The creature in the cage
The sounds of battle were deafening, the entire structure shook violently in the unending bombardment from catapults and other siege machines. Smoke and dust filled the hallways together with the screams from the dying and the wounded. Floors and stairways were packed with people and blood had created beautiful red pools everywhere. The stench of fear and death was strong and even those who still were breathing knew that their end was near. The enemy would not rest until they all were dead.
Two figures were running along a narrow corridor towards the top of the massive structure, they were covered with dust and grime and both had an expression of desperate courage on their faces. The female carried a small bundle in her arms and she was praying constantly. The thunder from the rocks which hit the towers and walls was never ending and she knew that this place was doomed. It was mighty and strong but no stronghold could hold back the tide of darkness which now was pushing towards the ancient gates. The male was wearing an armor, he was wounded and limping but his eyes told of a will which never could be broken. He gestured towards the woman. " Hurry Nemeloreh, we have to get to the temple now!"
She gasped and ducked, splinters from a rock flew around them and the smell was very pungent. She coughed and tried to run faster. There were corpses laying everywhere, the healers had just left them there, no point in worrying about those who were already dead. " I can't see how the temple can be of any help? Prayers are useless now, they have abandoned us brother!"
He swore and pushed her forward. " I would not have believed it if someone told me they had heard you speak thus, it is blasphemy, from a holy sister!"
She was gasping. " It is not blasphemy if it is true? This is the end!"
He clenched his fists together. " If our prayers won't help then your powers will, we have got to get it out of here!"
They were approaching two massive wooden doors reinforced with steel. They looked like they were old as the very foundations of the earth itself and the entire building had an air of ancient wisdom and light. On the doors a figure in bronze was clearly visible, it was a horse with a single horn protruding from its forehead, the woman bowed for the image before the man started to push the doors open. A creaking sound could be heard and they entered the holy room. It was very simple, it had no paintings or statues, it was just a rectangular room with a low and wide pedestal in the middle. Upon it stood a statue of the same creature, a huge stallion with a horn and in front of it a flame rose from the floor, forever burning and alive. The woman made a sobbing noise. "They have blocked our powers, created a magical dead zone around the fortress, I cannot send it away from here, they will discover it and grasp it, claim it for themselves!"
He swore. " You know as well as I do that never must happen, if we cannot get it out of here we have to kill it. It cannot fall into their hands, it would be the ultimate disaster!"
She whimpered!" I can't, oh Erhardran, you know that, I can't…"
Her voice died down and he turned around, he had shut the doors behind them and only the flame gave light to the room. " Then get it out of here, if you cannot sent it to our other strongholds then send it somewhere else, use the ancient force!"
She backed away from him, her eyes filled with utter despair. " No, no brother, do not ask that of me! If I do we will have no idea of where it will end up, there are a myriad of worlds out there and it may end up in any of them! We will never know of it will make it or not!"
He snarled, pulled his sword, from the outside they could hear screaming and roars, the enemy had breached the gates and walls, they would be coming soon. " It will be alive damn it, that is all that matters, the last one must never fall into their hands, never!"
He grasped her by her collar and shook her. " Do it, by the name of Enrah, go ahead woman. Send it away, you know your duty."
She shivered and her eyes were huge and terrified. " Yes, I know my duty. Do you know yours brother?"
He nodded. " Fear not, we may be the last of the clergy alive within this fortress but they will not take any of us alive, I swear this to you sister."
She nodded and walked towards a small altar by the wall, someone was hammering at the huge doors now, they would break through soon enough. The woman placed the bundle on the altar and started to chant, her eyes appeared to roll up into her head and then a strange light appeared around the altar. She was sweating, her voice became strained and her face became grey, she appeared to be getting older as the chanting went on, this magic was terrible, it consumed the very life of the one who used it but they had no choice. Her life was to end anyhow, she had no doubts or regrets. This was what she had lived for, had trained for and believed in. she could not fail. The light became almost as bright as the sun and then it just disappeared along with the altar. The woman was staggering, the doors were giving in and dark creatures were pouring through the opening like blood from an open wound. The man spun around, she stood there and her eyes were blurred and she looked like an old person now. He gave her a last smile. " Forgive me sister."
