Author’s Note: All I can do is apologize again and again to anyone who’s been waiting all this time for me to post more of this story. A lot of things were happening, both technical and personal, and I can only apologize (a lot of times) and beg your forgiveness – and also promise that THIS time, I will post the next chapter MUCH faster!
The door of her cell clanked open. Cilyawen looked up wearily, her eyesight clouded with exhaustion, at the Orc who stood over her. “What now?” she asked, her voice hoarse from too many screaming nightmares.
The Orc laughed. It was an unpleasant sound no matter how many times she heard it. “Get up, Elf-brat,” he jeered. “He wants to see you. Now.”
Slowly, with every muscle in her body screaming, Cilyawen levered herself to her feet. “He will win nothing from me,” she said with a bravery she didn’t feel. The Orc grabbed her arm, hauling her out of the cell. He pushed her down the hall before him, and only Sauron’s command that she be fed and kept healthy prevented him from licking her heels with the whip he carried. For her part, Cilyawen recalled all too well Shaglush’s skill with his whip, and stayed well ahead of the Orc.
I lied, she thought miserably. Walking swiftly down the halls made her head ache – she tried to massage away the pain. He’s won. I tried, for as long as I could, but he’s too strong, and my memories are too clear. I will give in this time, and we will all be lost. Forgive me…I have failed.
She did not even have the strength to weep at the thought.
Where now? Mothlin asked his disembodied guide. Tell me where to go!
He stood at a fork in the path. One way was barred by interlaced hedges, and the other way was clear but narrow and dark. Tell me! he demanded.
The voice did not hesitate. Through the hedges, it ordered. Obediently Mothlin drew his sword and started hacking his way through the plants. They were stubborn, and his sword was too long for such close work. Just shove your way through! cried the voice. It will take less time than this mindless chopping!
Mothlin sheathed his sword and grasped a branch in each hand, shoving them out of the way to make a path for his passage. And then where? Mothlin asked.
I will tell you, breathed the voice. Onward, and swiftly!
Elenanar urged Tari blindly on, choking on her own tears. It’s a good thing the horse can see where we’re going, she thought miserably. Otherwise I’d just run us into a low tree branch, or something like it. But however obscured her vision was, her mind’s eye was as clear as glass. Mothlin’s face swam before it in every expression she had known it – open in laughter, twisted in pain, clouded with doubt, relaxed, cheerful, worried – and so close to her own face that it made the tears come faster.
“Mothlin -” she whispered, so softly that even she couldn’t hear it. Let it go, then, she thought. Let it go…
But Tari slowed under her, and whickered at the mention of Mothlin’s name.
Elenanar stared at the horse and pulled her to a stop. “Don’t,” she cautioned, her voice thick with weeping. “Don’t lecture me. It was the right thing to do, wasn’t it?” But how could it have been the right thing if it leaves me feeling like half of myself? She leaped off Tari’s back and threw her head up to the small glimpse of sky that the closely-grown trees allowed her. “Was it the right thing to do?” she cried. “Was it?” The silence of the forest was implacable. The tears welled again in her eyes.
“Tell me!” she screamed. “Somebody tell me!”
Then it was very quiet in the forest.
Elenanar gasped once, a choked sob of a gasp, and whirled around to grab Tari’s mane and cry into it. The mare butted her face gently. “Mothlin,” Elenanar whispered, “Mothlin, Mothlin, forgive me.” How can you imagine I would do it? How could you even think of going in there without someone to protect you?
How could I ever dream of leaving you to face that by yourself?
Elenanar raised her face and wiped it with the back of her hand. Tari looked back at her, her deep brown eyes quiet and trusting. “Come on, girl,” she whispered softly, and mounted up. “Let’s go save him.”
She wheeled the horse around and headed for Dol Guldur as fast as Tari could run.
Stop! ordered the voice. Mothlin grabbed at a branch to halt his progress and winced as it rubbed roughly against the cuts in his palm he’d gotten from fighting his way through the tangled hedges.
