16. Tower of Torment
The remainder of the night was a blur. Various advisors, civilian and military, crowded into the long house. Ariashal was extremely grateful for Adzuphel: he managed to co-ordinate everything, digesting the conflicting reports as they came in from the field, ordering the movements of the troops, sending off for reinforcements. Periodically he would speak to her, reassuring her that the Cardolani would not keep the King captive for long, that they would treat him well.
She nodded, trying to keep up a brave front, not for herself, but for the children. They were so confident of their father's prowess that they knew he would be back by dawn, or by tomorrow nightfall at the latest. Had he not made lightning dance for them? Did he not control the flying beasts? They had seen him make tiny flames trace elegant patterns on the ground, watched him shatter rock with a single word. They knew that he was invincible. This was, at most, a minor inconvenience.
Ariashal longed to share their confidence, their absolute faith in his indestructibility; but she knew better. She knew what her father and brothers did when they captured enemies, especially enemy commanders. The Cardolani were no better, and from what she had heard tended to be much worse. She must speak with Adzuphel, must warn him of the King's fate.
He led her away from the others, where she could be comfortably seated. "Madame," he said quietly, "I do not think you should worry yourself overmuch."
"You do not understand," she said. "They will do whatever they can to him."
Adzuphel listened as she recounted the lists of tortures her family had used. Beatings, floggings, hot pokers--they would use everything they had. And she knew that sometimes they forced themselves on those who would not break, even using weapons to violate their prisoners.
"They may want to," he soothed, "and they may try, but I promise you they will not get very far. I assure you that they cannot harm him."
"Perhaps once that was true," she wiped her eyes. "But I have cursed him. Every man I have married died. Now I fear I have been his death, too."
"No," he countered, "he has not been slain. They have done nothing to him. Look at your children, my Queen. They have faith in him. You know how strong he is. All will be well."
She shook her head.
"Why do you have so little faith in him? You have seen what he can do. Why are you so willing to believe him dead?"
"I told you. I am cursed!"
"No, Madame. You are blessed. You have children who love you, a kingdom at your feet, a husband who cares for you. There are few who are so blessed. And when the King returns you will see how blessed you are."
"Why are you so sure he will return? Why do you hold out hope?"
He sighed. "I have known His Majesty for many years, Madame, more years than you can possibly imagine. And in that time I have never seen the man or elf who could best him. Not in spell craft, certainly, and not in combat. It will take more than a few Cardolani warriors to defeat him, even though they were unfortunate enough to capture him. If they are wise, they will treat him well. If they are not, then you know as well as I that His Majesty abhors being restrained."
"That is true enough."
"You should try to sleep, Madame. Tomorrow will be long, and you will need your strength."
"I will try."
She lay abed for hours, but sleep, when it came, was full of nightmares. She could see him after being tortured, his broken body dragged mercilessly across the stones, trailing blood. They would chain him over a pit of flaming coals to be roasted alive. Or they would feed him to the bears, after beating him senseless and leaving him hanging helplessly in shackles. There was no scenario too horrific, no torment too gruesome, to be played out in her mind.
Unable to sleep, she went to her children. They were asleep, all of them, the fur blanket she had brought from her own bed draped loosely over them. They had no trouble sleeping; their confidence in their father was supreme. How she longed for such conviction!
Perhaps, if she stayed here, some of it would come to her. She pulled part of the blanket over herself, and lay down with her children.
Morning found the Hillfolk's town transformed into a fortress. Adzuphel declared Martial Law, requiring all the Hillfolk to stay inside unless escorted by an Angmarim soldier. Wolves freely trotted around, helping keep the civilians contained. Most of the larger buildings had been seized, and were now filled with troops, both human and orc. Some of the encampments spilled out onto the fields. Interspersed between the red and black tents were the orcish tribal insignia Ariashal knew from Carn Dum, plus some new ones: black stars on yellow, white arrows on red, blue hands on white, and many more. Carn Dum and Angmar banners swirled lazily above the tent city.
As yet no word had come from the Cardolani, a fact which puzzled Adzuphel. By now he should have received some sort of note, a ransom demand, perhaps, or at least a declaration that they had indeed taken the King. The lack of such correspondence had the men of Angmar baffled. Perhaps it was not the Cardolani who had seized him; perhaps it was some treachery here in the town. Or it might be the workings of Rhudaur.
Ariashal kept the children inside, lest anyone try to steal them too. And though she would not admit it, she also did not want them outside when word of their father's fate reached the town. They did not need to be among the first to hear of his demise.
All day long scouts, both human and lupine, reported back to Adzuphel. They could find no trace of the King, although they knew he had been taken to a small tower, several leagues away. Ariashal could not recall such a tower from her time here; it must be a new construct, built, probably, with Angmar's gold. Her brothers' treachery grew by the hour.
She finally asked Adzuphel why, if they were sure of the King's whereabouts, they did not try to free him.
Adzuphel sighed. He looked dreadful; he had not changed from the armor he had worn during last night's attack, nor had he gotten any rest. He had managed to wash the dried blood and muck from his face, but that was all he had been able to do. When she approached him with her query, he was too tired to be gentle.
"If we make an open move, they will try to kill him. I have dealt with the people of Rhudaur and Cardolan before, and I know that you spoke the truth when you said they would use whatever means they could to break him. But they cannot break him. If they try to harm him, they will be slaughtered like beasts. And if they do harm him, they will not rest, even in death. He will destroy them all."
From the look in his eye she knew that it would be useless to question him further.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.