Snow crunched and cracked as Arwen’s horse broke into a slow trot for a few paces. The beast could sense its rider’s impatience, and wanted to go faster, but Arwen slowly pulled it back. She rode with Galadriel to her right and Faye to her left, and over thirty soldiers as an accompanying guard, and no matter how much she wished it, they were not going to go any faster. The looming darkness of the Redhorn Pass was approaching, and from here Arwen could see the slope she and Saiya had plunged down that disastrous day. Now that she could see it clearly, she was amazed she had survived the fall. She had practically fallen half the height of the mountain.
Suddenly more than willing to distract herself from her thoughts, Arwen turned to glance at Faye. Somehow, Endis had managed to find her again, and now behaved almost perfectly. The young gelding was pacing slightly, but other than taking an extra step every now and then, he seemed calm. Faye almost appeared asleep in the saddle. However, as the party drew closer to the Pass, Arwen noticed how her gaze began shifting back and forth, often landing on her for a moment before turning away.
Almost ten days had passed since the splints were removed, and although it had been the longest days of her life, fear was starting to develop within her now. Arwen clutched the reins tighter and swallowed hard, trying to keep herself from trembling. She didn’t want to enter the dark narrow Pass, but there was no other way. After a moment, she felt a hand on her shoulder, and she turned to look at her grandmother.
“I’m here,” Galadriel said softly, sympathy in her eyes.
Arwen relaxed slightly, reassuring herself with the fact that Galadriel was one of the most powerful Elves in Middle-earth. No creature, however evil, would dare cross her.
Haldir, who was leading the way, called a halt. The Pass loomed before them, and nobody seemed eager to enter the darkness. Suddenly, Faye turned to Arwen.
“Stay here,” she said.
She spurred Endis into a gallop, and rode away to stand with Haldir. Out of earshot, Arwen could not tell what Faye was saying to him, but gasped when Faye suddenly turned Endis and disappeared, alone, into the darkness of the Pass.
“Faye is checking our path,” Galadriel whispered.
Arwen gritted her teeth, closing her eyes in an effort to calm the surge of fear. What would happen if Faye found something? She still acted tired, and didn’t seem to have the energy she normally possessed. If she found something, if she didn’t come back. . .
A while later, to Arwen’s deep relief, Faye reappeared perfectly unharmed. She spoke to Haldir again, then made her way back to Arwen’s side.
“The way is clear,” she said. “There’s nothing living within the Pass or beyond.”
With the reassurances that the way was clear, the party began moving again. Arwen tightened her cloak and steeled herself, patting the horse’s neck when it sensed her nervousness and hesitated.
“Arwen,” Faye said, stopping Endis and glancing back at her. “I will never make the same mistake I did last time. If I have to sacrifice my life to do so, you will be safe on this journey.”
Arwen sighed and gently nudged her horse’s flanks. The shadow of the Pass washed over her, and ahead she could only see rocky walls, swishing horse tails, and silent darkness. Faye rode as close to her side as possible, and after a while Arwen reached over and grasped her hand. Even with Faye and Galadriel, she was still scared. She had seen Faye fail once. She didn’t wait to think of her failing again.
She didn’t think her heart could take it.
* * * * * *
The mountains were two days behind them. The weather had turned warmer and more humid, and the party was now forced to take twice as many breaks to water the horses. Not even the dark hours of night offered much comfort.
Faye sniffed the air. She could smell rain, and knew they were facing a miserable day. The party had stopped in a forest clearing, and the sun was not yet high enough to burn away the thick mist lacing through the undergrowth. Dark clouds loomed on the horizon, and save for the distant roll of thunder, the forest was silent. This made her very nervous and wary. She should have been hearing the scamper of paws in the brush, the whistling of birds in the trees. Even the horses were starting to develop signs of nervousness.
Endis suddenly twitched, and Faye settled her hand on his soft nose. She was one of the five taking the final watch of the night, and she faced the direction they were due to travel in the coming day. From here, the forest became thicker, the road harder to travel. She remembered this forest well. During her four day battle with Thuringwethil, they had fought here. The trees grew close together, preventing sunlight from reaching the ground, and Thuringwethil had come here to escape the sun. Throughout the day, the forest had echoed with the sounds of the battle, and the animals had been as silent then as they were now.
