Chapter 7 – Safe no more
Orcs lined the hallway outside of the throne room of the tower Barad-dûr in Mordor. They shifted restlessly, making their weapons clang. A female Elf stood near the door, two Uruk-hai either side of her. She stood completely still, her hands folded in front of her. Her eyes flicked over each Orc, watching their movements.
Down the line of Orcs on her right side, a small scuffle broke out. She merely watched as two Orcs ripped another one to shreds. Black blood coated the floor, and little scraps of cloth stuck to the other two Orcs. She looked disdainfully at them, and barked a command to clear the mess up. They hurried to comply.
She sighed with impatience. Her Master was taking his time. Just then, the doors creaked open. An Orc waved the Elf and her two bodyguards on. She glided through the doors, and down the narrow corridor. It was dark, and dank, yet she did not mind. She enjoyed the smell of mould; she loved the darkness, and its shadows – no longer did her being cry out for starlight, for the wind, for light. She came to a door and motioned for her entourage to stop. She caught sight of herself in the mirror by the door. She preened herself, knowing that her Master expected her to look her best.
She was dressed in battle armour, and two blades rested on her back, shining dully. Her hair was bound tightly in a ponytail, bound by strips of leather. She smoothed the skin on her cheeks, marvelling at how beautiful she looked. Her skin was blemish-free and pure; it glowed with a dark light, surrounding her in a halo of shadow. All her features were perfectly sculpted, yet her eyes were the most startling. They were cat-like in shape, giving her a predatory look. Her lashes were full and long, curling upwards. Her irises were completely black, but ringed with red that was constantly moving, giving the illusion that her eyes were ringed with fire.
Pleased with her look, she pushed open the doors in front of her. She entered a small, circular room. A single throne was the only furniture in the room. She stood in front of the throne, head bowed.
"Your army is ready, Master."
Her voice was silky and seductive, yet held a note of danger. The being in the chair smiled as he heard her voice. He was not capable of love, nor of any other feelings, but he kept the company of the Elf more than any other under his command.
"You please me."
His voice echoed in the Elf's mind. She heard him get up, and approach her. Her head still bowed, she trembled with excited anticipation. She felt his fingers under her chin, and she looked up, straight in to his eyes. Straight in to the eyes of Sauron.
"I have a reward for you, Seraphina!"
I sat bolt upright, mouth opened in a scream. I clamped my hand over my mouth and bit down. Scrambling out of the tangled blankets, I ignored Legolas' outstretched hand and ran from our little hollow. Several Elves had appeared in the camp area, their heads swivelling at my approach. The other members of the Fellowship were with them too. They all looked dishevelled, and groggy. I guessed that my scream had woken them up.
My head snapped in the direction of Haldir's voice, eyes wide and staring. He was looking at me warily, as one would look at a cornered animal that was deciding whether to flee or attack. I looked around, and noticed the Fellowship walking towards me. The evil contained in my nightmare had still not left me. I felt as if I was being surrounded; I immediately went on the defensive. I shifted my weight forwards, and tensed, ready for any attack. Aragorn halted, noticing my stance.
"Leave her be!"
He called out and everyone stopped, yet I still felt cornered. A terrified whimper escaped my lips, and I turned and sprinted off, in to the trees behind me. I darted through the branches, not caring how they cut me, leaving marks across my bare arms. The morning light faded as I ran deeper in to the forest, the canopy above me blocking out the sunlight. I heard footsteps behind me, and skidded to a halt. I whipped around, and came face to face with Haldir.
"Why will you not leave me alone?"
I snarled at him, surprising myself. Haldir merely blinked once and looked straight at me.
"You have not visited Lothlórien for a long while. I was mildly worried you would lose your way; the trees can be unforgiving to those they do not recognise."
I let out a breath and looked round me. All was still and quiet amongst the trees and I felt the terror of my dream fading.
"Why can I not forget it? I do not wish to be tortured by the memories anymore."
My voice wavered on the last word and I dropped my head, my toes curling in the mossy floor. I saw Haldir's feet step forward and stop in front of me. His hands brushed across my shoulders, holding me gently.
"Memories are remnants of the past. We all must live with memories of things we do not wish to have done. Some are worse than others but in the end, our memories make us who we are. Seraphina, do not let them take over your mind like this. Dreams and memories cannot hurt you anymore than a feather can."
His words were soothing but he had a firm tone to his voice that made me look up at him. His grey eyes locked on to my blue ones, offering sympathy and understanding, but also telling me that I needed to calm down and start acting like an adult. Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes and concentrated on the present. After a few moments, I opened my eyes, straightening up. Haldir nodded approvingly at my control and gestured me back the way we had come.
