Cilyawen tried to pretend that she didn’t mind the foul hands of the Orcs clutching her by her bare arms, but she did – her flesh crawled at the touch of theirs. As if I’d let them see it, though, she thought, and jerked up her chin, ignoring the sneers of her captors. Evidently Sauron had not told them she understood Black Speech – they were talking about her, not to her, and the things they called her would have guaranteed their slow, painful death had Elrohir – or for that matter, any of her family – heard them. She had the sense not to let them know she could speak fluent Black Speech. Cilyawen’s entire life had been a lesson in, among other things, the prudence of discretion and silence, so she said nothing to them, let them haul her through the underground tunnels and chambers that had been hastily dug beneath the ruins of Dol Guldur. Dug for what? Cilyawen wondered. Once the fortress was razed, I wouldn’t have thought that Sauron would come back to it. The answer came to her with unwanted swiftness. Dug for whatever purpose he brought you here for, of course. She bit her lip, forced back a shudder of fear. If I let him frighten me, his battle’s half won.
But of course she was frightened, more frightened than she had ever been in all her life – save only for her days of confinement after she had refused Sauron’s gift of a ring, Darya. Her first rebellion against him had been terrifying, but she had succeeded and escaped. Now she was back in the hands of a being who knew now exactly what she was capable of, and what she would do for freedom. There would be no surprise attacks, not this time around.
The Orcs threw her unceremoniously to the earth. Cilyawen caught her weight with her hands reflexively, as Elrohir had taught her, and rolled to her knees. From somewhere above her came a laugh. It was not a kind one. Cilyawen got to her feet and stared coldly at the place where Sauron’s being was. She had been able, long ago, to tell where he was, even though he had no body. Her old skills were, luckily, returning fast. “I would be much obliged if you would tell me what it is you plan to do with me.”
His laughter died away. “I’m sure you would. However, I don’t feel like parting with that information at the moment.”
She was so sick of his cat-and-mouse games, so sick she thought she’d choke on it. “Stop it. Just stop it. I’m not a child anymore, and I neither like nor require your games. For once in your miserable life, be forthright and tell me what I want to know.” She planted her feet firmly and waited for his answer.
When it came, the amusement had vanished from his voice. “I keep forgetting you’re not as thick-witted as you once were, Snaga. I’ll try not to make that mistake again, unless you give me reason to.” She knew better than to break in on his words – his voice was taut with anger. “But I will not tell you. It would give me great pleasure to withhold from you the thing you want so badly.” He struck her across the face – she flinched, but did not move from where she had set her feet. “Instead, Snaga, I think I will break you – slowly, excruciatingly, until you beg me for the food you require to survive.”
She laughed contemptuously. “Why are you so sure you can break me? You haven’t forgotten Darya, and your dungeons. I know you, and I know you haven’t forgotten.” She tossed her cascade of hair over her shoulder and smiled tightly, defiantly, proudly. “I resisted you once. I escaped you once. I am older now, wiser, more skilled. I can do it again.”
Cilyawen was sure she’d won, but her suspicions were confirmed when Sauron hissed, his voice throbbing with white-hot anger, “Get out, Snaga.”
“With pleasure.” She held out her arms, and the Orcs grabbed them and started to drag her away. At the entrance to the tunnel that would lead back to her dungeon, she dug in her heels, halted her captors, and looked back at Sauron. “My name,” she said calmly, “is Cilyawen.”
Mothlin and Tari made excellent time, and Mothlin was glad of it. After only a week, he thought he could hear the falls of the Nimrodel, which meant that they were close to Lothlórien. He was counting on the Golden Wood to be a stop to rest and replenish his stores of food and arrows, and the sooner they arrived there, the better. Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn would doubtless have heard of Cilyawen’s abduction, as well. They were bound to want any details Mothlin could provide.
It was with intense relief, then, that he came to the Nimrodel late that same day, and at evening stood at the edge of Lothlórien. Tari’s flanks were heaving and glistening with sweat and weariness under Mothlin’s legs – she neighed in a faint request. Mothlin quickly leaped from her back. “How selfish of me,” he whispered into Tari’s ear as he unsaddled her and rubbed the sweat off her, “to not let you rest all day!” Mothlin dropped the saddle on the ground. At the sight of the burden falling, Tari whinnied with glee and pawed the air with her front legs. “Only for a short while,” Mothlin admitted apologetically. “Then it has to go back on. But enjoy your freedom for now.” As though she could understand his words, Tari knelt and rolled onto her back, kicking her legs in the air. Mothlin shook his head at his horse’s antics and snapped off a piece of lembas. He chewed the bread thoughtfully, his mind on Lothlórien.
What would happen when he arrived? Probably word had reached Lothlórien by now that he was missing, but Elrohir would surely have explained why to Elrond. Mothlin need not worry about being summarily sent back to Rivendell. No, it was telling Galadriel and Celeborn the news that he feared. He could imagine all too well the Lady’s clear blue eyes clouding in dismay, could almost hear Lord Celeborn’s voice, trying and failing to ask questions without panic in his voice. That was an encounter Mothlin would not enjoy.
