Dark Horizons: 22. Breath of Fresh Air

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22. Breath of Fresh Air

Pippin sat huddled and miserable deep within the cold confines of Malek’s lair, his eyes downcast and his arms wrapped around his small body in a futile attempt to gain some warmth.  A cold chill seemed to fill his body and spirit, and despite the cloak wrapped tightly about him, he could not seem to stop shaking.  The only place on him that was not numb with cold was his left cheekbone, where Malek had struck him earlier.  Four, deep, red scratches ran down his face from the creature’s claws, and the welts burned fiercely in contrast with his otherwise frozen body.  

Though Pippin remained outwardly motionless, inwardly his mind was whirling madly, his foremost thought that of escape.  He did not know how, just as he knew that attempting it was nigh on impossible; yet he was determined to try.  He also knew that he would have to move soon if he was to have even the slightest chance of success.  Malek was gone, off leading the orc army in their mischief at Calembel, his black presence no longer throwing a heavy shadow over Pippin’s mind.  Only a dozen orcs had been left behind to guard the prisoners, and Pippin knew he would not get a better opportunity.

‘Only a dozen,’ he thought wryly to himself, shaking his head slowly, ‘come on, Pippin, a true warrior of Gondor would not be daunted by a mere dozen orcs!’  If the situation hadn’t been so serious, he might have laughed at the thought.  After all, it had been his desire to prove himself that had gotten him into this whole mess in the first place.   The truth of the matter was, the thought of battling twelve orcs was more than daunting, it was terrifying.  ‘Perhaps if I had Legolas to aid me…’  He did not finish the thought, knowing the futility of such hopeless wishing.  There would be no aid from Legolas.  Whatever he was going to do, he would have to do it on his own.

As thoughts of Legolas unavoidably filled his mind, he turned and glanced at the elf sitting a few feet away.  Legolas had awakened shortly after Malek’s departure, much to Pippin’s immediate relief.  However, that relief had quickly faded upon closer inspection of his friend.  Legolas’ face was far too pale, and when he had pushed himself into a sitting position, the cave floor had shone bright with the blood from his mutilated back.  His long golden hair hung limp and dirty about his shoulders, and his chest was covered in bloody scratches. 

Yet that had not been the worst.  Since waking, Legolas had not said a single word, nor had he responded at all when Pippin called his name.  Instead, he merely sat with his knees pulled up to his bare chest, his bound arms wrapped around his legs and his eyes staring forward, sightlessly.

Pippin had been frightened when he looked into those eyes.  Frightened by the dull lifelessness that stared back at him from the glassy gray orbs. Legolas’ eyes had always been full of light and hope, yet now it seemed as if all light had been extinguished from them, leaving in its place only a dark anguish.  What was even worse, when Legolas looked at him there was no recognition, in fact, no emotion whatsoever.  There was only the cold and sightless gaze of one completely dead to his surroundings.

Pippin had crawled to the elf’s side, desperate to garner some response from his friend.  When he had reached out and touched Legolas, he had found the elf’s skin cold and clammy, with no hint of warmth.  He had immediately cast about him for Legolas’ discarded cloak, finding it and struggling to place it over his hunched form, wincing as he viewed his friend’s mutilated back up close.  He had held a brief hope that Legolas’ cold skin came from the chill within the cave.  However, somehow he found himself doubting.  The icy feel of Legolas’ flesh was too much like the cold within his eyes, and Pippin guessed it came not from natural causes, nor even from his wounds.  He suspected that the cold came instead from something Malek had done to Legolas.   It was as if a shadow enveloped his friend, choking off all light and warmth.

Now, as Pippin watched him, he found no change in Legolas’ condition.  The elf continued to stare straight ahead sightlessly, an occasional blink the only sign that he was even conscious. 

Pippin swallowed hard, fighting back hopeless tears.  Whatever dark curse Malek had placed upon Legolas, he was determined to find a way to reverse it.  He was sure Aragorn would know what to do to help the elf, for Aragorn always seemed to know what to do.  Yet in that case, Pippin still had to find a way to get Legolas to Aragorn, and that would prove to be easier said than done.

The fact that they had to escape was not what was giving him problems.  It was the how that had him stumped.  He had been attempting to come up with a plan of escape for well over an hour, and he knew his time was swiftly running out.  It just seemed so impossible, bound as he was, with a dozen orcs standing guard.  Yet he had to try.  For Legolas, he had to try.   He figured that even should the orcs kill him, it would be better than anything awaiting him when Malek returned.  Especially if the creature tried to continue what he had started with Legolas, for Pippin had already decided that he would do anything to keep Malek from hurting his friend again.

