed on the bones of the corpses, turning from rancid to dust within a space of seconds. Melia searched for him and was flooded with relief as she hurried towards him.
“What are we to do?” She demanded more than a little lost at how to combat this enemy.
Before them, all the cocoons were starting to shudder with life while Pallando and Alatar were locked in a life and death struggle. Their battle seemed almost inconsequential now, not when one considered what other dangers were beginning to awake inside the room. A thundering crash tore their attention away form the river women briefly as Legolas and Melia saw that the ceiling had collapsed due to the potent magic being used in battle by the two wizards. The shattering sound did nothing to hinder the progress of the emerging River women and it even appeared as if the noise was giving them focus in their emergence.
There was little that could not be destroyed by fire and as Legolas saw more and more of the metamorphosed River women attempting to escape their cocoons, he knew that it was the only weapon of any real use. Fire did not wither or decay, it remained unchanged no matter what power assaulted it. Igniting a small piece of wood, Legolas handed Melia his arrows and prayed that this gambit succeeded or neither of them would live to tell the tale.
“You are going to burn them?” Melia exclaimed.
“There is nothing else for it,” Legolas replied without looking up as he set one of his arrows into his bow in readiness to shoot, lighting its quiver and upper shaft with flames. The fire burned quickly through the wood and Legolas could not delay in shooting.
Melia thought about her mother and knew that he was right. They had no other choice. Taking a deep breath to strengthen her resolve, she met his gaze. “Do what you must.”
Legolas nodded briefly and aimed not at the ones who had torn their way out of the cocoon but rather at the one’s who had yet to surface. The arrow escaped his bow and flew across the air like the streak of a falling star. It struck the side of one cocoon, its walls thick enough to ensure that its shape did not rupture and extinguish the flame of the arrow. Instead the arrow remained steady in its side, allowing the fire to find fuel in the flesh of the cocoon before the flames engulfed it. A terrible wail screamed in their ears as the unholy creature within it discovered its doom in a symphony of heat.
One of the river women who had emerged fully screeched like a banshee in the night as she turned upon her sister’s killer. She chose not to send forth her cloud of decay but rather elected a more physical attack. She ran straight for the elf but Melia intercepted her with a powerful tackle that threw her to the floor. The creature stunned by the attack finally resorted to using her dark powers but as she attempted to cause Melia’s destruction, a force almost as powerful as hers, swept her across the ground, causing her to roll like bales of hay.
Melia rose to her feet and saw Pallando staring at her in relief while Legolas wore an expression of gratitude. However, her prince could not stop to express his happiness at seeing her alive, not when he had much to do. He continued to shoot at the remaining cocoons and even at the creatures half emerged while Pallando returned to the task of fighting Alatar who was determined to ensure the survival of his charges. Melia ran behind Legolas and removed the sword strapped to his back. The other river women who had escaped the wrath of his archery would soon converge upon him and Melia intended to offer him as much protection as she could.
Glancing briefly over her shoulder when an arrow surge past her, striking the fleshy membrane of another cocoon, Melia could not help but be awed by the skill of her lover when he wielded his favorite weapon. There was no doubt in her mind that his aptitude was enhanced by his elven heritage but Melia was certain that his reputation with a bow had been earned through sheer natural ability. When he strung his bow, he moved with almost fluid grace and one could not help but wonder that anyone could move so swiftly and aim with such deadly accuracy.
Unfortunately, she could not continue to appraise his magnificence in battle for there was still terrible danger about her. She saw one of the river women striding forcefully towards Legolas, recognizing his strategy. She was not close enough to ensure that if she spewed forth her terrible powers he would escape. The creature was making good pace towards Legolas who had seen her but was holding fast to shoot another arrow past her. Melia hurried forward, intercepting the creature before she could reach him. Lashing her foot out, Melia struck the beast against the leg. The river woman turned sharply to her in pain, preparing to attack when Melia lashed out, her blade swinging in a wide arch and slicing the fingers from the creature’s hand.
