Captive of Darkness

Chapter 6

by Cassia

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    Dusk was beginning to fall when Melèch gathered his guests and a small company of his guards to the courtyard to prepare for their mysterious trip. Elnon blustered and wanted to know where they were going, but Melèch refused to say.
    Elrond felt a growing apprehension stirring in his heart, but did not yet know what the warning meant. He was surprised to see that Legolas had been brought out and was apparently going to be brought with them. The younger elf’s eyes were glazed with pain and Elrond noted with cold anger the way that Legolas held to the wall for support as he was dragged forward by a leash-like chain connected to the iron collar on his neck.
    The simple, black, long-sleeved tunic the elf prince was wearing hid whatever had been done to him earlier in the day, but from the way Legolas stumbled as he walked, Elrond knew that whatever the clothing concealed was serious. Clenching his fists tightly at his side, the elf lord had to contain his own disgust and ire as he remembered Melèch’s heartless comments about Legolas earlier.
    Legolas made no sound when the guards grabbed him by his raw shoulders and jerked him to a halt in the middle of the courtyard, but the pain was clear on his unnaturally pale face. He was in so much pain that he felt ill and wavered slightly on his feet as the long leash-chain connected to his neck was fastened to the horn of Captain Dagred’s saddle.
    He had been beaten many times since becoming Melèch’s slave, but never had he been lashed so severely as he had been this morning. Melèch had been determined to make the elf scream and had refused to call his men off until Legolas could not help the sounds that the pain wrenched from him.
    Blood loss and the severity of his injuries were making the elf dizzy and Legolas felt his heart sink as everyone mounted up and he realized that he was intended to have to keep pace with the horses. Normally, this would have been no problem for the elf but, in his current condition, the thought made Legolas want to weep for exhaustion and pain. His hurting, traumatized body was about ready to quit on him and he was dangerously close to wishing that it would.
    Elrond did not realize until the party started off that Legolas was going to be forced to jog behind the horses. He clenched his jaw as he watched the young elf toil stoically along behind Dagred’s horse. The prince’s face was impassive as he pushed himself to keep up with the trotting horses, fighting with the chains on his ankles that shortened his naturally long stride. Graceful even yet, it took another elf to see through Legolas’ facade of strength and know that he was in trouble.
    After the first mile or so, Legolas began to stumble as he ran, feeling wearier than he felt an elf ought. The chain on his collar continued to pull him forward as his feet struggled to keep up. He felt incredibly dizzy and faint. Underneath his clothing, his wounds were still bleeding. Holding the lead chain in his hands, he tried to keep it from making the edges of the iron collar dig into his neck as he fought to keep the pace and not weave as he jogged.
    Elrond guided his horse over until he was riding next to King Melèch. Saying too much was risky, but neither could Elrond keep silent and watch the younger elf suffer. Glancing back at Legolas, Elrond kept his features impassive. "Your slave is having some trouble, your highness," he remarked as off-handedly as he could. "I fear he shall slow us down. Would it not be better to let him ride behind one of the others and get on about our business more swiftly?"
    Melèch glanced back at where Legolas was still toiling on. He seemed to consider the idea before shaking his head no.
    "He will keep up or pay the price. We will not be slowed," the king said coldly. In his mind, Legolas had a lot of paying to do. He had kept his true identity secret from Melèch and caused the king much grief. However, Melèch was sure that what Dor-Gor had in mind would more than pay the elf back for his deceit.
    With nothing more he could say, Elrond let his horse fall back a little, where he could surreptitiously keep an eye on Legolas.
    Legolas pushed himself as far as he could go, but it was not far enough. Two miles later he fell to his knees and was dragged forward by the chain for a few paces. He scrambled to his feet, only to fall again a few steps later. He tried to undo the thick clasp that connected the chain to his collar, but it was designed to only be able to be opened by someone working it from the other direction. It was not intended to be removed by the person wearing it. Legolas could not get his feet under him fast enough to regain his footing and keep up with the horse and the elf prince clutched the chain tightly to keep from getting dragged by his neck as he scraped roughly across the ground for several yards.
    Dagred pulled his horse to a halt and jumped down.