She didn’t know for sure that Thuringwethil was dead. Faye had not burned her from the inside out; she had tried, but Thuringwethil had been too powerful. Striking her with the fireball had no doubt injured her, but Faye was unsure if the creature had enough humanity left in her to die. She wanted to hope for the best. She wanted to hope that Thuringwethil’s ashes were scattered to the winds, that somehow she had not made it to shelter before the dawn.
But no matter how much she hoped, and how much she grew to believe in the hope, she would not let her guard down until she knew for sure.
The wind shifted, bringing with it even stronger smells of rain approaching from the west. She breathed it in, then froze. A putrid odor permeated the wind, a smell similar to burned and rotting flesh. Endis smelled it, too, and immediately the gelding stumbled backwards, snorting nervously. Faye growled, turning to look at the others. The horses were tossing their heads and pulling against their tethers, and the others were slowly starting to smell the odor on the wind. After a moment, Haldir approached her.
“What is that?” he asked, grimacing.
“I don’t know,” Faye said, sighing, “but I’m going to find out.” She glanced at him. “Watch over Arwen.”
Haldir nodded, and Faye approached Endis and pulled herself into the saddle. The gelding tossed his head, but obeyed her commands and cantered into the forest. The wind was blocked by the thickness of the tree growth, but the smell was still present in the air. The mist swirled as Endis passed, and the farther they traveled, the stronger the smell became. Faye tensed, feeling her fangs press against her lip. Somehow, she knew she was going to find out for sure whether or not Thuringwethil was dead.
They entered another clearing, smaller and darker than the one they had settled in for the night, and Endis abruptly locked his legs and slid to a halt. Caught off-guard, Faye tumbled over his head, sprawling unceremoniously onto the ground at the horse’s feet. For a moment, she lay stunned, then slowly sat up. Pain lanced through her, and she bowed her head and hissed.
“It burns, does it not? The poison of Morgoth has subdued creatures far greater than you, so I am quite amazed you’ve accepted the pain like it is merely a minor annoyance.”
Faye was on her knees instantly, snarling. The voice was deep and firm, but soft. She looked around her, but could not see who had spoken. Endis, surprisingly, seemed unconcerned.
“Who speaks?” she demanded. “Show yourself!”
“I am here, Faye. I have always been here.”
Faye had been looking around and above her, but for the first time, she looked down. A large moss-covered tree grew before her, and perched on one of the gnarled, exposed roots was an eagle. Golden-tipped wing feathers glistened in the dim light, and wide dark eyes looked at her calmly. Faye fell to her knees. She knew the eagle all too well.
“You speak?” she gasped, suddenly feeling the weight of her pain and exhaustion.
“For now,” the eagle replied. “Look before you, Faye. What do you see?”
Faye looked. There was a patch of disturbed ground at the base of the tree. Foul black blood soaked the soil, and pieces of burned flesh filled the air with the rotting smell. Faye growled again.
“She was here,” Faye said flatly. “She lay here.”
“Thuringwethil still lives,” the eagle stated, confirming Faye’s worst fear. “She heard you coming, and has long since fled. It will take many years for her to heal from the wounds you inflicted, and the foul creature values her life far more than her vow to avenge her master. She will not come back until she has regained her full strength. But when she does return, she will be unstoppable. She will bring an army of Orcs with her, and she will burn Rivendell to the ground.”
Faye slumped forward, rage and helplessness flooding her.
“What am I to do?” she asked, digging her fingers into the poisoned soil. “I have to stop her.”
“Yes, you do,” the eagle said. Faye turned to it fully, confused. “Until she is fully recovered, Thuringwethil will be vulnerable. She fears you now, and will continue to run if she knows you follow.” The eagle glanced at the soiled ground. “This tree will soon die from the foul creature’s presence. It will rot from the inside out, and when it falls it will be little more than a blackened shell. This is what the creature will bring with her when she returns.”
“You said I could stop her,” Faye said firmly.
“You must hunt her down,” the eagle replied. “Hunt her down and end her unholy existence. Strip her of her cloak and blade, and shed her blood in the name of the Valar. If you do this, they will look kindly upon you once again.”
Faye closed her eyes, slowly rising to her feet.
“Is this my punishment for my blasphemy?” she asked.
“This is your quest for redemption,” the eagle replied. “But the decision to take the journey only belongs to you.”
“Faye!! Faye, where are you?!”
Faye jumped at the sound of Arwen’s voice, turning in the direction of the source. She heard a rustle of wings, and when she looked back, the eagle was gone.
