Sauron knelt beside the crumpled elf-woman. A soft, deceivingly tender smile curled his lips as he admired the red blossom of blood staining her chest. The fabric of her dress was burned, and thin wisps of steam rose from it. It had been his fiery sword that had struck her from her sweet Fëanor in the realm of dreams, and he looked upon his handiwork with pride. His master would be so pleased.
“Enwina,” he barked.
The old seer shuffled up, her rags trailing in the filth. “Aye, master? Enwina is willing to serve, always she is ready – “
“Silence, imbecile,” Sauron snapped. “Let the word go out that Leoselde, shadow-girl, has been killed. Use whatever magic you deem necessary, but let it be known. Otherwise, I will tell Master, and you do know what happens to those he displeases – “
Enwina’s pale eyes widened. Sauron suspected that the memory of fire and hot steel was still fresh in her mind, and he threw a look of daggers after her as she shuffled away as fast as she could.
Then, he lifted Leoselde’s fragile form and carried her off to a smaller, danker dungeon. A bed of steel lay there.
Sauron slammed her body onto it, and watched with gruesome pleasure as her head flopped limply. He crossed the room and, turning his back to her, mixed several potent compounds into a black brew that hissed, sputtered, and gave off a vile stench. Sauron breathed in the noxious fumes and smiled.
He crossed the room, forced Leoselde’s jaw open, and dumped the mixture into her mouth.
Immediately, she convulsed, as if her limbs were suspended on strings, and a high, sharp keening echoed from her throat. Her eyes opened, the pupils rolled back in her head, and her pale hands tore fruitlessly at the sky. Her silver hair rose of its own accord about her, and a ghastly, terrible light surrounded her face.
“My little ghost,” Sauron whispered in pleasure. He watched as Leoselde drifted to one side of the room, her eyes horribly blank, and gripped a bar of her prison. One slender arm snaked through the cage and searched, the fingers hanging limp as the palm moved. It was a horrible, unsettling sight, and one that Sauron relished.
“You will be pleased, Melkor,” he said quietly.
“You dare speak my name?” came a cold voice from behind him.
Concealing his surprise with an effort, Sauron turned to face his Master. The exiled Valar wore a cloak of black over his robes, and his skin was an unhealthy fish-belly white in the dim light from the lamp hanging far overhead. His eyes, red and cruel, surveyed the scene before him without emotion, and one hand rested delicately on the hilt of his sword, which he had not used in a millennium.
“Melkor,” Sauron said in awe.
“Morgoth,” his Master snapped back. With no further words, he crossed the room, straight to Leoselde, as she stared vacantly into the empty halls beyond.
“Greetings, fair one,” Morgoth said, running one long claw along the skin of Leoselde’s neck. His tone was that of poisoned honey, deceptively sweet. “You have come, Ardelen. I must admit that you are a sight for one long deprived of the pleasures of female beauty. Ever since I was exiled from Valinor.” His mouth twisted.
Leoselde said nothing, staring at him without emotion.
“Ah, so you have given her the potion?” Morgoth said quietly. There was a dangerous edge to his soft voice.
“Yes, Master. Only as you or – “
“I remember very well what I ordered,” Morgoth said, and the menace of his voice was enough to make even Sauron cringe slightly. “However, I do seem to recall that I asked you to make sure that Fëanor reached Tol-in-Gaurhoth safely. Instead, you had that meddlesome witch summon a snowstorm.”
“I am sorry, Mas – ” Sauron began.
A hand of iron gripped him about the throat. He choked, and flecks of light swam before his eyes as the cruel grip tightened.
“Did I ask for apologies?”
“No, Master,” Sauron croaked.
“What did I ask for?” Morgoth’s voice was mercilessly soft.
“You asked for Fëanor – to – reach – Tol-in-Gaurhoth safely,” Sauron forced out. His blood was pounding in his head, and it was getting hard to make out shapes and forms clearly. His lungs screamed for air.
“And are you capable of that?” He had never heard such venom in a voice before.
“Then do it.” The hand released him, and Sauron toppled to the floor, sucking in grateful breaths of air. He immediately leapt to his feet again, trying not to lose any of his dignity before his master, and hurried off.
“Enwina!” he snarled.
“What, master?” Enwina came up to him, her wide eyes lamplike in the encroaching darkness.