The first thing he had to do was find a way free of his bonds.  The ropes holding him were far too tight, the knots too secure for him to twist his way free, even if he were given days to try.  He would need something with which to cut them, yet this once again posed a dead end.  The area around him was completely barren of any small shards of rock with which he could saw at the ropes, and the nearest orc blade lay far out of reach.  He closed his eyes in frustration, wondering how on earth he could even dream of escape if he was not even able to break free from his bindings.  He was sure that Legolas could have come up with a way to work the ropes loose, yet he was at a complete loss.

Once more, Pippin glanced toward Legolas, then started violently when he found the elf staring back at him.  Legolas’s eyes were still void of life and energy, and Pippin saw no sign of recognition, yet he felt a thrill of hope run through him.

“Legolas,” he called gently, his voice low and quiet in an attempt to avoid drawing their guards’ attention.

The elf blinked slowly, his only response before turning away to stare straight forward once more.

“Legolas,” Pippin called out again, raising his voice just a little.  He imagined he saw his friend’s head move slightly, but the elf did not turn again.  Still, he seemed to be showing more signs of awareness than he had before, and Pippin was glad of that.  He scooted closer to the elf, reaching out and touching Legolas’s shoulder lightly.  His friend did not respond at all to his touch, and Pippin sighed as he felt the icy chill still radiating from Legolas’s skin, despite the heavy cloak covering him.

Touching Legolas only seemed to add to his own chill, and Pippin quickly pulled away, grasping his own cloak and pulling it more firmly about him.  He closed his eyes and let out a weary sigh, resisting the urge to just lie down and go to sleep.  Despite his best efforts to keep his mind focused upon escape, he slowly found his thoughts drifting.  He thought of the Shire and of long summer nights spent idly smoking pipe weed and visiting with old friends.  He remembered grand feasts set beneath large, shady trees and of single meals that often lasted all day. 

The thought of food caused his stomach to clench painfully, reminding him that he had not eaten in quite some time.  He tried to push his thoughts away from food, yet it was a losing battle. He began to picture in his mind every grand banquet and delicious feast he had ever partaken of, and there were quite a few to go through.  His mouth began to water, and his empty stomach growled loudly, causing him to groan softly in discomfort.

‘What I wouldn’t give for just a single flake of lembas about now,’ he thought glumly, his bound hands pressing against his empty stomach. 

Thoughts of the elvish waybread led to thoughts of Lothlorien, and Pippin let out a soft sigh of longing.  He could clearly see the beautiful home of the Galadrim, the picture as fresh in his mind as if only a day, instead of nearly a year, had passed since last visiting there.  No place more beautiful had Pippin ever seen, and his memories of the golden wood and the elves that lived there seemed to warm his spirit, causing him to relax even further. 

The cloak he now wore had been a gift from the elves of Lorien, and Pippin smiled as he remembered a seemingly much younger self asking the elves if the cloaks were magic.

I do not know what you mean by magic,’ one of the Galadrim had answered him, ‘They are fair garments, and the web is good, for it was made in this land.  They are elvish robes certainly, if that is what you meant.  You are indeed in high favor with the Lady, for she herself and her maidens wove this, and never before have we clad strangers in the garb of our own people.’ *

Now, with his bound hands gently brushing the smooth cloth, and his eyes tightly closed, Pippin could almost picture himself back within the golden wood.  Once more, he smelled the sweet and fresh scent of life and listened to the gentle and magical singing that seemed to constantly fill the air.  His hands brushed against the leaf shaped brooch at his neck, and suddenly, a picture of the lady Galadriel filled his mind.  So real was the image, that Pippin jerked upright, his eyes flying open and his heart beating wildly.  Still, the image remained, the radiance that was Galadriel shining upon him and filling him with a strange comfort.  It was as if the Lady were speaking to him, and though her words were spoken in her own language, it seemed to him that he could almost understand them.  The words were filled with encouragement and hope, and Pippin sighed contentedly, allowing his eyes to drift shut once more.

When the image at last began to fade from his mind, Pippin realized that he was gripping the brooch so tightly that the metal was cutting into his palms.  He released the brooch, lowering his palms and looking, somewhat chagrined, at the deep groove pressed into his skin.  He placed his palms together and gently began rubbing back and forth as best he could with his tightly bound wrists. 

