Thuringwethil could not remember the last time she had contemplated so long on a single subject. Perched on a sharp, narrow outcropping too dangerous for most to attempt to climb, thoughts both familiar and new raced through her skull. Not even the worried conversation of the Elves in the camp below could distract her. That afternoon, a new group of Elves had appeared from the west, and she had guessed they had been sent from Rivendell to assist in the search for the she-Elf. She had been observing the new arrivals since sunset, all the while thinking over a new idea that had struck her not too long ago.
It had been three nights since she had forced the she-Elf to crawl across the campsite, and since then she had watched her prisoner’s steady degeneration from a distance, forbidding any of her Orc slaves to go near. At first, torturing the she-Elf had been very satisfying, but that night had brought Thuringwethil little joy. The she-Elf was still alive–an astonishing feat in itself–but it was now too weak to properly respond to pain and suffering.
It wouldn’t be much longer before the campsite was discovered. For all her efforts, her disgusting Orc slaves were simply making too noticeable an impact on the environment to remain hidden. Any wind that blew from the north picked up the smell of Orc filth and carried it for miles. Elves were excellent trackers, which Thuringwethil knew very well. Once the wind shifted, they would simply follow their noses. Any conclusion she might be planning had to come quickly. Thuringwethil did not care if the Orcs were found and slaughtered–she could always find more–but she did not feel like surrendering her prize just yet.
Gaining her master’s revenge against Elrond was her main priority, but after watching the she-Elf suffer, a new method had begun to form in the blackness of her thoughts. She knew Elrond loved his wife, and seeing her suffer and die would destroy him. Seeing her suffer and live would be worse, when looking at it through Thuringwethil’s point of view.
Thuringwethil smiled. Yes, that was what she would do. She stiffened as she suddenly caught the smell of Orc rot. The wind had finally shifted, and the Elves below were becoming aware of the change. It had to be tonight. There was no time left. She smiled again, silently making her way back to the camp. For a moment, a single moment, she felt pity for the she-Elf. There was no way for it to realize the new horror that was about to be committed. It would see and feel whole new kinds of suffering, and no doubt would beg for death. But Thuringwethil was not going to show the she-Elf such kindness. She meant to give it the worst torment possible.
And she knew there were fates far worse than death.
* * * * * *
Celebrían stared dully at the flickering torch illuminating the cave that had been her prison for a countless number of days. She could make a rough guess at how long she’d been captive by the state of her body. She had once seen a helpless human child suffering from extreme starvation, every bone in its tiny body visible. Looking down at her pale hands, she could see the bones. On every part of her body, she could see and feel her bones. She had been here for at least ten days, if not longer, without food and very little water. She should be dead now, she knew that. Whatever force that kept her broken body alive was now beyond her comprehension.
Starvation, however, had become the least of Celebrían’s concerns. The horrific wound in her shoulder was no longer healing. Festering from multiple exposures to the poison of Thuringwethil’s blade, the skin around it had turned an inky shade of black, and a sickening rotting smell leeched from it. Her whole shoulder was enflamed, the infection slowly spreading. Even now, she burned with fever, and as she lay there and trembled, precious droplets of water were lost through the constant drips of sweat running down her brow. She once believed that Elves could not feel sickness. Now she knew how mortal men felt, and why they sounded so desperate when they sought out Elrond for help.
Celebrían no longer remembered what it felt like to be safe. The faces of her family were blurs, as were her memories. She could not recall the taste of food, the feeling of warm bathwater, or the sound of a child’s laugh. The only thing she remembered now was the yellow glow of Thuringwethil’s eyes. There could be no glare more fierce or dangerous. Her voice, icy and void of emotion save for anger, echoed in Celebrían’s ears. She could see Thuringwethil now, standing and watching her from the shadows. . .wait, she must be hallucinating. She was alone. Thuringwethil could not have entered without her noticing.
“Valar, protect me,” Celebrían whispered, focusing on the flickering torchlight. “I. . .I do not know how much longer I can hold on.”
“After all this time, you still think the Valar are going to save you, little she-Elf?” So Thuringwethil was there. At least Celebrían had not yet gone fully insane. “I admire your faith.”
“Go. . .” Celebrían breathed, the word coming out in the midst of a moan. “Go. . .away.”
“So the end is finally upon you.” Thuringwethil approached, crouching down beside her. “At last the poison of my master begins to leech your life away. Pity. I was rather hoping you’d prove to be stronger than my blade.”
Celebrían moaned again, trying her best to cast a cold glare up at her tormentor and failing miserably.
“Oh, how the she-Elf suffers,” Thuringwethil said. Celebrían stiffened in shock, for the creature’s tone was actually kind. “Poor, poor dear. Don’t fret so, my pet. Soon, very soon, all of your suffering will be over.”
Celebrían tensed. Thuringwethil was looking down at her with a gentle expression on her face. She refused to allow herself to fall for whatever trick the creature was trying to pull.
“So you finally intend to kill me?” Celebrían asked, bracing herself for the answer.
Thuringwethil laughed, a sound that frightened Celebrían more than her shrieks of anger. The creature sat back on her heels and smiled in delight.