She just nodded. " You are already forgiven my brother"
He swung his sword and watched how her body fell to the floor, limp and lifeless. He roared and ran towards the attacking horde of enemies, they were rather sure of victory since this was just one man. A warrior monk yes, but just one. Even one of those could not kill them all. He fought with all of his might and strength, felled enemies like a gardener cuts weeds from his garden but it was useless. He knew this would not last, they would finally end him and he swore that he would take them all with him. He started to shout words which to the enemy had no meaning but the effect was rather terrifying,
He started to glow, a strange blue light which seemed to flow through every crack in his armor. It was almost too strong to look at and then he screamed one final word and a surge of energy was released within the temple room. His entire life force burst forth and consumed everything within the room except from the statue. The room went completely black and smoldering bodies lay tossed around like ragdolls. The enemy had brought the mighty fortress to its knees but it had been robbed of what it really was after and a mighty roar of disappointment could be heard over the now burning ruin of a once strong and beautiful sacred place. It had been taken, and only the gods of light knew to where.
Chapter one: The creature in the cage
The men were moving rather slowly along the forest path, it was three of them and they wore ragged and worn out clothes. They all had an appearance which told anyone who saw them that these were persons who didn't exactly live by the law, rather beside it. They had spears and axes and they were scowling towards the forest around them with eyes filled with both fear and hatred. Behind the three men came a small wagon pulled by an old mule, the animal was skinny with sores and mange and it was walking with a profound limp. The poor animal didn't try to stop simply because it had been beaten so often it knew that they would whip it again if it slowed down. The carriage had only one thing on it, a huge box like shape covered with tarp and the cover was tied so hard around the box there were no way to see what was inside of it.
The men were nervous, they should not have been there at all. The path was supposed to be a short cut to Laketown but they were starting to doubt that. They had moved through this rather sinister forest for almost an entire day and they were getting hungry, tired and more and more nervous. They knew what would happen if they were caught trespassing, the elves did not appreciate intruders into their realm and the stories of people who got caught were many and suitable to scare the living daylights out of anybody thinking about entering Mirkwood uninvited. The sun would go down soon and the forest was dangerous enough in itself without the elves adding to the possible problems they could encounter.
The men were crossing a small glade when they suddenly knew that they had run out of luck, the way they knew this was rather obvious. Suddenly an arrow came flying and pierced the ground right in front of their feet. All three came to an abrupt holt and only the fact that they were terrified stopped them from turning, fleeing and becoming pincushions.
The leader of the men was the tallest of them, he was almost bald and he had a thin beard and small piercing eyes. He was a brute of a man but even he was shivering a bit. Suddenly they were surrounded by two dozen elves and the beauty and grace of these inhabitants of the forest was a stark contrast to the men and their filthy appearance. The elves were pointing arrows at them and the leader took a step forward, he was a tall elf with mahogany hair and green eyes and he was obviously an officer and a person who demanded respect.
The men were cursing to themselves, they were in deep shit now and could only trust their leaders ability to talk his way out of problems. The elven leader was staring at the men with obvious disgust, he felt that these were bad people and he had a strong feeling of anger boiling within. They were trespassing and they were up to no god, even a child could see that.
" So, three humans and a carriage on a forest path, who are you and why are you here, what is it that you are transporting?"
The leader of the men tried to look peaceful and harmless, he even tried to grin only to reveal a row of teeth so rotten a couple of the nearest elves staggered back an entire step. They could smell the stench very well and shivered with disgust. " I am Bertrand, these are my friends Ohlar and Thjak. We were trying to find a shortcut to Laketown and I guess we got lost. We are transporting something for my brother who lives in Laketown, he is trying to start a fair of some sorts. "
The elves stared at the box, it was weird but it could not be all that heavy since one old and mistreated mule was enough to pull it. " So, you are claiming to be peaceful travelers, what exactly is in that crate?"
The elf's soft deep voice was having a hard edge to it and the men cringed, they were in danger and one wrong move would surely mean their end. " Oh, it is nothing really, just an animal for display. People pay good money you know, to see something exotic"
The man knew he had said the wrong words when he saw the sudden flame within the elf's green eyes, these creatures loved animals and hated seeing them being abused. The officer gestured towards one of the other warriors. " Andarion, check what's in the crate!"
The elf nodded and walked towards the carriage, he pulled at the tarp and got a small opening, he took a peek inside and they saw how his entire body suddenly became stiff, then he backed away from the cage with a strange sound before he went extremely green, fell to his hands and knees and said goodbye to whatever it was he had been eating that morning in a very loud and obvious way. The officer was shocked, Andarion was a very experienced warrior, he had fought alongside king Oropher and his son in the battle at Dagorlad which claimed the king's life and he was as tough as they get. What could this possibly be?
He walked over to the puking elf and looked down at him with disbelief. Andarion only gasped and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. " Captain Lintarion, it…it…!"
Lintarion swallowed but did not reveal any of his sudden feeling of fear to the others, his face was as calm as ever as he opened the tarp a little more and looked inside. He too backed away from the cage with a yelp and he turned on his heel and stared at the three men. His eyes were blazing and he almost snarled. " Tie them up, gag and blindfold them, the king will decide their fate."