Another pitched scream followed as blood flowed from severed digits.
“Melia!” Legolas shouted, lowering his bow as his face contorted in fear.
Melia felt arms around her, pinning her own to the side of her body. She could feel the fetid breath of the creature against her skin and immediately felt fatigued as if the life were being drained from her body. In desperation, Melia threw back her head, connecting with teeth and soft flesh that could have been the creature’s lips. The grip around her slacked and Melia broke free, turning around to see the creature that had attempted to seize her, reeling back in pain. Melia took advantage of its disorientation, swinging the heavy blade in a neat arch and taking the River woman’s head. The weight of the broadsword almost made Melia stumble and she wondered how Legolas endured carrying the thing on his back.
Remembering Legolas made Melia turn to her lover. His efforts had set the room ablaze and the air was filled with screams of agony as the fire did its work to protect Middle earth from the creatures that might have wrought its complete destruction if allowed to escape. Suddenly, the creature whose fingers she had taken was upon her lover while Legolas ignored the advance to cause as much damage as possible. He knew that shooting an arrow would do little good and so Legolas opted for a more direct attack. Hissing with anger, the river woman lashed out at him as if he were a fly. The elven prince flew through the air from the first blow, landing hard on the floor not far away. Ribs that had only weeks ago been broken due to his encounter with the Olog Hai, snapped anew, sending a groan of pain through the prince.
Despite his injury, he saw the creature advancing upon him. Legolas forced himself to his feet, a groan escaping his lips as his stood up painfully. He had lost his grasp of his bow when the creature had attacked and he searched the ground for it. When he found his weapon, the prince felt his heart sink at the realization that he would need to pass the creature before him in order to retrieve it. The river woman, seeing that she had been able to hurt him with the slightest exertion of her powers, grinned triumphantly, a manic smile stretched across her face as she prepared to attack again.
“Legolas!” The Ranger shouted, catching his attention.
Legolas averted his gaze to Melia and saw her flinging his sword at him. The prince hurried forward catching the blade with one hand and swiftly firming his grip around the hilt to strike. However, the enemy did not use her considerable strength or the dark blast of power that could wither everything in its path. Instead her splayed out fingers aimed at his direction did something else that was as unexpected. He found that he was suddenly fatigued, as if all the life was being drained out of his body. In a matter of seconds, he was overcome with such overwhelming exhaustion that he could barely stand. Legolas dropped to his knees weakly, seeing the creature close in on him, that same sneer of victory across her face.
Suddenly, a burning arrow struck her full in the neck. The quiver tore through her throat, burying the arrow so deeply in her neck that it almost protruded from the other side of her neck. She screamed at the fire that soon ignited her hair and stamped furiously at herself to extinguish the flame. The malaise that had gripped the prince left him during her agony and he struggled to stand as he saw her hair starting to burn. Though he was considerably weakened, he was not worsening and Legolas watched with stomach turning disgust as the woman before him resemble a candle when her head was soon consumed with fire. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the perspective, she did not suffer long for a second arrow soon flew, this one striking her heart and killing her dead where she stood and ending her agony.
Melia lowered the bow that felt uncomfortable in her hands. She preferred her own crossbow and no matter how well she might shoot with the one she now held in her hands, Melia felt that it was rightly Legolas’ to use. However, when she had seen her prince in danger, she had thought only of saving him.
The room was now ablaze with fire from their onslaught upon the sealed cocoons. They had killed enough in battle to ensure that no more of the creatures had escaped to wreak havoc upon Middle earth. Melia took a step towards Legolas who from where she was standing looked deathly pale.
Suddenly, his head snapped up in panic and he cried out, “Melia, behind you!”