Together, we walked through the forest, steps light as we made our way back to the camp. Gradually, the trees thinned and light poured through but before I could emerge from the tree line, Haldir stopped me with a hand on my arm. I turned to him, eyebrows raised.
"I see you have reconciled with Legolas."
He nodded at my hand and I ducked my head, a smile curling up the corners of my mouth.
"Indeed. Galadriel reminded me of a few things I had forgotten."
My brother suddenly let a wide grin split his face and I looked at him in confusion.
"What is it Men say? The mind is the first to go in old age."
My mouth dropped open at his words. Haldir burst in to laughter, the sound echoing off the trunks of the trees around us. Still laughing, he walked out of the trees, leaving me staring after him in astonishment. Shutting my mouth, I walked out after him, finding myself laughing at his words too.
I looked round at the Fellowship – they were dressed and collecting their belongings. Legolas was talking with Haldir and I watched him for a moment. Gradually, he became aware of eyes on him and looked up. Relief flooded his features at seeing me and I approached him. I sent a muted glare at Haldir and he just grinned at me, still amused at his quip.
"Are you alright?"
The worry was evident in Legolas' voice and I gently touched his cheek, nodding my assent. He smiled briefly at me, eyes casting over me to double-check that my statement was true. Haldir spoke up, voice level, although I was sure he was still laughing at me.
"Your clothes have been returned. Once you are dressed, I will escort you to the river – Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel await you there."
He pointed to a tent off to the side, where my clothes sat in a neat pile. I nodded once again and with a last reassuring look at Legolas, I flitted over to the tent. Carrying my clothes inside, I quickly got dressed, not wanting to delay leaving any longer.
The mists of morning lay heavily along the river. Bare-branched trees arched through the fogs, stray beams of light falling on the cold, blue waters. I stood with the others, facing Celeborn and Galadriel. They had received cloaks fastened with green, silver veined leaf-brooches. I had not received one, as I already had one, from my first visit to the community.
"Never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our own people. May these cloaks shield you from unfriendly eyes."
Celeborn spoke the words gravely, turning his eyes to each of us. We were standing on a dock. Boats were moored, ready for our departure. The light of the morning set the leaves of the trees along the river bank blazing, as if on fire. I was caught by the colours: yellow, orange, red, umber. I had always been drawn to fire; as a small child, I had always been captivated by the flickering flames of the fires in the grates at Rivendell. My thoughts quickly veered in another, darker direction. My love of fire was what had drawn me to Mordor. I wanted to feel the heat of the never ending fire pits, see the lava oozing out of cracks in the earth, play with the flames so they danced and flared. That was what had attracted me to…him. I forced myself to drop my current thought and pulled myself back to the present. Galadriel was speaking to Frodo, passing a small bottle to him, shaped like a teardrop and filled with a clear, shining liquid.
"Farewell, Frodo Baggins. I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you, in dark places, when all other lights go out."
Frodo looked up at her in awe, clutching the bottle. She smiled down at him. She drew aside, allowing us to file in to the boats. Legolas and Gimli settled in one; Boromir, Merry and Pippin in the next; Frodo in another whilst Sam waited for me in the last one. Aragorn stood beside me, having been waylaid by Celeborn. Once everyone was settled in the boats, he turned to us.
"Every league you travel south, the danger will increase. Mordor Orcs now hold the eastern shore of the Anduin."
Celeborn talked quickly in, his voice quiet, while Galadriel continued her farewells to the others. She showed no outward signs of hearing our conversation, but I knew that she could hear everything. Haldir stood with her, watching over the waters. I shared a worried glance with Aragorn before Celeborn continued.
"Nor will you find safety on the western bank. Strange creatures bearing the mark of the White Hand have been seen on our borders. Seldom do Orcs journey in the open, under the sun, yet these have done so! By river, you have the chance of outrunning the enemy to the Falls of Rauros!"
I nodded, placing my hands on his shoulders, sensing his urgency. I did not speak, but Celeborn knew what I wanted to say. He kissed my forehead, and hugged me one last time. I moved towards Galadriel, allowing Aragorn to bid a proper goodbye to Celeborn. Galadriel drew me to her and hugged me tightly.
"You are being followed."
She whispered in my ear and I squeezed her, showing that I knew. She pulled back, and brushed a hand over her eyes, to wipe away the tears. I turned to Haldir and suddenly hugged him fiercely. He returned it, arms wrapping around me tightly.
"Do not linger any longer. Sail with our kin. I will see you again, muindor."
