“They are dead.”
Lady Galadriel’s ghostly voice echoed through the silent bedchamber. The great lady was lying in her bed, her face pale, and her eyes unfocused as she stared up at the ceiling. Maida was sitting by her side, gripping her hand. Legolas and Thendril hovered nearby, while the guards stationed at the door huddled around the threshold, listening. None seemed to be able to comprehend what had just been said.
“No,” Maida replied, her voice trembling with fear. “Milady, try again. They cannot be dead.”
“They are dead,” Galadriel repeated tonelessly. She seemed unaware of what she was speaking. “The beast has claimed them.”
Maida had tears flowing freely down her ghostly pale face. Legolas gripped her shoulder, even as he exchanged a grim look with Thendril.
“The shock of the creature’s attack. . .” Maida began again, but she trailed away. The vacant expression on Galadriel’s face gave no hint of doubt. So instead, Maida gritted her teeth and bowed her head, her face strained in the effort to keep from sobbing.
There was silence for a long while. Legolas had stepped away from Maida and Galadriel, trying to force his weary brain to think of a new plan. The creature had reached the upper levels by climbing the dumbwaiter shaft—a careful inspection of the area had revealed the telltale signs of this—and now could be anywhere in the palace. There were not enough guards now to keep the stairways under observation. And they could not risk another disaster like that of the first hunt.
His people were prisoners, trapped within their own home. Besieged by a terrible, completely unfamiliar tyrant. Massively powerful. Seemingly indestructible. If a whole battalion of the best warriors in Mirkwood could not subdue it, what other option was there? What if. . .
“Legolas? We should get back to the throne room.”
Legolas turned. It was Thendril who had spoken. He was gripping Maida’s shoulder now, but his gaze was fixed upon him. After a moment, Legolas nodded.
“Lady Galadriel?” Maida asked, taking the hint. “Milady, can you stand?”
Galadriel’s glazed eyes shifted slightly, but for a moment, Legolas was not sure of she had heard Maida. However, after a minute or so, she blinked and slowly sat up. Maida gripped the lady’s arm and helped her to stand. Legolas was relieved to see that Galadriel was acceptably steady on her feet.
The journey to the throne room was one of great tension and many hesitations. Galadriel moved steadily, but her grip on Maida’s arm and shoulder was visibly firm. The guards flanked them on all sides, and at every junction of the corridors they were forced to stop and wait while their path was thoroughly checked.
However, in the end, the journey was uneventful. Legolas looked around the crowded throne room, seeing countless frightened gazes staring back. However, none offered any questions. All seemed to have guessed the fate that had befallen Galadriel’s maids.
Galadriel did not speak as Maida assisted her to where Thranduil still lay. Legolas followed, his eyes upon his mother as she looked up to watch them approach. Her skin was pale grey, her gaze dull and drained. Maida moved away to fetch a chair for Galadriel, but before she could return with one, the Lady had settled on the floor by Amalindë’s side and rested a slightly shaking hand upon her shoulder.
This act seemed to drive the true extent of the situation to heart. For the first time in hours, Legolas felt his mind clear. Ever since the terror had begun, he had simply followed commands, waited for those of higher rank to make the next decision. When Thranduil had fallen, his expectations had turned to Galadriel and her Marchwardens. But Galadriel was clearly showing, by her humbled behavior, that she had no advice to offer. And the only Marchwardens in any decent shape, Thendril and Rumil, were now gazing at him in expectation. Legolas sighed, and slowly turned to face the crowd.
“We are in trouble,” he said, his voice far more firm than he had expected. Instantly, complete silence settled in the room. “I cannot deny that we are facing a creature the likes of which none of us have ever seen before. And we have paid for our lack of knowledge. Mandos comforts many of our loved ones tonight.”
Soft sniffles and muffled sobs reached him, but otherwise, nobody spoke. Legolas cast his gaze among them slowly, recognizing so many faces. They were his people, his family. He knew he had to do something. But what?
His mind was racing, but nothing was coming to him. Legolas turned his gaze upward, his eyes following the support beams that held the roof. They crossed intricately over the slightly domed structure, culminating in a gilded iron chandelier that supported the weight of over fifty brightly burning candles and required the strength of three to lower and raise it in the evenings. And along the bottom, a decorative ring of spear-like points, worked into the shape of dragon teeth.
“Not all hope is lost,” he declared suddenly, turning his gaze back to the crowd. His voice was stronger now. “This is our home. We know it best. This beast is a stranger to our lands, and we will not let it conquer us. If we cannot beat it in strength, then we will outfox it. We will set a trap, and crush it!” He turned to Thendril and Rumil. “Like the parasite it is.”
It was an idea that was unfolding itself in his mind, becoming clearer with each glance he made towards the ceiling. Yes, the chandelier would work, but it alone would not be enough. The creature was too fast, it could avoid it. But if a wider area around it could be involved. . .but what about the crowd? The populace had to be relocated. The forest. . .of course, the forest. His people were just as much at home among the trees as they were here in the palace.
