Siege of Dread

Chapter 8: Hidden Doors and Visible Fears

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Next

The sounds of the approaching orcs could be heard now in the cavern.  Legolas prepared for the coming fight, pulling his bow from its place on his quiver.  He turned back towards Aragorn only to find the human wading back into the pool. 

“What are you doing?” the elf whispered incredulously. “You cannot think to go back out the way we came in?” 

“No, that will never work,” Aragorn responded hastily, his tone preoccupied and soft.  “Here, come, quickly!”  Holding his hand out to the elf he dropped down off the steps, the water rushing up to mid-chest as he balanced on the natural shelf.  “The rocks, they form a small platform here under the water; we can hide under the shelf until the orcs are gone.” 

Light spilled into the cave from the torches the orcs held as they shuffled into view.  Pushing one another out of the way and telling coarse jokes, they made their way toward the pond.  The water rippled slightly and the orc holding the torch watched the lapping waves curiously.  As the ripples stilled and the dark pool fell back to its gentle rolling, the dark creature shrugged and pushed his warg back from the surface where the beast had been lapping up the clean, cold water. 

“We refill the stores first and then you may drink your fill, Shehlzak,” he reprimanded the creature, pushing the warg’s muzzle away from him.  The beast's low, rumbling growl was rewarded with a none-too-gentle smack and the animal backed away to pace the edges of the underground shoal.  The warg showed his teeth, but submitted. 

Below the water, the sounds were muted and distorted.  Aragorn stood next to Legolas, holding himself submerged by wedging his body into a crevice that was protected from view by an outcropping of rocks near the base of the lowest step.  The light from the torches above played in odd, broken patterns across the top of the water as the orcs dipped bucket after bucket into the pond. 

The elf watched the surface cautiously, waiting for the light to recede.  He could hold his breath a lot longer than any human, but he did not like the position they had been put into; one small slip and their whereabouts would be given away. 

Aragorn, however, was not having it as easy.  He had learned to hold his breath for almost five minutes; an ability that had its roots of learning in his brothers’ mischief, but his adrenaline had heightened his heart rate and he required more air than he had originally thought.  He tried to calm himself, but the feelings of suffocation coupled with the crippling claustrophobia of the position they were caught in overrode his senses, claiming his focus and control.  He closed his eyes and pressed back against the rocks behind him, looking for a distraction to ease the pressure building in his chest. 

Seeing his friend’s discomfort, Legolas grasped the ranger’s wrist tightly, forcing the human to focus on him. 

Finally, their wait came to an abrupt end when a small contingent of orcs raced into the room. 

“Tmarkz! Guruth has returned!” the orc messenger told his superior.  

Tmarkz turned casually and glanced at the regiment that poured into the room.  He ran his hand down the mane of the growling creature that stood next to him, quieting the warg's grumbling. 

“And...?” he questioned the underling. “Did they find what they were looking for?” 

“Not exactly, but they did find something.” The answer roused the laughter of those around them as a cruel smile lit the dark hearted being’s face. “Guruth says he has a companion for the prisoner and quite a tale for the fire tonight.  He says you’re to come.” 

With a simple nod, Tmarkz signaled to his company and the orcs left the chamber, carrying as much water as they had already retrieved in large caskets tied to the backs of several wargs.  Their croaking laughter could be heard echoing down the hallway as Aragorn shot to the surface of the pond, boosted by Legolas who pushed the human up onto the first landing of steps. 

Shelzahk froze mid-step, glancing over his left shoulder. The hair on the warg’s back stood on end and he growled out a question to his handler.  Tmarkz stopped and listened carefully; he rarely doubted his mount’s sense of hearing and smell; the beast was nearly always correct.  He had just decided to go back and check the pool room when a second messenger raced towards them, urging them quickly back into the main chamber.  Guruth needed help setting up traps near the entrance of the cave.  With a small shrug, the orc petted the warg’s broad back, shouldering the animal back down the hallway with promises of fresh meat. 

Unconvinced, the creature followed its master into the main dwelling under the mountain; it never went well between them if he disagreed.  Something had been back there and Shelzahk intended to find out exactly what, but it could wait.  Wargs could be very patient when they wanted to be. 