A surprised look crossed Haldir's face but I shook my head as he prepared to argue. Sensing that I did not want to fight with him during our goodbyes, he merely nodded and pressed a kiss to each of my cheeks and then my forehead.
"Galo Anor erin râd dhîn, muinthel."
I gave him a tearful smile before repeating the actions, my bottom lip beginning to tremble again. Turning, I hopped down in to the boat behind Sam, taking up the oar. As one, we placed our oars in the water, and pushed off, gliding smoothly through the water. Elves lined the river banks, singing softly.
"Is it a requirement for Elves to sing when someone leaves?"
Sam murmured, more to himself than to me but I answered anyway, chuckling slightly.
"No, but we enjoy doing so. It gives us peace."
Our boats continued onwards, passing in to the river Anduin. Allowing the current to carry the boat, I stopped rowing and turned back to have a last look at Lothlórien. I could faintly see the glowing outlines of Celeborn and Galadriel, and the silhouette of Haldir.
A familiar pain started in my chest as I left yet more of my people behind. My heart gave a sudden wrench as I realised I would never again see Celeborn and Galadriel. They were sailing for the Undying Lands. I felt numb; they were like parents to me. I had often visited them as a small child, accompanying Elrond on his journeys. They had loved me as they loved Haldir and had taught me the little things Elrond sometimes had no time for: how to sing; how to use a bow and arrow; how to blend in with my surroundings; how to braid my hair. Our visits had not been so frequent as I had grown and the realisation that that was the last time I would see them hit me like a blow to the chest.
I refused to let my thoughts dwell on Haldir. I had not visited him as often as I should and I regretted it. Despite our relatively short time in knowing each other, I loved him dearly and to willingly leave him behind caused the knot in my chest to grow tighter, and I drew in a gasp of air. I resumed rowing, keeping the boat steady. We floated on, Sam blissfully unaware of the silent tears streaking down my face.
We continued on down the river. No one spoke, apart from to the people in their boat. Sam had fallen asleep, his face peaceful. I had not the heart to wake him. In truth, I enjoyed my isolation. It meant I did not have to act strong, and in control. I did not have to put on a front, and hide underneath my Queenly exterior. My boat was at the back, away from the others, allowing me to let my emotions run free, as Galadriel had suggested. My heart gave a painful tug as I remembered our conversation. I was brought out of my reverie as Aragorn's voice floated back to me.
"Frodo, the Argonath! Long have I desired to look upon the kings of old. My kin."
I looked up, as did everyone else. Two proud, majestic statues, carved out of the very rock of the shore, stood on either side of the river Anduin. Their left arms were held aloft, their palms facing outwards. A chill rippled down my spine; it looked like a warning, a signal to turn back. Their faces were solemn, and stern. They were the silent wardens of a kingdom long vanished. Aragorn's face was lit up from the inside; awe radiated from him like mist. I continued to stare up at the statues, as we sailed past them towards a great, roaring waterfall.
On the other side of the waterfall, the land rose in two hilltops, crowned by distant ruins. We disembarked on a gravel beach, pulling the boats on to the shore. Satisfied that they would not be carried away by the current, we started to make camp for the night.
"We cross the lake at nightfall. Hide the boats and continue on foot. We approach Mordor from the north."
Aragorn explained his plan to us, cleaning his sword.
"Oh yes? It is just a simple matter of finding our way through Emyn Muil? An impassable labyrinth of razor sharp rocks! And after that, it gets even better!"
Gimli ranted, his words harsh and Pippin looked up, alarm registering on his face.
"Festering, stinking marshlands, far as the eye can see!"
Gimli finished with a harrumph, crossing his arms.
"That is our road."
Aragorn's voice was hard, and brooked no argument.
"I suggest you take some rest and recover your strength, Master Dwarf."
Clear and utter surprise crossed Gimli's face before it turned to anger.
"Recover my…? Grrrrrrr…"
Gimli growled, clearly offended. I laughed, and patted him on the shoulder.
"He meant no offense, Gimli. We all know that Dwarves are a strong and hardy race."
I soothed the irate Dwarf. Gimli nodded, and sat next to Pippin, engaging him in conversation. Prickles crept up the back of my neck, making my hair stand on end. I whipped round, scanning the dark forest behind us. Nothing. I rubbed the back of my neck, wondering what had caught my attention. Legolas and Aragorn stood off to the side, near the trees. Legolas looked on edge; he constantly checked the trees, as if there was something in there. I suddenly realised I was feeling what Legolas was feeling. I smiled at the thought: our bond was still strong.