    Legolas knelt in the dust, knowing what was coming but unable to make his reeling body go any further. His breathing was fast and ragged as he hunched in on himself, instinctively tightening as Dagred approached him.
    He moaned softly through his teeth when Dagred’s riding crop landed across his already abused shoulders. His body trembled, his strength spent. He wished he would die and leave this place of suffering once and for all. For an immortal, such a wish was a serious thing indeed.
    "Get up, slave! Get moving!" Dagred ordered brusquely, hitting the elf again. Legolas fell forward onto his hands, unable to keep from whimpering in pain. But he could not rise.
    Elrond actually flinched when Dagred struck Legolas. He knew the young elf did not have the power to go on and felt the bile rise in the back of his throat when he heard the soft sounds of the prince’s distress.
    The elf lord closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to calm himself. His head told him that he could not endanger his mission when he was at last so close to finding out what he sought, but his heart told him that he could not stand by and watch this happen if he ever wanted to be able to live with himself again.
    Elrond jumped down from his horse. Covering the distance in several long strides, he quickly and calmly unclipped the lead-chain from the front of Legolas’ collar. Practically shouldering Dagred out of his way, the elf lord wrapped his arm under Legolas’ armpits and pulled the younger elf swiftly to his feet. Crossing back to his own horse while supporting his companion, Elrond pulled Legolas up onto his mount with a surprising amount of grace, seating the prince in front of him.
    Dagred and the others were so surprised that they did not react for a moment.
    Turning a cold and, he hoped, careless gaze upon Melèch who was staring at him intently, Elrond strove for as much flippancy as he could. "By the stars, Melèch, if we wait for this drudge we will never get anywhere."
    Unexpectedly, King Elnon came to his aid, the haughty monarch’s impatience bubbling over, as it was want to do. "He’s right, you know. Can’t we just get on with this? I do not wish to spend the rest of my life here."
    Melèch bowed to his guests’ wishes, even though he did not like being told what to do with his things. He cast one last, hard glance towards Elrond before spurring his horse and ordering his men onward again.
    Legolas leaned weakly forward against the protective embrace of Elrond’s arms as they rode, although the young prince was obviously trying to be strong and not disgrace himself in front of the elven lord. Now that he was this close, Elrond could see that the back of Legolas’ tunic was stained with blood that the dark color of the fabric hid from the casual glance.
    "You should not have done that, my lord," Legolas whispered around his still labored breathing. He feared that Elrond may have just put himself in grave danger because of the kindness he had shown him.
    Elrond was silent and Legolas closed his eyes, seeking the strength he could not seem to find. "I’m sorry," he whispered quietly, miserably.
    "You have nothing for which to apologize," Elrond’s voice was soft and grave, yet surprisingly gentle too. "Hush now, and save your strength; I feel we may soon both have need of all the strength we possess." The shadow and warning in his heart and mind were growing stronger the closer they got towards wherever Melèch was taking them.


    The company stopped at last in front of a large cave. The entrance of the cavern yawned from the craggy rocks surrounding it like the gaping maw of a giant dragon, the huge stalactites hanging from the ceiling looking for all the world like massive, threatening teeth.
    The cave was dark and horror flowed out of it. Both elves could tell that whatever was inside there radiated evil like a festering carcass radiated stench. They were not afraid, but wariness came over them both.
    Melèch and Unuth dismounted first, followed more slowly by the rest of the party. The King of Dorolyn left most of his guards outside, bringing only Dagred and one other to handle Legolas, whom Dagred took away from Elrond with a withering glare.
    Legolas felt the darkness flowing out of the cavern as if it were a cold stream slamming into his chest and resisted as he was dragged forward towards the entrance. He felt suddenly sure that doom was waiting in there, in that inky darkness, and he was in no hurry to meet it. His eyes widened slightly. He did not know what it was he feared, but a cold blackness was clutching at his heart and something inside of him was screaming that he must not pass underneath that shadowed arch.
    Dagred kicked the back of the elf’s knees but, instead of pushing him forward, that dropped the weakened prisoner to the ground again. This time it was Melèch who stooped and grabbed Legolas’ collar.
    "Come now, your highness," Melèch sneered as he jerked the elf roughly back to his feet. "There’s someone here who wants to meet you and it’s not polite for a prince to keep people waiting."