The men tried to protest but before two minutes had passed they were tied up like hams and were being pulled along by a group of really angry and confused elves. The captain had pulled the tarp together again and let nobody else take a look, he gestured towards one of the younger warriors. "Limbero, go get your horse and ride fast back to the castle. Summon our best healers and tell the king we are returning, with something he has to see for himself in order to believe. And Limbero, tell him not to eat anything before we return, it would be…unwise!"
The young elf ran off and soon the others too found their horses. The men were towed behind them and had to run blindfolded. Normally Lintarion never would have treated prisoners thus, not even orcs but he was so enraged he was seeing red and felt how his heart was pounding in his chest like a war drum. It took a couple of hours before they reached the palace, the old mule did not have the strength to move very fast and the elves were horrified by the condition the poor creature was in. they would never have treated their steeds like this.
They entered the courtyard and Lintarion could see that the healers were ready, they looked rather puzzled and stared at the covered cage. The king and a couple of his personal guards and one of his counselors were waiting on the stairs which lead into the palace itself and the king frowned and stared at his captain with questions in his ice blue gaze. Lintarion bowed, he tried to remain calm but felt how his voice was trembling. " My lord, these men were trespassing, they were on the old path towards Laketown, they claim to be just transporting this for someone, but Sire, I have never seen anything this horrible, ever!"
Thranduil stared at the other elf with a raised eyebrow, Lintarion had seen some rather nasty things in his long life and to use such strong words was not typical of him. One of the healers had walked towards the cage and opened the tarp, he looked inside and yelled before he backed off, collided with a huge vase containing some flowers, it fell down as he did and he was suddenly saying farewell to his lunch just as the unfortunate soldier had. Thranduil stared at the three men, he was starting to get a very unpleasant sensation within his stomach, this had to be bad, this had to be so bad he really didn't want to know but he had to. He was after all the king. It was his responsibility to keep his realm and his people safe. The chief healer was walking forth, he looked apprehensive and nervous, he stared into the cage and gasped, he swallowed hard several times and then he gestured towards the king. " My liege, you don't wanna see this, but I fear that you have too. But be warned, it will be a shock"
Thranduil gathered his courage and walked down from the stairs towards the cage, he felt a hard knot in his stomach but his face did not reveal any emotions at all. He took a deep breath and looked inside, the first thing that struck him was the stench, a terrible mixture of excrements, blood, puss and infected wounds and added to the whole thing was a scent of rotten food and disease. He wanted to retch but could not, not openly in front of all of his subjects. He let his eyes adjust to the sparse light and then he saw. He saw something he never would be able to forget, and he closed his eyes for a second in utter disbelief and horror. He turned around, stared at the three men. " Captain, remove the blindfold and the gag of their leader."
Lintarion obeyed and Bertrand saw the expression within the elven kings eyes and knew that they all were dead men. Thranduil growled. " How long, for how long has this been going on?!"
Bertrand was shivering. " My…my brother bought it from another guy last year, he had owned it since he bought it from an old couple who lived in the woods to the east of Ithilien I think. It was just a toddler back then, it was nineteen years ago."
Thranduil was almost fuming with rage but his face did not reveal it, he looked as calm as ever but his eyes were shooting blue lightning and his hands were shivering. A child, it was a mere child, probably not more than twenty or twenty one at the most. It was horrible! He had problems breathing, had problems thinking. " So, your brother wanted to show it off ha? Ask other people to pay for seeing it?"
His voice was deceptively calm and Bertrand tried to appear as if he was on top of the situation. "Yes, it is a sight to behold, and he wanted to earn some more on it too, as soon as it gets better. The previous owner did, the guys paid him a lot for a night with this thing"
Thranduil just snapped, the things which had been done to this being was so horrible he didn't even have words for it. He grasped his sword and spun around and Bertrand's body fell to the ground with a thud while his head flew several feet and stopped at the base of the stairs. He gestured to his captain. " Have the other two beheaded too, and throw the bodies in the bog, or even better, leave them for the orcs! They'll eat anything!"
He tried to calm down but it was impossible. His chief healer bowed and coughed to get his attention. " My liege, I would recommend that the courtyard is being evacuated before we remove the tarp, only those who has to see this should."
Thranduil nodded. " A wise decision my friend. "
He gestured and everybody left, some reluctantly but after a few minutes only the healers a couple of soldiers and the king was present. A stretcher had been brought from the infirmary and two young healers were ready holding it. Thranduil took another deep breath as they started to remove the tarp, he was glad Legolas was out on patrol, he did not want his son to see this at all. He would certainly be traumatized.