Merry's raised voice cut in to my thought. I looked around the camp. Frodo was nowhere in sight. Neither was Boromir.
"Calm yourself, Merry. Boromir has probably gone to find him."
I answered him and Merry nodded, but still looked worried as he started to make a fire.
"Will you not go and find them, Seraphina?"
Sam's voice was pleading. Two hours had passed and yet Boromir and Frodo had not returned. Aragorn had gone out in search of them – an hour ago. I sighed and stood up.
"Legolas, Gimli. Keep an eye on the hobbits. I will return shortly."
They both nodded, and Legolas sent me a penetrating look. I knew what he meant instantly: be careful.
I wandered the forest, calling Frodo's name. I was not so worried about Boromir and Aragorn: they were grown men and could take care of themselves. Frodo, however, could not. I had not shown it to the others, but anxiety had consumed me. Frodo had been deteriorating since Moria. His skin was pale, his eyes hooded and sunken in. He was gaunt, and barely ate or drank. The Ring was destroying him.
I came to a clearing. A stone seat, framed by two stone eagles dominated the landscape. A stairway ran up the centre, leading to the seat. At the bottom were Frodo and Aragorn. I rushed up to them, relief flooding through me. They both looked startled as I gathered them in a hug.
I looked around, expecting to see the fair-haired Gondorian soldier.
"I ran from him. He is still in the forest somewhere. The Ring took his mind."
Frodo answered my question quietly, looking at the floor. I drew in a sharp breath and shook my head.
"Come. The others are worried."
I held out a hand to Frodo but he did not take it. I looked between him and Aragorn, who wore a sad expression. Understanding dawned on me. I knelt in front of Frodo, cupping his face in my hands. He looked in to my eyes, his blue ones burning in to my lighter ones.
"Take care of yourself, pinig. No matter where you are, when you look up at the stars, know that I am watching over you."
Emotion made my voice hoarse and I swallowed hard. Frodo nodded tearfully. I kissed him softly on the forehead and stood up. Suddenly, Aragorn drew his sword. I looked down at Frodo and saw that his sword was glowing blue.
"Go, Frodo! Run…Run!"
Aragorn commanded the Hobbit, eyes hard. With a last look at us, Frodo ran from the hilltop. I drew my blades, relieved that I had had the presence of mind to bring them with me. We emerged from beneath the ruin, and faced a troop of Uruk-Hai. We looked at each other, smiling grimly.
The Uruk-Hai surged forward, snarling and growling. As one, we attacked, cutting several of them down, but no matter how many fell beneath our blades, more seemed to spring up. We were forced up the stairs as the Uruk-Hai advanced. Without warning, Aragorn sprang off the steps, landing on the Uruk-Hai with a battle cry. I continued defending myself, kicking out at one that had got too close. Suddenly, Legolas and Gimli ran out from behind the ruin. Legolas released several quick-fire arrows, each one killing an Uruk-Hai. Gimli roared, swinging his axe, dealing out deadly blows to any creature that was within reach. The Uruk-Hai turned their attention to their new attackers, and I ran down the stairs, striking at them from behind. My blades were soon coated with their blood.
Legolas shouted out to me, sweat shining on his brow. Aragorn and Gimli were fighting back to back. I continued to fight, inching my way closer to Legolas. At last, I reached him, dispatching an Uruk-Hai that charged forward towards me.
"What are you doing? Go!"
I managed to cast him a sharp look before returning my attention back to the fight at hand.
"I will not leave you. We fight together."
I replied to his question, ducking as a sword sliced through the air where my head would have been. I stabbed my left blade in to the creature's leg. As it fell with a scream, I swung my right blade up and down, embedding it in to its stomach. I yanked the blades out, and turned, hearing heavy steps behind me. An Uruk-Hai ran forwards, but Legolas leapt in front. In one smooth move, he stabbed it in the eye with an arrow, pulled it out and used it to kill another. All of a sudden, strong arms wrapped around my waist and lifted me up. In surprise, I dropped my blades. I felt myself being carried off. I swung my legs back, kicking the creature in the belly with everything I had. It grunted, stumbling backwards, dropping me in the process. I scrambled to my feet, unsheathing my hidden dagger. In one fluid movement, I spun and threw the dagger. It rotated through the air, and struck the beast in the middle of its head. I ran forward, and pulled the dagger out, sheathing it. I ran back towards the others, desperately searching for my blades. I spotted them glinting on the ground near Aragorn. I rushed forward, scooping them up. Three loud ox-horn blasts filled the air.
"The Horn of Gondor!"
Legolas spoke up, eyes wide.