“What would you have us do, Prince Legolas?” Thendril suddenly said. Legolas turned to see that he and Rumil were approaching.
And so it started. The general atmosphere in the throne room seemed to brighten a little as Legolas and the Marchwardens organized the remaining guards, laying out plans for the evacuation into the forest and the preparations to set Legolas’ idea into motion. If he had been willing to acknowledge it, he would have noted that morning had dawned at last. And perhaps that too was aiding in the slow lifting of the gloom. No situation could seem quite so grim in the gentle caresses of the early morning sun.
And, at long last, a blessing.
“If we attempt another large hunt, I fear another slaughter,” Legolas explained kneeling by Thranduil’s side. The Elf-king, though clearly in pain and not yet able to stand, was nevertheless listening closely. “A trap is our best option.”
“Years of our people’s labor went into this room, and you wish to bring it down in a matter of minutes.” Thranduil nodded his approval. “I can think of no better place in the palace to do so.” He glanced around the room, which was now bustling with activity. “But what about our people?”
“Rumil will oversee their passage into the forest,” Thendril said. “The wounded will continue to be cared for once they have been moved to safety.”
“And how do you plan to trigger the trap?”
“The supports are going to be weakened from above,” Legolas explained. “Two of the carpenters who had started repairs on the tree damage are going to supervise it. They have a pretty fair idea of how it is going to come down.”
“But what about the beast?”
It was Maida who had spoken. She had taken over monitoring Haldir’s wound, which had finally stopped bleeding. There was an expression of worry and confusion on her face.
“What if all of this activity attracts it?” she continued. “How can we be sure it will be here at the right time?”
Legolas and Thendril exchanged a grim look. They had argued this matter thoroughly. The danger involved in what had to be done was unfathomable, but what plans they had been able to put together would fail without the critical knowledge that was the creature’s current whereabouts.
“Thendril and I will seek it out,” Legolas said finally. “Keep it at bay until the trap is set and everyone is safe, and then lure it in.”
Maida had jumped to her feet. She was gazing fiercely at him, and after a moment she approached. However, he did note that it was Thendril she reached out and grasped. Nearby, Amalindë, whom Galadriel had gently led away when Legolas and Thranduil had started discussing plans, was staring at him with a look of absolute terror upon her pale face.
“We cannot. . .” Legolas began, but Maida cut him off.
“You cannot use yourselves as bait!” she hissed. “What if it catches you by surprise? What if you cannot run fast enough to lure it here? I thought the point of destroying this room was to kill it, not give it a chance to kill you!”
Silence had fallen in the throne room once more. Maida seemed not to care that she was causing a scene. Thendril suddenly put his arms around the she-Elf, whispering something in her ear that Legolas could not hear. It did not seem to make her feel any better, but she did not say anything more. Thranduil suddenly, and with difficulty, sat up, grimacing in pain as he did so.
“Maida, they will do what must be done,” he said firmly. “I have faith that Legolas and Marchwarden Thendril will keep each other out of danger.” He beckoned to her. “To my side, my dear. It is time to move our people to the forest.”
Maida stepped away from Thendril and started approaching the Elf-king, but before she had taken more than a few steps forward, she abruptly cried out and fell to her knees, clutching her forehead. Galadriel staggered, but Amalindë was able to brace her and keep her upright. Legolas knelt by Maida’s side while Thendril hurried to help the Lady.
“What is it?” Legolas demanded. “Is it the creature again?”
“It. . is Aliana!” Maida gasped. Her eyes were wide, her face a mask of absolute shock and horror. “She is calling for help.”
Now it was Legolas who was shocked. He turned towards Galadriel, who was approaching them with a look of fury upon her face. Despite himself, Legolas took a small step backward.
“I can sense it,” she said, her voice more firm and clear than it had been in hours. “It is with her, forcing her to call to us.” She suddenly gasped and bent over slightly, and Maida gave a high pitched yelp. “It wants us to save her.”
“That monster set its own trap,” Maida wheezed, her voice pained. “Wh. . .what are we going to do?”
“Exactly what it wants,” Legolas replied. Everyone stared at him. “The creature just solved half of our problem for us.” He turned to the crowd. “Start moving out! We need this room cleared now!”
Legolas turned back to Thranduil, casting his gaze among the others before saying, grimly:
“Now we know exactly where it is.”
* * * * * *
The warrior was starting to grow impatient. It had been hours since it had first started making its prisoner cry for help. And save for the dim responses from the more powerful ones that showed they had heard the call there had been nothing. No sounds of approaching enemies echoing down the corridor, no clanking of weapons.
The warrior was ready to fight. It was healed, rested, and at full strength. It was ready for blood. And it knew the wisest course of action would be to wait, to have patience. But the longer it waited, the more times it forced its victim to scream, the harder both tasks became. The warrior was not sure if the trembling little creature was dying, but each time it probed into its mind, there was less there than before. And patience. . .had it brothers and sisters, the wait would have been easier to bear. Soft, constant whispers of reassurance and praise was something the warrior was very nearly desperate for. It wanted something to tell it that it was doing a good job.