Where? was all he asked, breathing deeply. His chest felt tight and painful from a shortage of breath.
Wait. The voice seemed to settle in his head. It sounded satisfied now, and content, as if a mission had been fulfilled.
Mothlin never thought to ask it what its mission was, or where it had come from. He hunkered down to rest his legs instead. He also never thought to wonder about the utter emptiness of his mind.
Then the voice stirred to urgent life within him. Stand! it commanded. Get on your feet, now! Mothlin’s aching muscles protested the order, but the voice snarled, Get up! and Mothlin obeyed, unfolding his screaming legs.
From somewhere behind him he heard a voice cry in a strange, guttural tongue. Mothlin whirled around, and his heart stopped on seeing two Orcs racing at him. What have you done to me? he demanded of the voice, but it was silent.
He tried to run, to make his stiff muscles move, but they too betrayed him, and he collapsed back on the ground. No use going for the sword, he thought. They’ll only kill me faster if I do. He heard their crashing footsteps slam into the earth. Cilyawen…I tried… he thought. Elenanar…
In her weakened state, Sauron’s presence hit her like a blow to the jaw. Cilyawen staggered into the room. “Why is she so weak?” Sauron demanded angrily. She felt his presence hover over her, and she shuddered uncontrollably at the coldness that followed in his wake. She did not hear the Orc’s reply, only his anguished scream as Sauron punished him.
Sauron moved away from her a little, and her shivering stopped. Sweat lay thick on her forehead. “What do you want from me, Sauron?” she asked, her voice a mere croak now.
“So, the Elfling slave wants to bargain now, eh?” he mocked. “Snaga, I offer terms to no one I have already defeated.” She felt his unreal hand slide gently down her face, and she rolled her head away, too weak to do anything else, even deny the name he gave her. “You are mine, Snaga, and you know it. Mine, and you will do anything in your power that I command you.”
“No,” she rasped, and knew it for a lie. But it was unthinkable to agree – after so long a fight, to give in to him. She had to hold it off as long as she could, had to refuse as many times so that her inevitable betrayal wouldn’t seem quite as bad.
“Oh, but I think I have something that will make you dance to my command,” Sauron remarked maliciously. “Something you value – something that will put life into that weary body of yours.”
She would have had to be deaf to have not noticed how eagerly his voice caressed the word “body.” Is that your game, then? Cilyawen thought, palely amused. Is that why you hate everything? It was your own fault, you know, that you lost the first body you had. Do you find it hard, now, to live with the consequences of your actions?
“I can read your thoughts, Snaga,” he snarled, “and I do not like them.”
“Oh – really?” she managed, forcing herself up to her knees and pushing back until she was propped against the chamber wall. “I’m astonished.”
She knew he would not strike her – he needed her as strong as she could be. Still she could not help but flinch and cover her face as she felt his blow rush at her like waves to the shore, and could not have stifled the small cry that escaped her when he checked the blow any more than she could have climbed on the stars to the moon. Cilyawen heard him laugh, and she covered her ears and shrank against the wall. Make him stop, she pleaded to anyone who might be listening, I’ll do anything, but make him stop laughing!
“Oh, you will,” he said. “You will do a great many things before I stop laughing.” He moved to the door and gave some orders in a low voice she could not hear before he drifted back to the center of the room. Cilyawen could feel his eyes on her, and she ducked her head in a futile effort to shield herself once more from him.
The door opened, and she raised her head and saw the last person she would have expected to see standing before her. Bedraggled, his hands torn and his clothes in shreds and his eyes darker and more haunted than she would have believed possible in anyone but herself, but still Mothlin. She gave a cry and came laboriously to her feet, the sight of him lending her weary limbs strength, and he met her halfway and clung to her as he had the night she found him and roused him from his nightmares. “Naneth,” she heard him murmur, and tears sprang to her eyes at the word.
Then Sauron laughed, and all her agony returned. “How touching,” he said, chuckling. “Snaga, meet my thrall.”
It was then that Cilyawen knew the darkness of perfect despair.