The cool breeze of invisibility brushed Arias’ golden-waved hair around her face. The darkness glowed with an eerie, harsh light. The choked sobs grew louder as Arias walked calmly down the bleak corridor of dungeon doors. Finally, she came to a dark door on the left with chains on the lock. Arias pressed her ear to the door.
“Leave me be! I do not know!”
Aewen’s voice was wild and desperate, unlike Arias had ever heard her speak before. The voice wrenched her heart and made her catch her breath before stretching out her hands in front of her. She felt the door and whispered the same ancient chant that opened the accursed doors of this place. With a creak and a groan, the door opened and Arias stepped inside the dampness of Aewen’s cell.
A figure was curled in a corner looking as if it was trying to sink into the floor. Arias took a step forward and noticed liquid on the floor. Taking a closer look, she realized that it was blood. Arias was beside herself. This could
not be Aewen. Not this broken, terrified creature that lay before her. But it was Aewen’s voice that begged and pleaded, “Leave me, demon! Mercy! Mercy!”
This didn’t seem possible. Aewen never begged for mercy; Aewen fought till her enemy surrendered or died. Aewen was a conqueror, not a surrenderer.
“Aewen,” Arias whispered, taking off her hood, “it’s me. Arias.”
Aewen could hardly believe what she was hearing. That voice. She had prayed for that voice every day. Though it sent shooting pains through her, she rolled over. Arias
was standing in the dim light from the doorway. Aewen’s voice caught in her throat:
“Arias?” she asked. “Is it really you?” Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. “Arias! I thought you’d never come! I thought you’d never find me and leave me here to die!” and with that, she burst into sobs again.
Arias knelt by her friend’s side.
“I did not know you were peril,” she said. “You are always about; I thought you were only on one of your Wanderings. I knew nothing of this until the High Council informed me you were missing. Please hold your noise.” Aewen calmed down a little.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve just been so afraid. You have no idea–” A dark look crossed her face. “No idea,” she mumbled. Then for a moment, she looked like a child without a mother, lost and alone. Then, it changed completely.
“You have to go! Now! He’ll come! He’ll find you! He’ll get you, too! He can’t…He can’t….” Her voice trailed off. Arias was genuinely worried now. What had happened to her? She wasn’t sure what to say; she had never seen Aewen so terrified in her life. Something awful must had been done to her. But something more weighed on her mind: what she had heard when she and the hobbits were attacked by orcs. “Find the Halflings!”
“Aewen, does…do they want…would these people be wanting halflings, by chance?” Arias inquired. Aewen caught her breath in her throat.
“They mustn’t get them–never,” Aewen choked. What is going on? Arias wondered.
“Wait here, Aewen,” she said. “I will return for you.”
“But where are you going?” Aewen asked.
“To save some hobbits,” Arias replied, throwing her hood on. Aewen didn’t even ask questions.
Arias stepped out into the hall and closed Aewen’s cell door till it was open merely a jar. Much to her surprise, there lay an orc sword by the door.
Fancy, this’ll be like those storybooks, Arias thought, We’ll find weapons in ideal places.
* * *
Merry and Pippin were left in utter darkness. Their cell was dark and dank and smelled of something dead. Merry didn’t have the stomach to think of what, though.
“Well, this is a fix, Pip!” he said.
“Aye,” Pippin answered, “I’m not too fond of orcs myself.”
“Me either,” Merry agreed. “It’s beginning to seem like every bloody orc in Middle-earth is after us! What we ever do to them?”
“Odd, isn’t it?” Pippin said. “Even after King Aragorn drove them all out, too.” Pippin stopped short, realizing the sense and irony in what he had just said. Indeed, if all the orcs had been driven north, then why in the Lady’s name were there orcs here? Merry stared in his direction for a moment, not saying anything. This was odd, odd beyond comprehension.
“I do hope Lady Arias is all right,” Merry said, a moment later, hoping to change the subject. “I didn’t see what happened to her.”
“Niether did I,” Pippin replied to Merry. “Do you think Aewen is really here?”
“I don’t rightly know,” Merry said, “but I’m beginning to wish we hadn’t come.”
“I’m beginning to realize why hobbits don’t go on adventures,” Pippin said.
“Oh, how’s that?” Merry asked.
“Because we’re too small and we just end up a bother.”
“Aye, but we keep the life in things,” Merry said. “Think how boring it would be for Arias if she didn’t have you to beg for food every minute and a half.”
Pippin just grinned. “I suppose so.”
* * *
Arias stumbled along with the heavy sword banging her knees. Orc swords were so much heavier than elven swords! Thoughts, fears, and questions swirled through her mind as she tried to concentrate on finding Merry and Pippin. But her thoughts kept returning to Aewen. She just seemed so…helpless. Not at all like the Aewen she knew.
Absorbed in her thoughts, she did not see the dark form sneak up behind her. The orc guard raised his sword, ready to strike. But Aewen saw it coming.
“Arias! Look out!” She ran down the hall and hurled herself into Arias, knocking her out of the orc’s path.
Grabbing Arias’ sword, she ran the orc through with one clean stroke. Then she stood, blinking in the sudden light. When she looked down at Arias, she realized what she had done. She covered her face with her hands and sunk to the floor, letting her brown hair fall around her. “Oh no,” she groaned. But Arias had seen.
“Aewen.” Her voice was grave. “What have they done?” Aewen kept her face covered and cowered out of sight. Arias could see the mangled scars on her wrists and hands. She pulled Aewen’s hands from her face, and caught her breath. Aewen’s skin was greenish, her lips were swollen and pierced with numerous gold rings, her nose bridge was pierced all the way up, and her face was ridged and hard. She was being turned into an orc.
There were stories about such things, for that’s what orcs were: elves that had been mutilated and tortured. Then brainwashed. Aewen looked like a cross between the Aewen Arias had once known and a common orc. Aewen’s eyes were brimming.
“I-I would have spared you the sight…” She faltered. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” She burst out crying, harder than Arias had ever seen. Aewen rarely cried, and when she did, it was noble and withdrawn. This was unbelievable. Still muttering apologies(but for what? Arias wondered), Aewen’s words became slurred. Arias thought she heard the words “monster” and “leave-me-here-to-die”. Arias reached for her friend’s hand, but Aewen drew away.
“No!” she sobbed. “Not worthy…monster.” Arias touched her finger tips to Aewen’s swollen lips, gently silencing her.
“All hope is not lost,”she said, quietly. “You are not beyond cure. Go back to your cell. I must find my hobbits. I will return for you.” Aewen nodded and turned to stumble back to her cell, but she turned and added:
“I’m glad you’re here.”