A soft sound echoed outside the partially open door. The warrior froze and turned, hissing quietly. Finally, finally there was something coming towards the room. At last it would have its revenge for the injuries it had suffered, for the indignity of being born into a world without the love of its own kind, a love that it knew instinctively should be there.
The prey was lying right beneath the wide hole in the ceiling. Quickly, the warrior climbed up to the hole and out into the bright warm world above. Here, it would wait and listen for the enemy to appear, to enter the room and claim back the prey it had taken. Perhaps it might even see the body of the other, lying broken against one wall.
Strange sounds echoed through the air, momentarily distracting the warrior. It was echoing in the sea of green beyond, strange and unfamiliar. A little like the rustling of the leaves, but louder. The warrior hissed, lashing its tail from side to side out of habit. And then it felt something strike its chest.
Up until that moment, the warrior had not noticed that its distraction had left its head and chest visible to anyone looking up from below. But now, as it turned its attention back downward, it saw the enemy staring back. A single enemy, holding a weapon aimed straight at it. The prey lay trembling at the enemy’s feet.
“Not paying attention? You have a lot more to learn about setting traps if this is the best you can do.”
The warrior had no comprehension of the real meaning of the sounds the enemy was making. Nevertheless, it recognized that it was being mocked. Instantly it was filled with a cold fury. Screaming in rage, the warrior leapt downward, lunging for the armed enemy. It expected the enemy to use its weapon, but instead it turned and ran. Enraged by the enemy’s cowardice, the warrior gave chase. Only barely did the enemy manage to avoid the warrior’s talons as it raced out the door and down the corridor.
The enemy ran fast. But the warrior ran faster. And there was nothing in the corridor to impeded the warrior’s strides. It could sense the enemy’s growing fear, could just barely reach it. It roared once more, lunged forward, reached out its taloned hands. . .
And then the enemy turned, twisting sharply to the left down a side passage. The warrior’s momentum could not allow it to turn as quickly, and it overshot with a scream of fury. It attempted to lash at the enemy with its tail as it passed, but the enemy ducked the blow. The warrior slowed and twisted its body around. It was not going to miss this time. . .
A fiery pain erupted from the warrior’s shoulder. It screamed and twisted back around, seeing another enemy aiming a weapon. An arrow had struck it in the crack between its shoulder and back armor plates, and the pain was sharp. The warrior lashed its tail, taking a sizeable chunk out of the wall beside it. It lunged for the new threat, the one who had caused it pain. Talons raked long gashes in the enemy’s forearm, but it slipped away before the warrior could gain a hold. The warrior collided with the other wall, sending something hanging above down upon its head and back. The warrior shrieked, shaking itself free of the wood and canvas debris. The enemy was running away again, but the fury was absolute. It charged onward.
They were entering an area the warrior had not been in before. Far ahead, a double set of doors stood partially open, revealing a glimpse of a much larger room. The scent of the enemy was pungent here, but the warrior was not concerned. It could not sense any others around. The enemy that had hurt it was alone. And a one single prey-thing had no hope of defeating it.
The enemy had already disappeared through the doors when the warrior reached it. It charged through, breaking one off its hinges with a crash. The other door it smashed to splinters with one strike of its tail. The warrior raised itself to its full height, its roar echoing thunderously through the wide chamber. The enemy was standing in the middle of the empty floor, its weapon at its side. The warrior stopped, confused. Was it not even going to try to defend itself?
For several minutes, the warrior and the prey stood facing each other. Never once did the enemy break its stare, and the warrior, confused by the new situation, did not immediately strike. It stood, tail swaying back and forth, hissing and thinking. There was a threat here, a significant one. But it could not figure out why.
A hissing sound suddenly echoed. The wound from the arrow was bleeding, and a single drop of its own thick yellow blood had fallen to the floor. Where it fell, it began to dissolve the smooth surface. The warrior had always instinctively known this quality of its blood, but from the look on the enemy’s face, it did not. The enemy was distracted by the sight of the blood eating the floor away.
And the warrior charged, jaws opened wide, muscled second mouth ready to strike. The enemy gave a shout, stumbling backwards. A loud snapping crash echoed somewhere above, but the warrior paid it no heed. Long black talons at last grabbed hold of the enemy’s bloody arm, pulling it in reach of its open maw.
And then, there was pain the likes of which it had never felt before. The warrior screamed as something massive struck it from above, the weight so great that its legs crumpled. Spikes along the bottom of the great metal object had broken through its armor, ensnared its torso, crushed it against the floor. The warrior screamed again. More debris was raining down on it now, the mass of the roof above tumbling down on top of it. For a moment, it glimpsed the bright sky, and then it was buried.
Pain, suffocating weight, the crashing of more and more debris, armor cracking under the massive strain.
And then darkness. Nothing but silent darkness.