Aragorn yelled out, running down the hill. I followed, Gimli and Legolas behind me. We ran through the trees. I ran faster, and quickly overtook Aragorn. He called my name, but I ignored him, pushing myself faster and faster. The Horn of Gondor was only used when the bearer was in trouble. I would not lose Boromir; my heart could not take losing yet another of our companions.
Suddenly, Boromir came in to view. Four Uruk-Hai were attacking him, and more came down the hill. As he shifted to the side, I spied Merry and Pippin, throwing rocks at the creatures. Clutching my blades, I ran forward, straight in to the creatures, knocking them over. I rolled off them, slicing off one Uruk-Hai's head. The rest scrambled to their feet, only to be knocked down again by Boromir. I ran to the two Hobbits, shielding them from the creatures. I adopted a defensive position, making sure that the Hobbits were safe. A weight settled on my shoulders. I looked up the hill, my eyes instantly drawn there. An Uruk-Hai stood at the top. He was much taller and much brawnier than the others, marking him out as their leader. The mark of the White Hand adorned his face, and his lips were curled back in a snarl. My breath caught as I took him in. I recognised this creature. He had been under my command once, long ago. I quickly realised he was not the same one; he had been created in his likeness. My blood boiled, and I started forward, intent on killing him. I froze as the beast brought up his arms and aimed his bow at Boromir.
I screamed out, turning back. He looked up, but too late. Boromir jerked back as an arrow hit him in the left shoulder, and he fell to his knees. I tried to run to him, but I was confronted by Uruk-Hai. I battled them, glancing over at Merry and Pippin. They wore a shocked mask, their rocks laying forgotten by their feet. Uruk-Hai advanced closer to Boromir. I fought harder, desperate to reach him before the beasts. Unexpectedly, Boromir gave a battle cry, and rose to his feet, swinging his sword at an Uruk-Hai who fell. The weight on my shoulders increased, and I knew the leader was getting closer. A black arrow flew into Boromir's stomach. He dropped to his knees again, gasping. A cry escaped my lips. With a savage swing of my blades, I finished off the Uruk-Hai in front of me.
Boromir stared at the Hobbits. As if they had given him the will to fight for them, Boromir swung his sword at another Uruk-Hai and got back up. I reached his side, and sheathed one of my blades, winding my free hand round his waist to support him. Together, we fought the Uruk-Hai. I caught sight of the Uruk-Hai leader, but before I could warm Boromir, a third arrow flew in to his chest. Boromir fell once more, dragging me down with him. He blinked at me, his mouth working silently. I untangled myself, and sprang up, placing myself in front of him, bringing my hands up to take out my blades. The battle cries of Merry and Pippin made me turn, dropping my hands. They had drawn their swords, and were running forward, towards the creatures, both courage and terror on their faces. I turned back as well, but was unprepared. The giant hand of the Uruk-Hai leader wrapped around my throat, choking me. My hands flew up, my breath coming out in strangled gasps. My ears picked up the terrified screams of the two Hobbits, but I could not turn my head. I flailed, trying to break the creatures grip. I was suddenly let go, and I drew in breath, tensing, ready to spring forward. As I went to leap, my arms were grabbed by two Uruk-Hai, preventing me from doing so. I tried to break free, but their grips were like iron.
"Stop struggling or we kill the Halflings."
The leader growled at me, his fetid breath wafting across my face. I stopped, breathing hard. I could hear Boromir rasping for breath behind me.
"Tell us where the other two Halflings are."
The leader snapped the words, grabbing my chin and forcing me to look up. I spat in his face. A snarl escaped him, and he slapped me across the face. Pain blazed across my cheek, making my eyes water. I bit my lip, determined not to cry. I stared at him, mute.
"Take the Elf to Saruman. Make sure she does not escape. Use force if need be."
I was jerked backward, past Boromir.
I screamed, kicking out. Boromir just looked at me, defeat registering in his eyes. Up the hill, three figures appeared. Two of them raced down the hill. I was dragged away, the Uruk-Hai breaking in to a run. I saw Aragorn knock the Uruk-Hai leader over, while Legolas ran towards me. I kicked out harder, determined to break free. The last thing I heard was Legolas' anguished voice calling my name before my world went black.
Okay. I didn't make that as emotional as I could have done. There is plenty of time for that later, so make sure you have tissues at the ready.Thanks go to Yash, for helping me get over writer's block, and form ideas for the story. Much love to her!
Muinthel - Sister
Muindor – Brother
Galo Anor erin râd dhîn, muinthel – May the sun shine upon your path, sister