Aragorn gasped for breath and climbed slowly out of the water.  Legolas stood near the tunnel, listening to the orcs retreat, trying to catch phrases and words from the disjointed conversations that drifted back to him.  He didn’t dare get too close for fear of the wargs' picking up his scent.  The beasts’ senses were nearly as sharp as an elf’s and it would do them no good to get caught in this place with no way out. 

“What do you hear?” the ranger asked as he gained Legolas’ side. He was bitterly cold and trying not to shiver as they stood on the threshold of the darkened passageway.  His breath ghosted on the air as he spoke. 

“You are freezing; we need to get somewhere warm.”  Legolas' alarm heightened as he turned back towards his friend. The man was briskly rubbing his arms in a vain attempt to stave off the chill caused by staying so long submerged in the cold, mountain water. 

“We will. But I want to know what they are talking about.” Aragorn nodded up the tunnel, emphasizing whom exactly he meant.  “Could you hear anything?” 

Legolas sighed wearily; he hated to tell the ranger what he had overheard.  “It seems they have prisoners.  More than one, I’d wager; it sounded like someone else was just brought in.”  The elf watched the human carefully as Aragorn’s movements stilled at the news.  His brows narrowed in concern.  Being a captive among orcs was one of the worst fates he could imagine and if these were the same creatures that had attacked his home, it was possibly someone from Rivendell. 

“Who?” the ranger wanted to know. 

With a shake of his head Legolas’ gaze dropped to the floor. “I do not know.  It was hard to tell.  One of them mentioned a friend for the prisoner and it sounds like they are preparing to fortify their position.  They are setting traps into the surrounding forest, to keep someone out I imagine; I couldn’t quite hear everything and much of it was in their own disgusting tongue.”  Glancing back up, the elf met the ranger’s hard stare.  He knew what Aragorn was thinking and how he would have felt had these orcs just returned from a raid on Lasgalen. “I’m sorry, Estel.” 

Aragorn gripped Legolas’ arm gently and nodded in understanding, “Let us go find out who was captured and see if we cannot free them while we take down this evil lair.” 

“Agreed.” The elf’s grim features lightened slightly as he smiled. “However, I think we may need help if they have numbers here like we encountered in the woods.  They have wargs as well and if we are not careful they will scent us.  We must go cautiously.”  Legolas grabbed the ranger’s sodden jacket, stopping his friend’s forward rush, “And we need to find an alternate way out in case we cannot reach the surface through the orcs’ lair.  If what you say is true and this place is of dwarven construction, there will surely be a back door.  You remember what Balin told us about how strongly the dwarves felt on that subject.” 

Aragorn didn’t really remember, it had been so many years ago.  He was mildly surprised that Legolas did, considering how glazed-over the elven prince had appeared whenever the Moria dwarves had held forth on the finer points of their society.  Apparently Legolas was a better listener than he gave him credit for. 

“If the orcs have made this their home, won’t they know about any other doors?” Aragorn could not help asking. 

Legolas cocked his head to the side, considering this.  “Very possibly.  But it is more likely these foul creatures have not been able to find it, or use it even if they have found it.  At least it would be wise to check.” 

With a nod, Aragorn moved aside and let Legolas lead him up and out of the pool room.  His heart was overrun with a mysterious fear for whom the orcs might have taken and his body was drained from the cold, wet journey.  The result of both factors was that his mind was not thinking as clearly as the elf’s and Aragorn knew that, so he was more than glad to let his friend take the initiative. 

The smoothly carved tunnel through which they cautiously progressed showed signs of decay.  A dwarf dwelling was built to endure, but orcs had a habit of destroying almost everything they touched, including their own habitations.  The walls showed scorings and claw marks where the wargs had gotten into scuffles with one another and refuse littered the passageway. 

Legolas’ heightened senses were almost a curse to him here and he had to fight the urge to gag on the stench as they slid slowly along the darkened tunnels, carefully mapping the passages in their mind for later reference. 

After a few long minutes of creeping forward, Legolas stopped, crouching in a darkened switchback.  The concave curve was shadowed in an odd mist that clung tightly to the ground and seemed to crawl up the wall.  Cool air fell from somewhere above as Legolas stepped closer to the strange sight.  A vent high up in the natural rock allowed the fresh air to fall into the cave.  Moisture brought in by the air turned to mist as it dripped through the layers of sediment and the natural rivulets that ran from another water source far above. 