Melia turned around and saw the cocoon her mother had inhabited to be torn open, its resinous fluids spreading out in a large pool. There was a moment of clarity when she felt a hand clench her throat, lifting her easily off the ground and felt her legs dangling helplessly in mid air. The air was forced from her lungs as she struggled to escape the vise like grip the creature had upon her. Melia stared into the face of the beast and felt her heart sink with an anguish she could not even begin to express. The face before her was one she recognized well enough. She had seen its features in the mirror so many times during her life.
It was Ninuie who was trying to kill her.
Legolas had rushed to her aid, not caring that his body had been drained of its strength, knowing only that the woman he loved would die if he did not force himself to move. He reached her, preparing to strike when the creature raised her hand at him and he was struck by that terrible feeling again, unable even to lift his sword high enough to strike. He was driven to his knees once more as a terrible weight pulled him to the ground. He wanted to gasp but he had not the strength to do even that.
“Melia,” he croaked in anguish, unable to help her or himself.
“Stop it!” Melia pleaded helplessly with the creature that was once her mother. “You are killing him!”
The creature did not seem to register that she had spoken at all and Melia tried the only thing she could think of and it was a measure steeped in desperation. “Mother, please.”
The eyes of the creature that was once Ninuie snapped open, staring at her daughter in shock. For a few seconds, she did nothing but stare at the victim in her grip before clutching Melia’s head with her other hand, forgetting Legolas all together. Melia did not know what to think as she felt nails digging into her hair as she was held securely by the back of her skull and forced to look into the face of the river woman before her. The Ranger was certain the creature was going to kill her for daring to remind her of who she once was. Melia did not care because though she saw Legolas lying face down on the floor unmoving, the slight rise and fall and his body indicated that he was still alive.
It did not matter if she died, as long as he lived.
Suddenly, Melia heard the creature who had been her mother, speak. The word escaped her like a strangled whisper but Melia recognised it.
And that was the last coherent thing Melia knew before everything around her spun out of control.
Images exploded in her mind in blinding flashes of light that made her flinch.
Melia tried to understand what was happening but could not conceive of any explanation that might shed light upon what was happening to her. She could feel Ninuie’s grip still tight around her throat but the pain seemed distant somehow, eclipsed by what was taking place about her. A moment ago, she had been standing in the middle of a monstrous hatchery, crying out in fear because her lover was being slowly drained of his life force by a creature that was once her mother. Now she was still in that creature’s grip but they were no longer where they once were.
Around them was the wood and its fragrance assaulted her lungs with its fresh scents of moist, living trees and loamy soil. It was a scent that had cradled her to sleep on many nights alone while she was a Ranger roaming the wilderness. The smell was powerful and the heat of the sun overhead was just as intoxicating. Melia would have become lost by its power if she had not known that none of this was real. She had presence of mind left to understand that this was something that she was seeing in her mind, not a state of reality.
Still, for an illusion, it seemed oddly familiar, Melia tried to place it but the memory was too far back in her mind to be able to place it clearly. She saw the Anduin before her, running through the landscape and knew it could be no other river for she knew the land well after years of searching for Ninuie by its banks. Melia tried to look at the creature holding her captive but the river woman was once again silent, her malevolent gaze having lost much of its hatred and she now appeared confused and troubled. Her face was contorted into the very human expression of anxiety and Melia wondered what it was that was happening that had them both in its grip. Ninuie’s eyes were fixed on a point in the distance and Melia found herself compelled to follow her gaze.
A man and woman were lying under a tree in the shade. It was the kind of tree that spread its branches through the air, offering shelter to any being that happened past it from the heat of the day. The couple was stretched beneath the canopy of leaves, lying together in each other’s embrace as they enjoyed themselves without shame of discovery or care in the world. They gazed at each other and Melia knew that they were in love, the kind that poets devoted so much of themselves to express and artists spent lifetimes attempting to immortalize.