“I’m here!” Faye replied.
Endis snorted and gently nipped her shoulder. Faye patted his neck, pulling herself onto his back just as Arwen rode into view, followed almost immediately by Haldir. Arwen seemed deeply relieved.
“What happened?” she asked, seeing the dirt on Faye’s hands and clothing.
For a moment, Faye hesitated. She glanced back at the dying tree.
“Thuringwethil was here,” she said. “Her blood is killing the tree.”
“Thuringwethil is alive?” Arwen gasped. “But. . .how?”
Faye shook her head, glancing around her to see the others fast approaching.
“I do not know,” she admitted. “She is gone now, but she may be back soon.” She grasped Arwen’s shoulder, mustering a comforting smile. “We have to quicken the pace.”
She didn’t know whether or not to tell Arwen about what the eagle had spoken of. Seeking out Thuringwethil would mean leaving Rivendell, and Faye had no idea how long she would be gone. A few weeks? Months?
* * * * * *
Galadriel sighed in quiet relief as she passed underneath the vine-covered arch that served as the entrance to the courtyard of the High House of Rivendell. She was glad the journey was over. Her husband was coming towards her, and she gratefully accepted his assistance down from the back of her mare. Elrond had appeared along with Glorfindel and Gandalf, and Arwen practically threw herself into his arms. Tears were slowly slipping down the Elf-lord’s face as he held his daughter. Never had Galadriel seen him so emotional. Only Faye seemed to be standing back, holding the reins of Arwen’s horse. Endis, unnoticed for the moment, had wandered over to a patch of lawn and was contentedly grazing on the tender grass.
“How is Naneth?” Arwen asked, once Elrond had released her.
“Slowly recovering,” Elrond replied. “I think she wants to see you.”
Arwen nodded, and disappeared inside the house. Faye handed the reins to a waiting stable-hand and approached with Galadriel and Celeborn.
“How was the journey?” Elrond asked, nodding respectfully.
“Quiet,” Galadriel replied. “But the news we bring is grave.”
Galadriel shifted her gaze to Faye, who bowed her head. Elrond turned to her.
“Thuringwethil is alive,” she said softly. “I found evidence in the forest two days distant from the mountains. She is gravely injured, but if she is allowed to recover, death will follow in her wake.”
Elrond grew very grim, shifting his glance from Faye to Gandalf, who stood by his side. Gandalf shook his head, steadying his wise, kind gaze on Faye.
“Do you know what you must do?” he asked.
“Yes,” Faye replied. “I must hunt the creature. I must kill her before she recovers.” She glanced in the direction Arwen had disappeared. “I don’t know how long I will be gone.”
“You will not be alone,” Glorfindel declared. “I will come with you.”
Galadriel heard similar declarations from other Elves that had gathered to witness the arrival of her party. Faye looked, too, and smiled sadly.
“This is my quest. I must go alone,” she said. “The Valar declared it so.”
“The Valar spoke to you?” Celeborn asked, sounding surprised.
“The eagle came,” Faye replied. “He spoke to me.”
Galadriel knew of the tale of Luthien and Beren, and knew that Huan the wolfhound had spoken three times in his life, but this gift had never been granted to another animal before or since, save the great Eagles of the Misty Mountains.
“When did this happen?” she asked.
“The day in the forest,” Faye replied. Her expression became sorrowful. “How am I going to tell Arwen?”
“You do not have to say anything yet,” Gandalf said firmly. “Your quest can wait until Celebrían recovers. For now, Arwen needs you.”
Faye nodded consent, and after bowing to Galadriel and Celeborn, followed Arwen’s path inside. Galadriel turned to Elrond.
“Will Celebrían recover?” she asked.
“Her wounds are healing,” Elrond replied. “But there is no life in her. She has separated herself from everything.” He sighed. “She has not yet left our bedroom.”
Galadriel sighed and turned, attempting to communicate with Celebrían.
Are you well, my daughter?
There was a long pause. Then. . .
I am alive.
Galadriel gasped softly. There was no emotion whatsoever in Celebrían’s reply. Her daughter sounded distant, indifferent. The warm tenderness she normally possessed was gone. She felt Celeborn settle a hand on her shoulder, and turned to him, trying desperately to fight back tears.
“She’s fading, Celeborn,” she whispered. “Our daughter is fading.”