The fresh air coming in was a relief, but that was not the only thing that drew the elf thither.  There was something about it that pricked the prince’s memory.  Something about mist curtains that he had heard from the dwarves a long time ago.  He wished now that he had paid better attention.  Legolas swiped his hands through the mist, testing it.  The rock wall did not continue on just behind it as one might have assumed from the way it looked.  There was more passage behind the vapor. 

Sounds of the orcs could be heard just around the bend and Aragorn inched past the elf as Legolas drew one of his blades silently from its sheath on his back.  His keen sight pierced through the veiled mist into another passage.  Not having noticed that the ranger had moved on without him, he whispered his intentions to the man. 

“Aragorn, this is it, I think, the back door.  I remember Rorin I think, saying something about the use of mist curtains like this in the olden days of the dwarves...” He pressed through the swirling vapor tendrils and walked down the short tunnel to a dead end. 

Here the walls and floor were swept clean of debris.  The stench of orcs did not linger in the air.  It seemed that the orcs did not frequent this area as much as the other passages, and that was no great wonder.  There seemed to be nothing here worthy of a second look. 

For half a moment Legolas thought he must have been wrong as he glanced at the dark, barren stone walls around him.  Risking a little more light, since he was somewhat protected from sight by the mist curtain, Legolas increased his natural incandescense a few shades, illuminating the rocks around him in a faint blue glow.  Something in the rocks directly in front of the elf glittered faintly. 

Reaching out, Legolas’ fingers gracefully traced the delicate patterns etched into the stone, now just barely visible in the blackness.  The swirling pattern seemed to form the outline of an invisible door.  Although he could not see it, the prince felt sure that what appeared to be solid rock was indeed a Dwarven door, created by the skill of the dwarves and perhaps sealed by the magic of the elves as was often found in works from the elder days before the friendship between most Elves and Dwarves had cooled into a mistrustful scrutiny. 

A few moments later, Legolas spotted the ancient Elvish script that flowed around one edge of the concealed doorway.  Rubbing it with his fingers as if to make it clearer, the elf’s brows knitted in concentration as he tried to make it out.  The runes in use were old, almost archaic now, and the tongue was definitely Quenya. 

An sahtatalyë i lúce o naugrim ar eldar querelye anto rôm ar quenelye lambello i naugrim... then the words became totally unfamiliar as the language switched from Elvish to Dwarvish. The final line again was Elvish: Ar i andor quenelye lambello i eldar.

Legolas frowned.  Quenya was not commonly known in his father’s realm since it had been so long a forbidden language among his father’s people.  He had learned a little of the ancient elven tongue only in passing when he was being taught the roots and history of language.  The fact that Quenya had been forbidden immediately made it attractive to his young mind and he had learned a fair amount before eventually forgetting all about it and moving on to other things.  Any other experience with that ancient tongue had been picked up from his association with Aragorn and books in Lord Elrond’s house.  He had a sharp mind though and felt that given a moment to think, he could figure it out.  The runes were a little more difficult, but he got the main idea.  The words were instructions for opening the door.  The real trick would be deciphering the Dwarvish, of which he knew none.  Perhaps Aragorn would know.  As strange as it was to admit, the human would probably know more of the ancient tongue of the Noldor than the Wood-elf did. 

“We can escape through here, Estel,” he whispered.  “As soon as we decipher these phrases it should open and close upon command.” 

Legolas started and turned when silence met his revelation.  Aragorn was nowhere to be seen in the tunnel behind him. 

“Estel?”  Running quickly back the way he had come, Legolas turned into the main passageway, his footsteps undetectable as he raced up behind his human companion. 

Aragorn had nearly gained the entrance to the main chamber.  He inched along the right hand wall in the shadow of the tunnel’s bend, listening intently as he moved slowly towards the opening.  The warm glow of firelight danced against the far wall in oddly shaped patterns as orcs and wargs passed in front of the burning fires inside the room. 

A light touch to the ranger’s shoulder caused him to turn fully around in his tracks, his hand held out to stave off an unexpected attack.  Legolas bit back the smile that curled his lips. 

“Who did you think would be following you?” the elf questioned, his voice barely audible above the raucous laughter coming from the other room. 