The woman with her sheeny dark hair and her luminescent skin surrendered completely to her lover, a handsome man with skin of ebony that glistened in the sun when the sunshine covered it in a fine sheen of moisture. With a start, Melia realized that he was her father. For a moment, she could not believe it but there was no denying it the more she stared at him. He looked nothing like the weathered and seasoned warrior he would become in the years ahead. Here he was young and strong, appearing as if he was ready to take on the world single handedly. Melia could do nothing but stare at what she was certain was the glimpse of the past. The past that had been stolen from Ninuie when the River woman had been turned into the creature that was about murder her own child.
She had no memory of her mother that remained with her when she grew to adulthood and so these images of her parents in their youth were more than Melia could ever dream of having. They were so happy, she thought and wondered if her mother had wrestled with the problem of a having a mortal lover the way Legolas and Melia did. She doubted that Ninuie ever considered it because the two of them looked so happy together. Tears formed in her eyes as she saw her father holding her mother in his arms, laughing with joy and felt droplets running down her cheeks at the realization that he was never again that happy, not after he lost Ninuie.
His daughter had brought him love but not happiness.
Another blinding flash of light filled her consciousness and Melia shrank from it again. This time she opened her eyes to a new scene but one that was steeped in almost as much warmth as the first. There was sunshine again and a small house that sat by the banks of the Anduin with a window that faced the Misty Mountains on the Western shore. There was mallos in the garden and for an instant, the house resembled in some fashion the comfort of the hobbit holes she had seen in the Shire. Ninuie was smiling as she walked down the path away from the door and running before, taking uneasy steps was a child with dark hair and bronzed skin.
Melia felt her heart stop beating when she understood that she was staring at herself as a child. She was very young, not much more than an infant but she was loved by the mother who watched carefully over her. It came to her with a sudden start that it was not her memories they were seeing but rather that of Ninuie, buried deep inside her mind for so long until one catalytic event forced it to emerged from the darkness and that was the presence of her daughter. The memories were tumbling forward faster and the kaleidoscope of emotion and images were converging in a potent mix that made Melia’s head swim.
Blackness swept over them and the sunlight disappeared from the sky. It became cold. So cold that Melia could feel the chill right through her skin. Tendrils of ice wrapped itself around her spine and made her tremble. The pain around her throat was no longer registering in her mind. The darkness around her was all encompassing. The air reeked of sinister intent and the trees that surrounded them no longer appeared comforting but rather ominous. The thunder of hooves could be heard in the distance, gaining momentum with each passing second. It grew from a faint distant sound to a loud, pounding rumble that made Melia wince at its impact upon her ears.
Ninuie was running.
She was running on bare feet, her dress trailing behind her as she ran desperately through the tall grass, breathing hard, her face showing her terror. Dark hair followed in her wake as relentless as the unseen pursuers. The scene was visceral. It was primitive with fear and it was happening right before Melia’s eyes. Ninuie looked over her shoulder, trying to see if her pursuers were behind her but they were nowhere to be found. Yet both she and Melia could hear them. She could hear them closing in. Suddenly, Ninuie tripped over an exposed root of a tree, the sudden stop after running so fast ensured she took a nasty tumble.
A cry of anguish escaped her lips as she tried to get to her feet and realised that her foot was injured. Dirt covered her face as well as scratches and bruises as she hobbled forward unsteadily. She was sobbing pitifully, frustrated by her injury and the growing inevitability that she was not going to escape. Melia wanted to help her but she was only an observer to what had already happened. The course of fate would not be altered, no matter how painful it was to watch.
“I went to find my sisters,” the creature before Melia stunned her by speaking.
The river woman appeared lucid for once, her gaze still fixed on what was happening before them.
“I was going to say goodbye, that I was leaving.”
Melia did not speak but her eyes asked the question why.
“I was going away with him, with my man,” the creature explained as if she were in a daze. “I was going to follow him to his land because I could not be without him. I knew it would not be a permanent departure for the man would not last forever, not him or the daughter I gave him but I loved him so, I would have crossed the heavens to be with him.”