Sauron seized her and threw her against a wall. “Lift that snowstorm spell, now!” he barked. “My master says that you will, and you will, or you will be in for another session in his torture chambers.”
Enwina quickly pulled a silver wand from beneath her filthy robes. It was stained black with the passing of time, and on its tip was the shape of a serpent with emerald eyes and tongue. Closing her eyes, she began to move the wand.
A second later, she opened her eyes, and her thin, colorless tongue lashed her lips like a snake. She smiled up at him, revealing her mouth full of broken teeth, and tucked the silver wand away again. “It is done.”
When Fëanor awoke, he thought to himself that he was lying in a nest of warm darkness. He could feel liquid running down his arm, and thought that he was lying beneath a waterfall. He could even hear the soft roaring. He could not see, he could only feel, and react. He was much like a wild creature, and he made soft, guttural noises as he scrabbled around on the hard ground. He seemed to be trapped behind the waterfall.
As he came slowly back to himself, he felt a burning pain in his chest, at the place where the liquid stemmed from. He put a hand up, searching for the point where the pain came from, and touched a crusted, gaping hole in his flesh. Trickles of warm fluid slid over his flesh.
Fëanor brought his hand to his mouth to taste it, and immediately spat out the coppery, bitter liquid. That answered one question. It was blood.
That raised a host of new questions. Why was he bleeding, and why could he not see? Where had the cold of the snowstorm gone, and why was he not dead, safely ensconced in the lofty halls of Mandos? Fëanor thought his mind would explode with questions.
He touched his eyes. They were open, and for a dreadful moment, Fëanor thought that he had been struck blind. But then, he slowly made out the shape of the fallen tree, and in the sky above him, the cold light of the stars. It was night.
Fëanor moved, and felt his body cry out in pain at the action. He hissed and instinctively curled into a ball. He waited out the agony, feeling his eyes tear up, then sat up again, more slowly, and rose as carefully as he dared.
Nerdanel was lying near him. As far as Fëanor could tell with his maltreated eyes, she was all right. She lay in a spreading pool of water. After a moment’s thought, he realized that it was the melted ice from her dress.
Fëanor climbed laboriously out from beneath the hollow. All traces of the snowstorm had vanished, as if it had never been. The Moon had waned fully, and was not in the sky. The stars shone hard and sharp above him, and Fëanor could now see that they had taken refuge in a desolate rock field. Far to the north, he could just make out the shapes of shadowed mountains.
“Where are we?” Fëanor whispered, forcing his broken lips to form the words.
He looked back into the cave and saw Silmelindo watching him. His stallion whickered and stamped a hoof insistently, and Fëanor felt a tired smile spread across his face.
A sudden wave of dizziness overtook him, and Fëanor looked down to see that the wound in his chest – which looked oddly as if a sword had stabbed him – was still pulsing blood.
He pressed an unsteady hand across the wound and staggered back to the shelter, where he searched for something, anything, to cease the flow. Silmelindo watched him with calm eyes, and Fëanor saw that Nerdanel’s makeshift bandage had stopped the worst of the bleeding from the stallion’s cut.
Nerdanel awoke with a gasp, and in the night Fëanor thought that her golden hair spread around her head like a halo. Seeing Fëanor slumped against the wall of the cave, she crawled over to him and pried his hand away from the wound. Her brow furrowed at what she saw.
“Fëanor, how did you get this?” she asked.
“I – I do not remember,” Fëanor said. “Or what I do remember is scattered and broken. I seem to think that I saw Leoselde, beckoning to me – and I reached for her – and a sword of flames broke us apart. I saw her wither and fade, and I reached – for – her – but she was – gone.” He was gasping heavily, and his face was pale as more scarlet trails of blood leaked between his fingers.
Nerdanel looked out at the clear sky, at Silmelindo, then back at Fëanor. “We could continue,” she said. “If you could.”
“I would take – much worse – for Leoselde’s sake,” Fëanor insisted stubbornly.
“If you are sure,” Nerdanel said worriedly, as she ripped the hem of her dress again for a long piece of cloth. She wound it about Fëanor’s wound, but immediately the gray fabric became soaked with crimson. He reeled as she helped him to his feet. With a worried glance at Silmelindo, Nerdanel led the horse out into the field of rocks.
“I won’t ride you yet,” she whispered, “but I think I know where the path begins again.”