“You scared the life out of me.”  Aragorn breathed in deeply and then flinched as the crack of a whip resounded through the tunnel.  Ignoring his friend’s question, he quickly moved to the passage opening and peered out, whispering to the elf what he had so far overhead. 

“They do have prisoners.”  Aragorn ducked back and pressed hard against the passageway as a drunken orc wove unsteadily past the opening.  “They are elves.” His voice held the slightest tinge of distress.  “I believe from what they have said that one of them is Glorfindel.  He was captured in the hills nearby.  They believe that having him here with someone they call ‘the other one’ will draw someone else to them.”  Aragorn turned back towards Legolas, a puzzled look on his face.  It was a frightening thought to consider that these orcs had somehow managed to capture the Balrog Slayer, but more than a little confusing who exactly they could prize as a bigger catch to be using Glorfindel against.  “I don’t understand. I’m going to take a look.  Maybe we can free them,” he answered Legolas’ cautioning frown. 

Edging back towards the tunnel opening, Aragorn peered inside.  The cave was filled with orcs lounging near several fires, sprawled against their resting wargs or arguing with one another over vats of their obscene draught.  A group of orcs gathered around the prisoners in the right hand wing of the cave, obscuring his view. 

Darting to the left side of the passage, Aragorn stepped partly out of the tunnel.  The interior of the room looked as though it had suffered from a massive earthquake, possibly the one that had shaken Rivendell some years past.  Whenever it had happened, a column had dislodged from the vaulted ceiling and crumbled to the floor, leaving troll-sized boulders scattered about the interior.  One such large stone had crashed down near the tunnel opening and partly blocked the entry.  It was in the shadow of this rock shard that Aragorn stood.  From his new vantage point, he could just barely make out the golden hair of an elf that was being tormented by his captors. 

“Is it Glorfindel?” Legolas questioned quietly from his own hiding place across from Aragorn. 

“Yes, I believe it...” The ranger’s face went ashen and he gasped as the orcs moved enough for him to see both the captives that hung from the twisted rope manacles across the room.  “Oh by the Valar.” 

The change in Aragorn sent a wave of panic through Legolas.  “What?”  He glanced between his friend and his limited view of the room, trying vainly to see what the human could. “Aragorn, what is it?” 

An orc with a grotesquely scarred face punched a dark-haired elf in the stomach, doubling the Noldo over.  Wrapping blackened, clawed fingers in the elf’s long hair, Guruth pulled Elrond back upright and leered at the elf lord.  A crude, thick blade played under the proud elven chin, taunting the healer. 

“So, shall we continue with you or entertain... what, the captain of your guard is he?”  Guruth drew nearer to Elrond and the elf grimaced, closing his eyes and looking way.  He shuddered slightly as he tried to breathe around the pain wracking his body.  It struck him oddly that the orcs thought Thranduil was one of his own, but he did not argue. 

“No answer, my pet?”  The edge of the knife drew a harsh line along the underside of Elrond’s jaw.  Seeing he would get nowhere, the orc slammed his elbow up under the elf’s chin, snapping his head back against the rock wall behind him. It was all Elrond could do to keep from crying out. 

“Stop it!”  The other prisoner demanded, seeing the brutal treatment of the orcs. 

That voice. 

Legolas started, his heart hammering in his chest.  He knew that voice.  “Aragorn...?”  His question faltered as fear tingled through him. 

Guruth swept his blade up quickly, severing Elrond’s bonds.  The elf fell limply to the floor, unable to stand up under the abuse his body had taken. 

Aragorn could take no more.  He couldn’t believe his eyes and the horror that wrapped through his mind had stifled all coherent thought.  Unable to watch his father beaten, he darted forward. 

Strong arms wrapped around his waist, halting him mid-stride and dragging him back into the passageway.  Legolas rolled to the ground, fighting the human he held as he moved back behind the bend in the tunnel to hide the sounds of their scuffle. 

“Let me go!” Aragorn hissed dangerously. “I have to get them out of there.  They can’t hurt him anymore.  Legolas let me go!”  He fought the hands that held him down.  “You don’t understand.” 

“No.” The elf was strong enough to hold the human at bay but was unwilling to hurt him, “No! Stop struggling.” he whispered into the man’s ear even as he tightened his hold on the ranger, effectively pinning him with his weight.  “Stop it.  Stop and think!  We’ve been here before, my friend.  If you go in there you will be killed.  There were at least five hundred orcs and half as many wargs.” 

