Galadriel had been most gracious to Mothlin, in spite of the news he brought. She had given orders for him to be given a fine room, and had had both Mothlin and Tari fed well. Standing in the middle of his room, Mothlin looked around it and sighed. He did not have his foster-father’s way with words – he had not been able to express his gratitude to Galadriel very well. He had been so embarrassed at his stammered thanks that he had not told her that he planned to leave the next night. He owed Tari at least one night of rest in a proper stable, but after that they had to press on. Cilyawen could not wait for them, and her captor most definitely would not. For the thousandth time, Mothlin wondered why she had been taken, what the Enemy could possibly still want with her after she had killed his consort and some of his Orcs and had escaped alive from Dol Guldur.
Mothlin paced his room, thinking. He had gotten a look at a small map of Middle-earth that Galadriel possessed, and had calculated his distances by that. From Lothlórien he and Tari could follow the Anduin down to the end of Mirkwood, and then venture into the forest and to Dol Guldur. The Anduin journey would take, he estimated, a week at the least, if all went well. But it surely would – it was a river, after all. There was no less straightforward method of traveling than to follow a river.
But the Mirkwood leg of the trip, now that was something entirely different. Mothlin was quite sure that King Thranduil’s palace was very beautiful and secure and all that, but that said nothing of the realm he ruled. From all reports he had heard of the great forest, it was dark and dangerous, roamed by spiders and laced with maze-like paths that one could get lost in. Mothlin was not looking forward to entering Mirkwood, and Tari would be even less enthusiastic about it. What we need, Mothlin thought, is a guide. Someone who knows Mirkwood and is not afraid of it. I wonder if an Elf here would accompany us. He would ask at the evening meal that Galadriel had asked him to come to. He devoutly hoped that no one asked him about Cilyawen. He could not go into the tale of her abduction again.
Mercifully, no one had the tactlessness to ask when he came into the hall and took his seat on Lord Celeborn’s left side. But halfway through the meal, as Mothlin was quietly scooping a few pieces of choice meat onto his plate, a female Elf seated next to him asked, “Aren’t you Lord Elrohir’s foster-son?”
“I am,” Mothlin replied, spearing the last piece he wanted and putting it onto his plate.
“Who were your parents?” asked the Elf, blinking witlessly at him.
Mothlin nearly dropped the plate of meats. He did drop his knife as he caught the plate of meat two-handed. Murmurs raced around the table, but from what few words reached Mothlin’s ears, none were derogatory comments about his lack of grace, for which he was profoundly grateful. “Alakien, be still,” Celeborn commanded, and the girl dropped her eyes sulkily to her plate. Impetuous, Mothlin thought, recognizing the meaning of her name. It suits her. He glanced thankfully at Lord Celeborn, who gave him a smile in return, but his mind was suddenly whirling with questions set off by Alakien’s thoughtless one.
Who were my parents? Mothlin racked his mind to try to remember, but he couldn’t recall a single memory that came before the night Cilyawen and Elrohir found him. The realization sent a chill through him. They said I was bruised, cut, beaten, tortured. But why? Why me, of all people the Orcs could have taken? And why in the name of all that is good can I not remember a thing from before that? I haven’t any more idea who my parents were than I have of why Sauron wants Cilyawen.
Mothlin had no more appetite that night, and he left the table early. It might have comforted him to know that as soon as he left, nearly everyone at the table began to upbraid Alakien for her thoughtlessness. Only Galadriel and Celeborn said nothing, but their eyes met across the table, eyes full of worry and fear.
The next night, as he had promised himself, Mothlin left Lothlórien. He wrote a hasty note and left it on his bed. Galadriel and Celeborn would understand why he had to leave. He told himself that over and over, like a mantra, as he made his silent way to the stables.
Tari was standing alert in her stall, as though she knew too that they were leaving. She whinnied resignedly as Mothlin lowered the saddle onto her back and strapped on his saddlebags, filled with a replenished supply of lembas and other foods. Mothlin checked to make sure his bow, quiver, and sword were secure in their bindings to the saddle, touched the belt sheaths of his twin daggers and secured them as well, then climbed onto Tari’s back. He didn’t bother trying to conceal his path – Galadriel would not send men out after him, something he was sure Elrond would have done. She might as well know where he was going.
He had studied Galadriel’s map carefully that day, and he had a fairly good idea of where the Anduin River ran by Lothlórien. He turned Tari’s head to the river, and was rewarded within a few minutes when the sound of running water reached his ears. Fifteen minutes later, when the shore of the Anduin came into sight, Mothlin sighed outright and dismounted. “We’ll both walk for now,” he told Tari quietly. “No need to hide our tracks here, and we still have a long way to go.” Tari shook her head, tossing her mane, and followed Mothlin as, with a hand on her neck, he chose a path along the bank and guided her.
They would follow the river for a week, Mothlin thought as he stepped carefully on the riverbank. Then Mirkwood. And then – he banished thoughts of fear. He would deal with Mirkwood and the Enemy when he had to, and not a moment sooner. Anticipating was fighting Sauron’s battle for him.
Sauron cursed softly, his essence drifting around the underground chamber he resided in. Snaga was proving stronger than he had thought. He had expected to shatter her shell of bravery, release her fear of him, and make her subject to his will, but she was resisting, and quite effectively, too. She was still afraid of him -he could sense that, could smell on her – but her shield was tougher than he had anticipated. And his plans would work only if she cooperated.
No matter. Sauron let go of himself – quite easy to do without a physical form – and brought his mind to his thrall. The creature was making better progress than Sauron had dared to hope. Undetected, the thrall had passed through the Elf-witch’s golden realm. He laughed to think what would happen when the thrall caught up with Snaga’s devoted foster-son.
Once the thrall arrived in the underground remains of Dol Guldur, Snaga would be forced to comply. She would have no choice. She would be faced with a decision that she would have to make the way he wanted, and then she and her foster-son would both die. At last, Sauron thought, gathering his wispy floating consciousness back below ground. This one time she will not be able to thwart me. I will see her bow at last, as she should have done years ago. I will be the victor this time, and she cannot help but bend to my wishes.
Sauron channeled his thoughts toward the thrall, burning them into his creature’s foremost thoughts. Faster. Go faster. Come to me. He felt the thrall obey. Soon. Oh, so soon, so soon he could almost taste the sweetness of victory. He laughed as best he could without a body. It was an eerie laugh that echoed down the dirt halls of Dol Guldur, and Cilyawen, huddled in her cell, clutching her tattered cloak around her for warmth, heard it and shivered, knowing it meant nothing good.
Author’s Note: I know, I know, it’s much too short, but too much happens in the next chapter for me to cram Lothlórien and all that into one chapter. Forgive? I posted the next chapter right after this one, so it should all be coming together.