Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone – Chapter 6 – Anguish
They flew swiftly across the plain, Jaessa’s white feet flashing in the moonlight. Legolas crouched low over her otherwise dark form. He marveled at her smooth gait, and the speed with which she moved. Surely even Shadowfax could not run faster!
The grey of dawn was lighting the sky when they reached the foothills of the Mountains of Angmar. Jaessa slowed her pace, picking her way amongst the low lying bushes that eventually gave way to taller trees. Legolas scanned the area as they turned towards the low pass that gave access to the land of Angmar. Orc tracks lay scattered about the area, crossing and recrossing other tracks, seeming to have little order to them. One thing they signified for certain, Orcs were a constant presence here.
“Tread carefully,” he whispered to Jaessa, one ear swivelled back to listen, and then she turned to look at him, as if to ask him why he felt the need to tell her what she already knew. “There are Orcs about.” He concluded, feeling rather ashamed.
They both heard the guttural groan of Orc voices at the same time. Jaessa stopped her movement, and Legolas leaped from her back, moving silently in the direction of the horrible sounds. He drew close, crouched low, moving from bush to bush. He stopped as he caught sight of a dozen or so Orcs marching lazily up a path that seemed to lead through the very pass that Jaessa and he were taking. Legolas’s eyes narrowed, Yavanna had said that the Orcs were part of the true threat to Middle Earth. Had they stumbled upon their mission already?
He knew only a few words of Orc speech, and since no two tribes used the same dialect, he could not tell of what they were speaking.
He slowly backed away again, careful not to make a sound, he looked around in sudden unease, where had Jaessa gone? He couldn’t call out for her because of the Orcs nearby, and she wasn’t here, what should he do?
Quickly moving back to where he had left her, Legolas looked in vain for some sign of where she had gone. He knew it was useless, she had even more woodcraft than an Elf, or even a Ranger, he would not find her unless she wished to be found.
“Legolas,” a soft touch on his shoulder accompanied the sound of his name, he spun about to see Jaessa, back in human form looking at him thoughtfully.
“What were those terrible things?” she whispered.
“Orcs.” He bit off the word in disgust. “The twisted creations of Morgoth.”
“Orcs. They . . . they felt like . . .” she paused, her brow furrowing, “They felt like evil Elves.”
“They were Elves once.” The words were sad, it was a terrible tale, “They were tortured and twisted in the Pits of Angband until they became what you saw.”
Turning back towards the Orc’s path Jaessa murmured, “Morgoth, the Black Enemy. Haldir said that Osse thought that I served this Morgoth.”
Legolas grimaced. Why did Haldir have to tell her that? Legolas had not believed it for a moment, and he had been very angry at her at the time.
“I know you don’t served him,” he hastened to assure her. She blinked, as if in surprise.
“Oh, I know,” she smiled, “You’d have thrown it at me long ago if you had.”
It was Legolas’s turn to blink, only his was in astonishment. Was she joking with him? Did the ice maiden have a sense of humor? She quickly sobered, her face turning again expressionless, but Legolas had to wonder, was that calmness merely a mask? What emotions and thoughts lay beneath her calm exterior?
“Was the Witch-king known to be associated with Morgoth?” Jaessa asked seriously.
Legolas did not answer, for Jaessa’s words had brought a painful realization to his mind. The Witch-king and Sauron had imprisoned Zandra for some purpose, and the threat they were here to combat surely had imprisoned her for the same end.
“Zandra headed north when she left,” he whispered. “Towards Angmar.” That thought echoed over and over in his mind, blinding him to all else. Zandra had headed towards Angmar, Angmar was inhabited again by the servants of Morgoth. She was here! She had to be! But the thought that she was nearby brought no relief from the agony that filled him as he pictured her again, crouched in the darkness of Moria, as Gandalf first revealed to Legolas her suffering in Dol Guldur. He saw again the terror in her eyes on Dol Amroth, as they gazed across Mirkwood at the pinnacle of Sauron’s lesser fortress.