    On their right, Elrond stiffened almost imperceptibly at the words.
    If it were possible for Legolas’ face to get any paler, it did. Melèch knew. Somehow, Melèch knew who he really was. A small thrill of terror ran up his spine as he was manhandled through the entrance and under the dripping, fang-like projections that hung above them.
    Elrond, Unuth and Elnon followed, although Unuth seemed to know his own way quite well and Elrond’s suspicion that the slave trader already knew what was going on went up a notch.
    Elnon complained about the dank darkness of the cave, but his objections were hesitant, as the oppressive atmosphere of the place seemed to affect even him.
    Only King Melèch’s hunting falcon seemed completely untroubled, swooping down to follow them in and light upon one of the jutting stone ridges not too far inside.
    For his part, Elrond felt as if his flesh were literally crawling.
    "This is an evil place," Legolas’ words, strangely calm and detached considering his position, spoke what was in Elrond’s mind.
    Dagred and the other guard lit their torches and the firelight bounced off the cave walls, casting eerie illumination on the pillaring stalactites and stalagmites that hung like great bats from the ceiling above and protruded up like teeth from below.
    All around them, huge columns of jagged stone stood among the smaller stalagmites, stretching back into the incredibly vast cave, farther than the eye could see. For some reason, they seemed neither natural nor benign, but one hardly knew why. About two hundred paces in, the natural look of the cave ceased and it appeared as if miners had been at work, for one could see the signs of pick and shovel work on the walls. While the natural stalactites ceased, the huge pillar-like structures continued on, looking as if they had been chiseled out of the solid stone for some purpose.
    Melèch turned to his guests, his gaze fixing on Elnon and Elrond. "Now is the time for questions to be answered," he said with a dark glitter in his eye. "What I propose is an arrangement that will benefit all of us. What would you say, Elnon, if I had an army that could put down the rebellion in your land once and for all, and all it would cost you was the price to arm them? Esgal has already told us that for the right amount his people can provide whatever we need," Melèch said.
    Elnon looked slightly skeptical. "If it were possible, I would say it was well worth my while, if it were possible," Elnon stressed the word. "But Dorolyn has no such army and I do not see one in this dark hole."
    Melèch smiled almost imperceptibly. "That’s because you’re not looking hard enough."
    Suddenly, a large shape rose from the shadows at the back of the cave, almost as if one of the giant pillars had come to life, causing everyone in the party except Melèch, Unuth and the two elves to jump and step back a pace.
    Dor-Gor rose to his full ten-foot height and Legolas’ eyes widened at the sight. The creature was unlike any he had ever seen before. Proportioned in some respects like a man, the creature could have been mistaken for some kind of troll, except that its face was far more cunning and it did not shy away from the daylight filtering in from the cave mouth. Tall and compact, it looked as if it had been hewn out of living stone and only this moment come to life. Its rough, granite-like hide folded and rippled in a totally unnatural way as it moved.
    ~~"Welcome, mighty lords of the mortal world,"~~ Dor-Gor greeted with an ingratiating grin that seemed somehow fake on his frightening face.
    Elnon was unabashedly hiding behind Captain Dagred and the other guard, peering fearfully up at the monstrous being before them. He was the kind of man who was very comfortable and strong when ordering the execution of dozens of helpless villagers who were accused of harboring insurgents, but a downright coward when it came to anything that he could not control. "W-what is it?" he asked Melèch fearfully.
    Elrond’s eyes narrowed sharply. The elf already knew the answer to that, although he had thought this all but impossible.
    "Dor-Gor is of an ancient race that was around back when the world was young," Melèch informed calmly. "His people are something like living stone, strong, and unbreakable. Look around you, my friends, this is our army," the king swept his arms around the inside of the cave. Suddenly the brooding presence of the huge, odd-shaped stone pillars made sense. They were not stone, they were more creatures like Dor-Gor and yet... they did not move.
    "Your army is useless, Melèch," Elrond shook his head, rapping on one of the pillars with his knuckles. "They are as dead as stone."