“What happened?” Melia found the strength to ask finally.
Ninuie turned her eyes to the scene once more and the sound of horses pounding in their ears soon evolved into the explosion of black emerging through the trees. It was difficult to say which was darker, the riders or their horses. Melia had never seen the things that rode hard after the fleeing Ninuie but she knew instantly what they were. The description Arwen had given her and the reputation of these beings left an indelible impression upon the mind. With their black robes trailing in the wind, their faces obscured and the horses they rode snorting with vile grunts, Melia knew without doubt that she was seeing the Nazgul.
The Ninuie of the past had screamed at the sight of them and she was running again, despite the injury to her foot though she was not as fast as she could be. The desperation in her eyes was wide and frantic, especially when she knew that she could not escape. The Nine fanned out and surrounded the terrified Maiar spirit easily, circling her like a ring of doom. Melia felt her heart reaching out to that poor trapped woman but there was nothing she could do. One of the Nazgul broke the ring and thundered towards the frightened woman, tossing something into the air. Melia had trapped enough animals in her time to know what it was. The net fell over Ninuie and sealed her doom as easily as it sealed her in its meshed confines.
“They drove me from the river,” the creature resumed speaking. “They forced me away from my place of power. I was helpless in the Wood, they knew that.”
“Mother,” Melia whispered, finding it strange to say but aware that she had bridged an important gulf between them. “We can help you, we can find some way to return you to yourself.”
“I had forgotten all of it,” the river woman answered. “I forgot until you reminded me. I forgot my name, who I was and I even forgot the man.”
Melia did not know what to say to that.
“He is dead, is he not?” Ninuie asked.
“Yes,” Melia nodded slowly.
“He died believing I abandoned him,” Ninuie replied, sensing it from her daughter’s thoughts.
“Yes,” the Ranger answered because there was no avoiding it.
Ninuie was silent for a moment before her eyes rose to meet Melia’s again, “I am myself here because of you my daughter. You make me remember but I feel the wizard’s power growing within me. It makes me want to hurt you, it makes me want to destroy. I will not be able to endure for long. You feel it do you not?”
Melia was weeping but she understood. “Yes, I do.”
“I should never have left him,” Ninuie whispered softly. “I lost him the moment I chose to leave our home, long before the Nazgul took me, before the wizard destroyed me.”
“There must be another way,” Melia pleaded. “There must be some other choice.”
“No,” Ninuie shook her head. “The time for my choices is past. All there is left is the end and I must find it. I will remain myself as much as I can when we return but you must do what is necessary.”
“I cannot!” Melia wailed, “I cannot do that!.”
“Please,” Ninuie stared at her. “Send me to the man. Send me to Hezare.”
Legolas felt as if he was dying.
In almost three thousand years of existence, he had never felt as awful as he did at this moment. His limbs felt like stone and each effort to move made him reconsider the entire notion as pain coursed through him. It would have been easy to let go, to let the fatigue claim him and succumb to the inviting numbness that was sweeping over his body. However, he would not yield to anything when he did not know how his Melia fared. Opening his eyes, he saw her still caught within the grip of the creature that that was her mother. She had stopped struggling and both were staring at each other almost trance like. Legolas suspected something was taking place between them but he could not even begin to guess what that might be.
Crawling towards her because he could not stand and he did not want to waste all his energy until he was ready to strike, the Prince of Mirkwood dragged himself painfully across the debris-covered floor. The air was thick with smoke and he wondered if Pallando still lived. A moment later, his question was answered as he saw Alatar spinning in the air before the Istari slammed into the floor, not far away from him. Alatar’s energy seemed to have drained with that final assault and he moved no more. Legolas watched as Pallando stepped forward, his eyes wet with tears as he approached his friend. The elf felt the wizard’s sorrow, knowing that Pallando had been given no choice but to put down his brother like one would put down a rabid animal. Legolas prayed he would never have to make such a choice.