When the tarp was gone everybody there could see it in all its horror, Thranduil felt sick to the bone, his legs felt like jelly and he knew he had gone ashen grey. It was even more terrible now in broad daylight. Was the creature even alive? It lay on the floor of the cage, curled up in a fetal position covered with its own excrements and remains of rotten food. It was so skinny it resembled a skeleton with hide stretched over it and only a very light movement of the chest revealed that the creature was alive. It was a female, they could only see that fact because of its complete lack of clothing and it appeared to be unconscious. It stank of infections, open wounds were oozing puss and blood and Thranduil felt tears burn in his eyes. This was beyond terrible. The chief healer made a nasty grimace, he appeared to be in shock. " I cannot believe that she is alive, I cannot believe it. "
Thranduil moved around the carriage, a stable worker had taken the mule away for a better meal and a hopefully better future and the elven king got closer to the creature. He could see the pointy ears and the slender body form which told him that this had to be a sort of elf but he did not know exactly which type because she was different from all others he had seen. She had a huge mass of tangled hair which looked like felt and although the hair was dry and brittle the color was visible, it was green. Green in every shade of a forest, from the light green leaves of spring to the dark almost blue needles of the conifers and the golden colors of autumn. He had never seen something like that and he was curious and in shock.
The healer growled. " She cannot have been out of the cage for years, it is way too small for her, look, she cannot stretch herself at all."
The other healers started to remove the bars by using hand saws and soon they were able to reach the poor thing and pull her towards the stretcher. Thranduil cringed by the smell and he was glad he had done what the soldier had said and avoided eating anything. Several of the guards had visited the bushes and returned with green faces and he was glad he had a strong stomach and that he was stubborn enough to stay and thus avoid showing any weakness. The healer was leaning in to check the creatures pulse when she woke up, huge green eyes shimmering like the surface of a lake opened and stared into the sky and then she saw them and screamed. The scream was awful, so filled with fear it could make any heart burst with compassion and despair. She was obviously horrified and the voice did not seem to be normal, the cry was hoarse, more like a roar than a scream really.
Thranduil saw the extreme fear in the females eyes and knew there and then that she never had been faced with friendliness, that she never had experienced happiness or peace, that she had been afraid her whole life. Fear was all that she knew and had experienced and the very thought made his heart heavy as a stone in his chest.
The healer ran in front of the small group to the infirmary and two younger healers held the creature down on the stretcher, she was flailing around screeching in a most horrible way.
The infirmary was ready and the healer grabbed a syringe and injected the creature with something which was used as a sedative. It could be that it was dangerous for someone like her or even lethal but they had no choice. They could do nothing for her when she was fighting them. It was grotesque to watch, Poicano as the chief healer was called had no idea how any creature could survive something like that, but maybe her race was tougher than even an elf.
The king had followed them and he was standing there like a statue and looked as peaceful and relaxed as an attacking dragon. Poicano knew Thranduil very well, and he had never seen the king so filled with anger or so horrified.
Some were washing all the filth of the body, it took quite a lot of work and the skin was filled with strange rashes and sores. Thranduil raised an eyebrow, he swallowed hard. " Is that mange?!"
Poicano nodded. " It is, and she has flea bites and lice too. We will have to shave her head."
One of the other healers went to it with a sharp knife and cut the thick mass of hair away from her, since she was unconscious now it was easy but Thranduil could to his horror see how lice and flees were crawling around on the bench. Poicano was swearing to himself the whole time, he was finding countless infected wounds, probably from flea bites and some looked suspiciously like bite marks. The healer cringed and continued working. He cleaned wounds, covered the sick skin with ointments and slowly the creature started to look less like something from a nightmare and more like a real person. She had to be rather beautiful but that beauty had been taken away by humans and Thranduil felt more and more enraged. He just wished that he could have beheaded that son of a bitch one more time.
There was still a stench of some kind and the healer turned the body around, they had worked on her back already but he had a strong suspicion that this problem was placed somewhere else. He gestured for the others to move towards her head and then he spread her legs and washed her private parts with gentle and careful hand. He was right, she had some sort of terrible internal infection and Poicano sighed. " Teren, Ringariel, you may stay, the rest of you, out!"
Thranduil frowned and Poicano pointed at him. " Yes your majesty, you too. None of you need to see this. If it is as bad as I fear it is I seriously doubt that we will be able to save her, but we will try."
The king shuddered and all in the room froze as the unconscious female let out a terrible groan filled with agony. Thranduil closed his eyes, his hands were shaking. " Poicano, saes, if there is no hope left…Don't let her suffer like this?"