She was so close! Imprisoned and suffering just over this pass! Forgetting that she might not be there, leaving all caution behind in a sudden blind urgency Legolas raced towards the path that the Orcs had taken.
Jaessa stared after him in shock for a moment, not comprehending his abrupt departure.
“Legolas!” she called urgently, “What are you doing?!” But he was too far away. That, or he chose to pay no heed. She looked after him, horrified at his rash action. It took her a moment to decide what to do. Did he mean her to stay? Did he even recall that she was there?
Just before he had fled, Jaessa had watched the strange sequence of emotions cross his face, fear, pain, horror, and blind determination, the sort that led men to run headfirst into danger, regardless of the consequences.
Men! Jaessa thought in frustration as she slowly moved to follow. She needed to think. She could not keep up with him whilst he was running. His longer legs made him much faster, and besides, she had learned long ago to think carefully before taking any action. True, on occasion it had caused more problems that it solved, but on the whole she stood by her maxim of thinking before she acted.
Legolas was not in a mood to listen to reason. Indeed she could not see that he ever was! Why, the very first moment that she saw him he had railed at her, without knowing any of the background facts!
Keep to the task at hand! She admonished herself. Now, Legolas would not be so foolhardy as to overrun the company of Orcs that had just passed, so he must be following them to wherever they are going. But where are they going? She asked pragmatically. This was once a land ruled by a king, and a king must have a castle, or a fortress to rule from. Right! They are heading towards this fortress, and Legolas will follow them to it. Then what? She pondered this for a moment. If it were she, she would go back to get the others, and discuss it, but Legolas was certainly not in the mood for that when he left her, and there was no reason for her to suppose that he would be by the time he got to the castle. So what would he do?
What would Papa do if it were Anera trapped in a dark dungeon? Her eyes widened in horror, He would go in after her!
Surely Legolas wouldn’t so foolishly jeopardize their mission! But she knew he would, people in love always seemed to do such foolhardy things. What would it be like to have someone charge in blindly to rescue me? She wondered irrelevantly as she lengthened her stride, and quickened her pace. It must be a lovely thing, if a bit frustrating.
She did not bother trying to follow his trail, she knew where he must be headed. The earth groaned beneath the feet of the Orcs, telling her without any effort on her part where they were going.
Trees sped by on either side, but not swiftly enough for Jaessa, she would never catch up with Legolas this way, not soon enough to stop him. She paused momentarily in frustration, if only his eyes had not held that wild light, she would not worry.
She leaped again into action, and her lithe, travel hardened body changed in mid-leap with only a thought. Her forelegs hit the ground, the wide soft paws silent in the underbrush. Her awareness of the sounds of the forest became clearer, and each detail of her surroundings grew sharper as her vision shifted, becoming that of a wolf. With long flowing leaps she raced through the woods, her now keen sense of smell picking up every passing scent.
She flowed from one step into the next, reveling in the power that this form gave her. She caught the faint odor of a hare that had passed by not five minutes ago. She fought for a moment the instinct to turn aside to track it down. That was the single drawback to this form. When she was a wolf she also had a wolf’s instincts. Part of her mind tried to will her body from it’s course, to follow the call of the woods, to satisfy the craving that blossomed within her. The craving for blood, for killing, for meat. She did not take this form often for that reason, that desire warred with her own basic nature, causing a rift within herself. But it was necessary for speed in this environment. Few creatures could travel as swiftly through the forest as a wolf. So, she called upon ages of practice and control to keep her wolf’s instincts in check, clearly keeping in mind the consequences if she were to submit and give in to a kill.
The pass was approaching, it was a small opening between two mountains that no doubt opened into a highland valley. She slowed her pace, testing the air for the presence of the Elf. There. He was standing tensed behind a tree, staring into the valley on the other side. This entire area stank with the foul odor of Orcs, and, to Jaessa’s surprise, the smell of the Orcs was heavily mingled with that of wolves. Did wolves serve the shadow in this world?