With a sob of defeat Aragorn stilled beneath the elf, unable to meet his friend’s gaze.  Of course Legolas was right, Aragorn knew that, but seeing Elrond in that cruel situation had nearly stolen his reason away for a few moments. 

“Now, tell me what you saw.” Legolas released the ranger and pushed away from him, resting his back against the tunnel wall.  “Who is in there?  Was it Glorfindel?” 

Aragorn answered with a shake of his head.  He sat up and pushed the hair away from his face, glancing down to the gravelly floor beneath him. 

“I did not think so.”  Legolas’ gaze wandered back to the tunnel opening, “That was not his voice.” 

“No, it was not.”  Pressing himself up, Aragorn stood slowly to his feet; tears glimmered in the corners of his eyes.  “It was...” his voice trailed off as he walked back towards the main hall, “It was Ada and...” 

Legolas’ hand on his arm stopped his forward movement, causing him to turn slowly back to his friend.  “Tell me,” the elf whispered quietly, already shocked by the news. 

“Elrond is in there and he is not alone.”  Aragorn took a shaky breath and steadied himself, gently gripping his friend’s arms, “Your father is with him, Legolas.  Somehow the orcs have captured him and they have somehow apparently mistaken him for Glorfindel.” 

Legolas’ mind reeled.  He had known that was his father’s voice but had not wanted to believe it true.  Why would Thranduil be here, so far from home?  How in Arda had he managed to end up a prisoner?  Surely he would not have been alone wherever he went... how had this happened?  It was unthinkable.  What could have possibly forced the king to leave his kingdom? “Are you sure?” 

“We have to get them out of there.” Aragorn repeated quietly, he knew Legolas hadn’t heard him the first time.  The elf was obviously as stunned and horrified as he was at the unexpected revelation. 

Whatever the elf was going to say was cut short as shouting erupted from the main room, drawing both friends’ attention.  The orcs were fighting amongst themselves; something had happened. 

Guruth smirked as he toyed with his prisoners.  It was fun to watch the two of them try to defend each other.  Elves could be so selflessly stupid at times; he wondered how their race had survived as long as they had.  A kick to the prone captive on the ground brought a shout of warning from the golden-haired elf still bound to the wall even as Elrond cautioned him off. 

Stepping nearer to the Sinda elf, Guruth held the proud face in one gloved hand, his long, claw-like fingernails protruding from the torn, leather tips.  Thranduil didn’t flinch.  Guruth smiled, his grin feral and evil.  The fire in this elf’s eyes was still blazing and unbroken; it would be fun to change that. 

Commotion at the front of the cavern drew his attention away and Guruth stepped back, giving Thranduil a moment of peace.  The elf lord glanced to the floor where Elrond lay, forgotten for the moment amongst their captors.  Of all the beings he might have expected to encounter here, the Lord of Imladris was definitely not one of them.  Thranduil was sadly confused about what was going on and who exactly these creatures thought he was, but right now survival was the main priority, answers would have to come later. 

A small scouting party of orcs tumbled into the chamber, fighting and arguing amongst themselves.  One soldier held two distinctly elvish blades in his hands.  He pushed his way to the front of the group, silencing them with an angry shout and approached Guruth. 

The orc leader’s eyes narrowed and he scowled as the scout walked forward.  “What is this?  Report.”  He barked out the command causing the room to fall silent, the inhabitants flinching slightly at the disapproval in his voice. 

The orc plunged the two swords tip down into the rocky earth floor, leaving them stuck quivering in plain sight of the captive elves. “Two elves came up through the gap.  They’re dead.  One of Rhezsharb’s traps got them a little too well,” the orc scout informed his leader.  “The filthy squeakers got stuck like pigs on a spit.  Belzg thinks they mighta been the Elf Lord’s sons.  They was identical of face.” 

On the ground, Elrond’s already pale face whitened to near ghostliness.  For a moment his gaze remained transfixed upon the familiar twin blades before he pressed his eyes shut, curling into himself and turning his head towards the cold stone floor.  Those were Elladan and Elrohir’s swords, he knew them at a glance, and his heart shattered within him.

First > Previous > Next