“That was my original intention,” she admitted, still smiling. “For twelve days I’ve watched you suffer through every torment I and my slimy slaves have put you through. I expected you to be begging for death by now, or already dead. But you’re not. You still have enough left in you to tell me to go away.” She laughed again, grinning and showing her fangs. “I think I’ve started to like you.”
“I wonder which one of us is going insane,” Celebrían mumbled. She was too tired to care about any punishment she might receive from talking back.
Thuringwethil laughed again, echoed by grunts of confusion from the Orcs outside. Slowly, she leaned over and grasped Celebrían’s chin, lifting her head up. Celebrían winced as her shoulder was stretched.
“You shall serve an even greater purpose now, my dear,” Thuringwethil said smoothly. “I am very lonely. Orcs offer no companionship, for they are little more than slaves to me. But you, you have so much more potential.” She lifted Celebrían into a sitting position, her touch still unnaturally gentle. “I see it now. You are the key to Elrond’s undoing. I will kill him, and you will be my weapon.”
Fury surged within Celebrían, lending her strength she did not previously possess. She shoved Thuringwethil away, knocking the creature onto her back, and scrambled up against the cold wall. She could feel the icy rock against her naked flesh, and she shivered as she watched the creature regain her feet. She feared what Thuringwethil was planning.
“I will never hurt my husband,” Celebrían snapped, trying to mask the fear in her voice. “You’ll have to kill me first.”
At first, it appeared that Thuringwethil would strike her, but then the creature lowered her arms and smiled wickedly, baring her fangs again. She chuckled, and knelt down, leaning forward until their noses were inches apart.
“Precisely, my dear,” she whispered. “I am glad you have caught on so quickly.”
Celebrían felt sick. She didn’t have the slightest idea what Thuringwethil was planning. How could she do anything if she was dead? Or. . .
“No,” she whispered hoarsely, terror flooding her as the full meaning of the creature’s words struck her. “No, you can’t.”
“I can, and I will,” Thuringwethil replied. “I think you will make a fine companion, and it will give me so much pleasure to watch you draw first blood from your beloved husband.”
“No, Valar, please don’t do it,” Celebrían begged, hot tears running down her cheeks. “Please, just kill me.” She sobbed, closing her eyes and curling into a feral ball. “Please don’t turn me into a vampire.”
Thuringwethil grabbed her by the back of the neck, lifting her roughly to her feet. Celebrían screamed as she was slammed back against the cave wall, trying desperately to struggle. She cried out mentally, trying to reach her mother, her husband, anyone who would listen. Very dimly, she felt responses, but none close enough to harbor comfort or reassurance. Thuringwethil grasped her chin and pushed it upward, forcing her to expose her throat. She screamed again, but heard only the jeers and howls of Orcs.
“Don’t be frightened, my dear,” Thuringwethil whispered. “The pain won’t last long, and your thirst will be quenched quickly. There’s a whole party of Elves just beyond the ridge. When we’re finished here, you can drink your fill from your kin.”
“No!” Celebrían cried. “Thuringwethil, please. Have mercy.” With all the effort she possessed, she lifted her hand and pressed it against the creature’s jaw. “Feast on me. Replenish your strength from my blood. But please, please don’t turn me.”
Thuringwethil paused, backing up slightly. For a moment, there was silence, then the creature smiled grimly.
“And here, my dear, is where you meet my expectations,” she said, releasing her grip on Celebrían’s chin. “You beg for death in the end.”
It happened so fast that Celebrían had no chance to react. Thuringwethil grasped her in a tight embrace, forced her head to one side, and sank her teeth into the soft flesh of Celebrían’s throat. She felt her life being drawn out of her, her soul shrieking in pain as she slowly fell limp in Thuringwethil’s arms. Thuringwethil let her fall, and she crumpled to the ground, seeing her own blood trickle down the sides of the creature’s mouth. Thuringwethil knelt down, grasping her shoulders and forcing her back up. She then lifted her hand to her mouth, slashing her wrist.
“Do not be afraid,” Thuringwethil whispered, supporting her in one arm and holding the bleeding wrist against Celebrían’s tightly closed lips. “In the end, you will feel no pain.”
Celebrían could feel the presence of death, so close she could almost see its black shadow hovering near the cave entrance. It had a beautiful face, and its golden eyes sparkled dimly. It reached out its hands, beckoning to her. If she hung on just a moment longer, death would take her, and she would be free of the horrific curse Thuringwethil was trying to place upon her.
Suddenly, Celebrían felt a sharp pain at the corner of her mouth, and without thinking she opened her mouth and gasped. Thuringwethil had dug one of her sharp nails into the skin, and in that split second, the foul black blood began pouring down her throat. Poison rushed through her veins, setting every inch of her being on fire. Her body jerked and shook, and for a moment, she attempted to fight off the evil that was swamping her. She failed miserably, and as Thuringwethil moved her wrist away and bent over to bite into her neck again, she did something she thought she could never be brought to do.
She gave up. With a final rattling sigh, she fell completely limp, allowing every ounce of hope and life to escape her. The death shadow was approaching, reaching out and unleashing a roar that shook the cave walls and caused Thuringwethil to jump to her feet, but Celebrían had ceased to care. Blissful darkness was taunting her, and she embraced it, allowing herself to sink into oblivion. The sounds of battle echoed within and outside the cave, but she did not acknowledge the chaotic noise.
She had fully and completely ceased to care.