The healer nodded. " I understand my king, I won't. If all hope is lost I will make sure that her end is swift and painless. That is the least we can do for her."
Thranduil gave him a grateful smile and left and Poicano started working again. She had an infection which was wreaking havoc on her entire body and its source seemed to be her reproductive organs. He felt ashamed to examine her like this without her consent but he had no choice. The smell was horrible and he could truly not understand how she could be alive, her womb was filled with puss and she had a fever so bad he thought for a second that one could have fried eggs on her forehead. He was feeling around for a possible source of the infection when he felt something hard, something which absolutely should not have been there. It appeared to be lodged in her cervix and the healer already knew what this was, and why. He sighed and used some instruments to remove the object, she immediately started to bleed and he feared that the blood loss would be too much for her, but then again, he didn't want her to die with that thing still stuck inside of her.
Teren was staring at him with huge eyes as he pulled the thing forth and the elf just turned on his heel and left the room with a choked cough. Ringariel swallowed and turned grey but she remained there and Poicano worked for over an hour to remove all the puss and flush her with herbal extracts which could help her fight the terrible infection. Poicano felt sick, numb even. It was just so awful, beyond anything he ever had experienced. How could creatures treat others like this? When he had done all that he could he made sure that she was placed in a good bed and that someone would be watching over her the whole time. He did not think that she had much of a chance but at least they had tried. Nobody else had tried to save her, it was rather obvious. Had those humans understood how ill she was? Had they just pretended like nothing, tried to make as much money on her as possible before she died? The idea made him too red hot with anger, he would have done exactly what the king did if he was in his shoes. A beheading was a far too swift and gentle punishment, the men should have been flogged.
He went to the throne room and found Thranduil sitting on his throne with a goblet of wine in his hands and a very sinister expression on his fair face. He looked as if he was ready to get up and slice a whole army into dice sized pieces and Poicano sighed and bowed. He knew that their king appeared to be both cold and arrogant but it was a façade, he did care a lot about others, he just could not let everybody see it. He turned his ice blue gaze towards Poicano who felt a little insecure, how much did the king really need to know? He was the king, the healer did not want to keep any secrets from him, it never worked in the long run.
Thranduil put down the goblet and sighed. " So, how bad is it?"
Poicano shrugged. " Bad, I cannot lie. I do not really think that she will survive but since she is still alive she might have a tiny chance. I did find the source of the infection which is killing her"
He pulled the metal object out of his pocket, it had been cleaned and Thranduil stared at it with a confused expression on his face. " Is that a crochet needle? What does that have to do with anything?"
Poicano looked down. " I found it in her"
The king frowned. " Had someone stabbed her with a crochet needle?!"
The healer sighed heavily, to an elf such actions were unheard of, no wonder why Thranduil didn't understand. " No, in her, as in her…you know… female area?"
The king just stared at him for a moment in confusion, then it dawned on him and he turned slightly green, Poicano looked around for any buckets or other objects useful if the king needed it. " My king, are you ok? Do you need a bucket?"
Thranduil shook his head, tossed down a huge gulp of wine and coughed violently before he turned to the healer once more, teary eyed. " Why? Why would anyone do that?"
Poicano sat down on the stairs below the throne. " I am pretty sure I know why, the thing that man said explained it. If the people who had her sold her as a whore to other men she probably got pregnant. And they tried to end her pregnancy by causing a miscarriage. "
Thranduil moaned. " Valar, this is the stuff of nightmares, no worse. Those humans must have been the spawn of Morgoth himself!"
Poicano was having a very sad expression in his eyes. " The evil of the world can come in many forms, some worse than others. I guess this is one of them."
The king sighed. " Do you think she can tell us anything if she survives?"
Poicano made a grimace. " Maybe, but that is not our main concern, first of all we have to make sure that she does live, and that she is free from pain and discomfort. She has probably never been treated with kindness her whole life, she will most likely see us as enemies until we can prove to her that we mean her no harm. It will be a long process my lord, long and I bet painful too."
Thranduil nodded, his eyes were dark. " You are probably right, I have no idea of what or who she is, she must be some sort of elf and that makes her kin, and she is barely more than a child. The very idea of someone of our race being treated like that makes my blood boil with anger, I am not sure that I can contain it."
Poicano sent the king a sad smile. " Then let someone else do the talking, at least in the beginning. She may sense your rage and believe that she is the cause of it and its target."
Thranduil shook his head, he had a pained expression on his face. " I would never feel anger towards her, that poor poor child, why have the gods allowed such a young creature to suffer thus? It breaks my heart. "
Poicano could only sigh. " As it does mine my lord, as it does mine."