    ~~"Oh no, not dead, just in a very deep sleep..."~~ Dor-Gor laughed. ~~"You see, many centuries ago we had some... differences... with the local people. The King of Mirkwood and his people ruthlessly bound us to this enchanted sleep and sealed us up inside this cave, encased in solid granite. But they erred in their plans and my sleep was not so deep as the others."~~ A fierce hatred flared in his eyes and his gaze settled on Legolas. The young elf shifted uncomfortably. He got the distinct feeling that Dor-Gor too, knew exactly who and what he was.
    Elrond was well aware of the events Dor-Gor mentioned, and knew the details the creature had left out. A very long time ago, back when King Thranduil was a young elf and Elrond’s own father and mother were still walking the plains of Middle-earth, these creatures had plagued and ravaged the countryside of this area, causing great death and destruction. One of the most difficult problems with them was that they did not reproduce after the normal manner, but fashioned more of their kind from hewn stone and breathed life into them by some dark art, so their numbers could expand dramatically in a very short time, if only they had enough stone to work with.
    Through a combination of cunning and strife, the elves had finally put a stop to them once and for all, and Legolas’ father and grandfather had sealed them in their stony tomb, where they were supposed to remain forever... But, obviously, something had gone wrong.
    "I awakened Dor-Gor by accident, but fate has smiled upon the chance and provided us with an unequaled opportunity," Melèch picked up the explanation again. "Do you not think that your insurgents would flee in terror if such an army confronted them, Elnon?"
    Elnon nodded slowly, his greed overcoming his fear. His eyes narrowed slightly. "All for a fee to you, I suppose?"
    Melèch shrugged the question off. "Certainly I have incurred expenses... Unuth’s slaves are not cheap, and it took all of them that he could get to clear this cavern. It seems the air is unhealthy down here after a while and a disappointing number of them kept dying," the words were callous and uncaring. "But from you, Elnon, I will take nothing for myself, only the cost of Lord Esgal’s armaments will I ask of you for the assistance of my new army."
    "But what does Dor...whatever his name is get out of this?" Elnon pressed again. The king was obviously of the opinion that no one did anything for nothing, and he was right.
    "For one, protection." Melèch was obviously very pleased with his own plan. "You see, these beings’ skin is so tough that naught can pierce it. They have only one weak spot, directly between their collarbones. And that, Lord Esgal, is where your puzzle piece comes in."
    Suddenly Elrond understood. Of course, the rings he had brought Melèch would fit perfectly around Dor-Gor’s neck, and shield the soft spot at the base of his throat from any harm.
    "In the second place, Dor-Gor here cannot leave this cave until his companions are awakened but, to do that, he needed someone to bring him the means with which to rouse them," Melèch continued. "That, too, I have now done."
    At a nod from Melèch, Dagred and the other guard grabbed Legolas’ arms roughly and dragged him forward. Legolas resisted, but was forced to his knees in front of the hideous creature.
    Dor-Gor stooped, placing his huge, chiseled, ugly face only a few inches from the young elf’s. The creature’s long fangs glistened wickedly.
    ~~"Little elf prince, your fathers laid this curse upon us, but you shall pay the price,"~~ he smirked evilly.
    Legolas’ jaw tightened and he stared icily up at the monstrosity, refusing to pull back in fear, or give any sign of the terror that was flowing through his veins.
    "Gondrauko!" Legolas spat the elves’ ancient name for these creatures. "You are still spoken of in our legends and your legacy is an evil one. It makes sense now. All that stone in the quarries, it was not for building, it is for you, for you to shape more of your own twisted kind out of once you have your full strength back again." Horrible understanding washed over him.
    ~~"You know it, now take your knowledge to the grave with you. The rest of your miserable kind will be joining you soon enough, for we are unstoppable! And this time we will deal with you elves once and for all,"~~ Dor-Gor threatened.
    Legolas did not flinch. "You were defeated once, you will be again."
    Dor-Gor just laughed. ~~"I think not, little one. And, even so, you will not be there to see it. Prepare him."~~ The last command was given to Dargred and his companion. Dagred tangled his hand in the elf’s hair and pulled Legolas’ head forward, while his companion held the young prince’s shoulders, exposing the elf’s neck.
    Dor-Gor lifted a sharp, jagged piece of stone that resembled a twisted dagger and placed it tip-down against the base of Legolas’ skull.

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