But there was nothing for it but to endure. He and Tari both needed a few days of true rest, and most of his arrows had been spent against the goblins in the Misty Mountains. Mothlin swallowed the last of the lembas section and got to his feet. “Tari!” he called. She had had only about five minutes of freedom, but Mothlin fervently wished to sleep in Lothlórien, and not on the edge of the forest, too close to Orcs and goblins.
She came, but reluctantly. Mothlin was picking up the saddle when he caught the resigned gleam in Tari’s eyes. She had done things that no Elf would ever have done for him.
Mothlin made up his mind abruptly. “Come on, girl,” he said cheerfully. “I will be the beast of burden for once.” Shouldering the saddle, he beckoned her after him. Bemused by her Elf’s odd behavior, but definitely grateful that she would not have to wear the hateful saddle for now, Tari followed him.
He could only carry the saddle so far. As soon as Mothlin’s ears picked up the sound of a stream nearby, he let the saddle slide off his shoulders and pillowed his head on it. “Sleep,” he urged Tari. She seemed willing to comply – she knelt in the autumn leaves beside Mothlin and laid her head on the ground. Mothlin reached out and stroked her back. His eyes drifted shut, and he fell asleep with his fingers playing in Tari’s mane.
He woke to soft sunlight on his face and a leaf brushing his neck. Mothlin opened his eyes slowly and stared up for a moment at the towering tops of the mallyrn, breathing in the morning air contentedly. Beneath his fingers, Tari stirred and blew out a breath.
Mothlin turned his head to look at her. “Ready to move on?” he asked, and pushed himself up from the ground. Tari clambered to her feet less willingly, and whinnied plaintively as Mothlin put the saddle on her back. “I’m sorry,” he said into her ear, stroking her mane, “but it’s only for a short while. When we come to Caras Galadhon, you can take it off. I promise.” Unconvinced but making herself believe him, Tari sighed in a long-suffering way and permitted Mothlin to mount.
Their morning ride was peaceful and silent. Mothlin closed his eyes often to listen to the quiet of the forest and to feel the sunlight on his face. Tari moved smoothly and quietly, relaxed as she had not been since they left Rivendell. As they drew deeper into Lothlórien, though, Mothlin could sense many pairs of eyes watching them – not unfriendly eyes, but not friendly either. He kept his silence, thinking it best to say nothing to alert the watchers’ suspicions. He had the sense, too, that he was expected. Otherwise Mothlin felt sure that he would have had firsthand experience with the diligence and thoroughness of Lothlórien’s wardens. Galadriel must have heard the news from Rivendell.
At last the sound of voices calling through the trees reached his ears. They were near Caras Galadhon. Mothlin patted Tari’s neck. “Soon, girl,” he told her. She seemed to take heart at her coming freedom, and her pace quickened to a trot. Sooner than Mothlin had expected – not quite midday – they came into view of Caras Galadhon. Mothlin leaped lightly from Tari’s back and led her to the first Elf he saw, a woman carefully fletching an arrow. “My lady, I come from Imladris with tidings for the Lady Galadriel. Could you tell me where I might find her?”
The woman stared at him, first in surprise, then in hope. “You come from Rivendell?” she asked, as though she hardly dared to hope it was so. “The Lady Galadriel will be most glad to hear your news, then!” She dropped the arrow she was fletching on top of a pile of arrows and beckoned. “Come. I will take you to her.” Raising her voice, she called, “Beleg, take his horse and see she is stabled!” Mothlin stroked Tari’s nose and whispered, “See? What did I tell you?” before Beleg coaxed Tari to follow him to the stables. That taken care of, Mothlin followed the woman up a set of stairs carved into an enormous mallorn.
At the top of the steps sat a woman Mothlin had never before seen in his life, but he knew who she was, and not because she was the one he was being taken to. Only a fool could have been blind to the strength and wisdom that shone from every inch of her, that gazed calmly forth from her eyes. He bowed low. “My lady Galadriel,” he said, “I am Mothlin, foster son of Elrohir Elrondion and Cilyawen Aglarfin. I come from Rivendell with news to give and a favor to ask.”
Galadriel’s voice shook just an iota when she made her reply. “I welcome you to Lothlórien, Mothlin.” She looked at the woman who had brought him and said, “My thanks to you, Calendae.” The woman curtseyed and left. As soon as Calendae had left them, Galadriel rose and walked swiftly to Mothlin, taking his hands in a grip that hurt. “Mothlin, you must tell me everything.” Mothlin could see now the iron control that the Lady had exerted over herself to not show her anxiety – up close, her entire body was trembling, and her eyes were clouded by fear. “Please.”
“May I sit?” Mothlin asked quietly. “I would rather, if I tell you this tale, to be seated.”
“Of course,” Galadriel said softly. “Of course.”
Mothlin pulled over a stool and set it in front of Galadriel’s throne. He closed his eyes for a moment to gain control of himself. His throat was closed, and he swallowed down the lump several times. Do not think of your foolishness. Think of her pain. She needs to hear this. Which is more important – your conscience, or her?
He raised his eyes from his clenched hands to Galadriel’s eyes. Taking a deep breath, he told her everything.