“Pallando!” Legolas let out a gasp, snapping the wizard out of his grief and returning the remaining Istar’s mind back to their present circumstances.
“Prince,” Pallando hurried to the Prince and noted his condition. “You have been drained of your energy. You must rest and recover your strength.”
“I care not for that!” Legolas gasped, “something is happening between Melia and that thing!”
Pallando helped Legolas to his feet, using his healing powers to infuse the elf with some measure of strength. The Eldar had remarkable powers of recuperation and it required only a little exertion for Legolas’ natural abilities to give him a little more energy to function. Legolas pushed away from the wizard once he had power enough to walk on his own but each step forward came at a price and the prince knew once he had submitted to the will of his exhaustion, he would be quite immobile for some time. His hands grasped tightly the sword in his hand as he strode purposefully towards Melia, ignoring the pain and the pull of exhaustion upon his limbs.
“Careful prince,” Pallando warned as he hurried next to Legolas’ side. “Their minds are linked. You may kill one and hurt both.”
Legolas stared at him in frustration, “this cannot go on! Who knows what this link between them is doing to Melia.”
As soon as he said those words, both the creature and Melia returned to life. The river woman relinquished her grip on Melia’s throat, dropping the Ranger to the floor. Melia hit the ground hard, coughing and clutching her throat as she tried to recover her senses.
“Melia!” Legolas called out and started towards her, his teeth gritting against the pain.
Melia wanted to answer but her mother’s voice kept her from doing so. Ninuie looked down at her, appearing as if she was still herself but that grip upon her sanity and her purity was waning fast. Even now, Melia could see the darkness creeping into her eyes again. They did not have much time.
“Do it,” Ninuie ordered, her voice strained as if she battled even through her words. “Do it now before I harm you. I cannot endure any longer!”
“No,” Melia started to sob, crying out against the unimaginable course she had to take. “Do not ask me this!”
“It must be done!” Ninuie hissed. “Release me while you still can!”
Melia blinked her tears away and turned to Legolas, sobbing as she cried out to him “finish her prince. Finish her!”
Legolas nodded, understanding completely. He had heard the exchange between mother and daughter and was saddened by the choice that Melia was forced to make but he had the power to spare her the agony of doing the deed herself and he would not fail her. Taking a deep breath, Legolas raised the sword in his hand and swung hard and true. The blade seemed to slice through air, making a slight swoosh of sound before the Prince pulled back with expert handling. For a moment, no one uttered a word and all that could be heard in the room was the crackling fire.
Ninuie’s head tumbled to the ground first, causing Melia to burst into fresh tears as the grisly scene unfolded. Her body collapsed soon after and both men let out a heavy breath. Legolas dropped to his knees as the last of his strength left him and he was overcome by the effects of the river women’s attacks. He cursed his inability to move because Melia was sobbing uncontrollably into her hands, breaking his heart with each sound she made. He wanted to comfort her but he could not even crawl towards her in his lamentable condition.
“Melia,” Legolas croaked as he rested on all fours, aware that soon he would meet the ground.
She looked up at him, her face filled with sorrow but was moved into action when she realised how badly harmed he was by the battle. She scrambled across the floor and came upon him, clutching his body in an embrace as if she would never let go. As weak as he was, just feeling him against her was enough to sooth Melia’s sorrow. Melia knew deep in her heart that he had been right all along, Ninuie needed peace and now thanks to him, Legolas had been able to give Ninuie what Melia had not been able.
“Thank you Prince,” she whispered as she held him in her arms. “I could not have done it.”
“I would spare you that anguish my love,” Legolas whispered weakly. “I would never see your heart broken by forcing you to do it.”
“I love you,” Melia said softly, holding him even tighter.
“I love you Mia,” he answered with a weak smile. “Your mother’s soul will find her way to the halls of Mandos.”
Melia nodded and hoped that perhaps Ninuie would find Hezare too.