She could not yet see what lay in the valley, but she saw Legolas gather his body in preparation for some swift movement. Anxiously she leaped to stop him, the wolf’s growl that started in her throat changing mid-leap to a strangled cry. He whirled to look at her, then turned back again to leap towards the valley. Jaessa grabbed him, and pulled him down. He struggled against her, and they fell, rolling down the hill, luckily on the right side.
When they came to a stop Legolas struggled out of her grasp and Jaessa grabbed his arm again as he tried to rise.
“Legolas! What are you doing?” she whispered furiously, pulling him back down.
“Let go!” he whispered roughly, “The gate to the keep is open! This is my chance to get in and save Zandra!”
“Chance?” she said incredulously, having abandoned for the moment her mask of calmness. “What chance do you think you have? You have no idea what is in there! No clue what power may be behind this! You cannot see who is watching! How dare you risk yourself and everything we are working for on the off chance that Zandra might be down there!”
He opened his mouth for an angry retort, but she cut him off, angry herself, she tried as she spoke to recapture her composure. “Even if you could get in to the keep alive, do you really think that you could get far within it without detection? I have never heard of a power of evil being that blind!”
“Zandra is down there! She has to be! And I can’t just walk away from here whilst she is suffering!” Legolas cried, but Jaessa could see that he was now merely struggling against reality. He wanted so badly to be with Zandra again, to make everything right for her. Well, Jaessa could understand that.
“We don’t know that she is here.” she said quietly, and she stood, brushing dead leaves from her clothing. From over the hill they heard a loud clang as the gate to the keep shut. Legolas remained where she had pulled him, glaring up at her bitterly, disgust in his eyes, and near hatred.
“How can you be so cold about it?” he asked, “Don’t you care that your sister has spent most of the last four-thousand years languishing in darkness? She was imprisoned in the dungeons of Dol Guldur for four thousand years!” He began shouting, but then stopped, and continued in a furious whisper, “She lost everything in those years! Her memory, her identity, and in all that time did this world hear any sign of her family? No, she suffered alone. And now you want me to just walk away! What sort of sister are you?”
Jaessa stood staring at him for a long moment, fury such as she had never known constricting her throat so she could not speak. When she did it was in a voice that was truly cold. She could hear the ice dripping from each word. “Don’t I care?” she said slowly, carefully enunciating each syllable. “You say she spent those four-thousand years alone. Well, that is the life she chose, she chose to become Dae Kular. She knew what she was doing.” Her voice began to throb with suppressed emotion. “I on the other hand didn’t spend that time alone. No of course not. I just spent that entire time sitting around with my loving family surrounding me and we completely ignored the fact that my beloved younger sister was nowhere to be found!
“You say that I am cold. Well I shall tell you why that is so.” Now Jaessa’s whole body was shaking with the effort of holding in the sudden torrent of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. It was suddenly too much. Years of suppressed and controlled emotion crashed together at once. “It is because it is the only way I can survive. My life would swallow me whole if I did not stop it. I would soon be left an empty husk, dead to the world.”
She felt the bleakness coming over her as she recalled the horrors that she had experienced, the dark things that she had seen, had been unable to stop. Legolas drew back from her slightly, his expression undefinable to her, though she could tell that whatever he was thinking about her it was not pleasant.
“I have seen things that would make the most hardened warrior cry like a babe.” The tears were coursing silently down her cheeks as she spoke, her voice she knew was cold, but it was the only way she could continue, and she could not stop now.
“And after all of it, the years spent searching the darkest and most evil worlds for her, searching worlds twisted and rotten, I returned home. But I did not find the comforting shelter of my childhood. I did not find the caverns, or the glades that had been privy to my most secret pains. No, instead all I found was a blackened shell. The home I had loved crying out in anguish, not a trace of life left, and the very earth charred. It seemed to cry out in rebuke, pleading with me to heal it’s hurt, to avenge it’s wrong.” Jaessa could feel the last remnants of her control slipping, and she desperately grasped at the flailing threads of her composure, but they would not come, and the last words fell fatefully from her lips, releasing the pain that she had held pent up in the deepest shadows of her soul, the secret that not even her mother knew. “And I can’t do anything. I can’t heal it. I can’t avenge it. I am a failure!”