Silmelindo whickered, and nudged her face with his nose. She patted the faithful stallion’s neck, then waited for Fëanor to catch up with her. Beneath the star-flecked blackness, Nerdanel carefully negotiated her way through the uneven rubble field, Silmelindo a quiet presence at her side as she held his reins in her hands, Fëanor stumbling behind.
Soon, they reached the narrow road that they had been taking before the snowstorm had blown up. Silmelindo bumped Nerdanel’s side, and she nodded. Taking a handful of his thick, mist-gray mane in hand, she lifted herself onto his back, then reached down to help Fëanor. As soon as he had been settled in the saddle, Nerdanel reached for the reins, but it turned out that she did not need to. Silmelindo set off at a canter.
As the night wore on, Fëanor grew more and more unresponsive, and a flame of worry grew in Nerdanel’s heart. Obviously, the wound was more severe than Fëanor pretended, and although she was not sure how he had gotten it, she suspected that it had been the work of the Black One.
At last, as morning broke pink in the east, and the shadowy mountains were no more than a league away, Nerdanel knew, with a stab of despair through her heart, that they could not go on. Fëanor slumped against Silmelindo’s neck, the bandage stained fully crimson, his eyes closed and drops of sweat standing out starkly on his pale face. He could no longer sit upright without her aid.
Indecision filled Nerdanel’s heart. She could either continue, and throw her trust to a wild hope that she could single-handedly overpower Sauron and his minions and rescue Leoselde, or she could turn back and in doing so most likely save Fëanor’s life.
Tears filled Nerdanel’s eyes and spilled in stinging droplets down her face. Although she hated to do it, the choice was clear. An elf-maiden, alone and with an injured fellow to protect, would never be able to infiltrate Sauron’s foul dungeon and spring Leoselde. And Fëanor was sick and disoriented from the wound. She could not risk his life.
Nerdanel dismounted, leaving Fëanor slumped on Silmelindo’s back, and stretched her hands entreatingly toward the dark shadow of the peaks. “Ardelen,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “Leoselde. Sister. I’m sorry. I had no choice.”
She had never thought it would be this hard to abandon a girl she had never known to save a man she had grown to like. But as she looked at the dark mountains, and felt the evil presence that made its home there, her heart broke and she collapsed to the ground, great sobs racking her body. She knew that by leaving to save Fëanor, she was forfeiting any slight chance her sister might have had at life.
It was best, she tried to convince herself. Her father had left her younger sister to the mercy of the elements in the first place, in hopes that she would die before the prophecy could be fulfilled and Sauron could wreak havoc upon the world as he searched for her.
And yet, and yet, Nerdanel thought, she was a living being. A fair girl, skilled and intelligent, as Fëanor told it. She deserved better. No one deserved this.
Face running in tears, Nerdanel climbed back onto Silmelindo and wrapped her arms around Fëanor’s waist. She knew that they had never had a real chance to save Leoselde, knowing the might of Lord Sauron, but it hurt worse than a sword to the heart. Her powerlessness made her want to cry until she might never stop.
Nerdanel wheeled Silmelindo around, nudged him, and buried her face in Fëanor’s neck as Silmelindo cantered off, toward help – and away from Leoselde forever.
“And how do you explain that?”
Sauron cringed at the note of pure loathing in his master’s voice. He straightened, cast a filthy glare at Enwina, and said, “Master, that was not my fault. I did not know that the foolish elf-wench would actually do such a thing as forsake her sister. I thought that she would throw aside all caution and rush bravely in here to save her.”
“And yet she did not,” Morgoth said, turning away from Leoselde, who hung in the background like a frail phantom, and looking at Sauron. “So you have failed.”
Sauron tried not to shudder. Morgoth’s depthless, venomous red eyes were sinking into his. He could not move in their glare, and for a moment such as he had never known in his endless life, he was afraid of death. Yet Morgoth would not grant him the solace of death. He would invent some vile method to prolong his suffering past normal boundaries. Sauron read this intent in Morgoth’s eyes.
The Dark Lord took a step forward, and Leoselde trailed after him. Morgoth pulled a black iron dagger from a sheath at his waist. The hilt was studded with a ruby that flashed as red as blood in the grim illumination of the dungeon.
Morgoth handed the dagger to Leoselde, and she stared at it with unseeing eyes. “Teach my apprentice a lesson, dear heart.”
Leoselde stepped forward. A smile pulled at the edges of her flaccid mouth, and the vacant blue eyes flashed with murderous intent. Sauron stood straight, determined not to be intimidated by a mere girl. After all, he had captured her with the greatest of ease. Whatever she did would not hurt him.
“You – you took me,” Leoselde said, speaking in a voice harsh as grating stone. Morgoth’s voice. “You hurt me.”
Sauron laughed. “All in a day’s work.”
Morgoth stared intensely at the elf-maiden, and she in turn stared at the heavy dagger clutched in her hand. Sauron stared down both of them, then Leoselde walked slowly and deliberately forward and raised the dagger.
Sauron readied himself for the blow. After all, he thought, he would take whatever pitiful stroke the elf dealt, learn from the pain, and then let it be over with. His armor was strong, and Leoselde was weak from the foul brew that he had given her, even if it had had the beneficial side effect of placing her under Morgoth’s control.
Leoselde halted before him, her eyes wide and empty. A trace of spittle formed at one corner of her mouth, and her small hand was clenched about the dagger. Sauron stared at her.
Morgoth raised his arm. Leoselde’s arm also jerked up, as if it was connected by invisible cords to Morgoth’s. Morgoth stared at his apprentice, eyes cold and completely devoid of pity, then brought his arm thundering down.
Leoselde’s arm came down, and the dagger, with Morgoth’s strength behind it, smashed through Sauron’s heavy plate armor and deep into his body. He gasped, reeling with the force of the blow, as Morgoth twisted his wrist. So did Leoselde. The sharp blade of the dagger tore Sauron’s blackened flesh into ribbons, and a river of dark blood began to spill from the wound. Sauron staggered backwards, hissing in pain and anger.
“Will you fail again?” Morgoth’s voice was a horrible, hypnotic rhythm.
“No, Master,” Sauron said dully. “I will not fail again.”
I cannot stop it. I cannot control it. The evil vision – Morgoth, did Sauron call him? approaches me, drawing a dagger from his belt and hands it to me. The evil weapon is cold in my hand. The ruby flashes with liquid crimson light. It seems heavy, unfathomably heavy, and I fear that I will drop it.
Those brutal red eyes slowly look down into mine. I hear his words from far away, as if I am underwater. “Teach my apprentice a lesson, dear heart,” he says. His words chill me to the bone, and I am determined not to obey, even though in other circumstances I would gladly lift cold steel against he who injured me so and ordered me captured and tortured for no reason other than a prophecy made by an insane seer filled with bloodlust.
I am shocked to find myself complying. I lift the dagger, walk toward Sauron. He watches me coldly, and I can tell that he is not afraid of any stroke I might deal. I raise the weapon, and I see my own hand, pale and withered in the scarlet light.
I will not give in. I musn’t. And then behind me, Morgoth raises his arm, and with a jolt of terror, I feel my own arm raising as well. I move forward as if I glide, closer to Sauron, and plunge the dagger into his shoulder.
He does not scream, but he gasps, and I can see that the dagger has bit deeply. I cannot remember why I was to strike him, but I think it matters little. I feel Morgoth twist his wrist, and my entire body cries out in wordless protest at being used so. The very fibers of my soul are being torn.
My wrist twists without my asking it to, and I rip the wound deeper into Sauron. I can see the bits of broken armor framing the wound. Odd, for I did not know that I had such devastating power in my stroke. I feel as if I dream, for the world is distorted and rippled in strange ways. I sense that I see the world through eyes not my own.
I lower the dagger, my arm shaking with effort, and hear a voice like a snake’s speaking close at hand.
“Will you fail again?” it asks, slowly, coldly.
“No, Master,” comes the reply, and I feel the dagger dropping from my limp grasp. It clatters to the floor and I stand there shaking, trying to comprehend what I have done.
Behind me, Morgoth bends to pick up the dagger. It is as if a huge weight presses on my spine, and I bend as well. Pain, I have never known such pain. I wish for darkness, for oblivion, for it all to end.
Sauron stares at me, black blood staining his heavy iron armor. I can see the murderous intent in those fathomless eyes, so much like his master’s already, and I know that he will kill me if he can.
“Go, apprentice,” Morgoth orders, and Sauron leaves slowly, throwing us both venomous glances. I hear his footsteps dying away down the corridor for a long time, and I am afraid.
Find me, Fëanor, I plead. For if you do not, I know that I will die.