Suddenly, he froze, staring down at his hands, eyes widening.  ‘You fool of a Tookl!’ his mind screamed, as he gritted his teeth and shut his eyes in pure frustration with himself.  ‘Here has been the answer all along.  Right beneath my very nose, and still I did not see it!’  If his feet had not been bound, he would have kicked himself.

His eyes flew open, and he quickly glanced around him, noting the position of each of the orc guards.  The nearest one, only a few yards away, lay spread eagled upon the ground, snoring loudly.  Two more stood near the opening to one of the tunnel entrances, and the rest were gathered in a tight circle about ten yards off, laughing and arguing loudly.  None were even looking in the direction of the prisoners, and Pippin felt a flare of hope. 

Quickly reaching up with slightly fumbling fingers, he undid the brooch from his cloak, clasping it tightly in his hands and lowering them to his lap.  Carefully, he positioned himself at an angle where he could keep an eye on the orcs while still shielding most of his own body from their view.  Closely examining the brooch, he found the sharpest end near the very tip of the leaf, and pulling his legs up, he began sawing at the ropes binding his ankles.

The work was agonizingly slow, his bound wrist making it difficult to angle the brooch just right, and his bent position causing his shoulders to continually cramp.  He kept half of his attention upon his job, and the other half upon the orcs, making sure the creatures didn’t look over and discover him.  Luck remained with him, for the orcs continued to pay no heed whatsoever to their captives.  After all, what harm could come from a small, bound hobbit and a catatonic elf.

Pippin no longer felt cold, for his excitement was more than enough to keep him warm.  He reminded himself that escaping from his bindings was only the first step.  He still had to find a way to get past the orc guards, and that would prove twice as difficult. 

Working as quickly as he could, he sawed away the ropes until only a couple of strands remained, weak enough that a simple tug would free him.  That task finished, he rolled onto his side, placing the leaf brooch between his raised knees and beginning to saw at the rope holding his wrists.  The new position put his back to the orc guards, and Pippin was forced to move even slower so that the movement of his arms would not give himself away if one of the orcs happened to glance in his direction.

He had nearly finished sawing through the binds on his wrist, when his senses warned him of the approach of one of the orcs.  He froze, quickly tucking his wrists close against his chest and forcing his body to relax.  The shuffle of heavy boots drew closer, and Pippin closed his eyes, forcing his breathing to remain calm and steady.  Obviously, the orcs had decided to check on their prisoners, and Pippin could only hope the creature would think him asleep and leave him alone.  If the orc decided to check the ropes…

A heavy shadow fell across Pippin, and it took all of his self-control to keep from tensing.  ‘I can’t get caught now, not when I am so close,’ he thought desperately, praying that the orc would go away and leave him alone.  The creature remained standing over him for what seemed like years to Pippin, his heavy breathing grating on the hobbit’s nerves.  At last, the orc turned away, the sound of his boots retreating across the cave. 

Pippin could not stop the soft sigh of relief that escaped as the creature’s shadow left him.  He remained perfectly still, not even daring to open his eyes, his entire attention focused upon listening to the movements of his guards.  He could still make out the rough snores of the nearest creature, yet it seemed as if something was going on with the others, and Pippin strained his ears to catch any clue as to what it might be.  There was an awful lot of shuffling feet, a couple of grunts, and then the heavy tramp of many booted feet moving across the cave.

Unable to resist his curiosity, Pippin slowly raised his head and glanced over his shoulder, watching in amazement as all but three of the orcs disappeared down the main tunnel entrance, the sound of their footfalls slowly receding into the blackness.  One of the remaining orcs still slept soundly, and the other two now sat several yards off, their weapons set carelessly beside them.

Pippin could not believe his luck, and he watched the tunnel entrance closely, expecting the other orcs to reappear any moment.  However, when several minutes had passed without their return, Pippin grew excited.  Quickly sawing the rest of the way through the remaining strands, he rolled into a sitting position, holding the cut ends in his hands to hide the fact that he was free.  He knew he had to work quickly, for he did not know when the other orcs would return, and he planned to be long gone before they did.  He glanced around, trying to figure out what his next move should be.  His eyes fell on Legolas, and he once more found the elf silently watching him.  He smiled excitedly at his friend, only a little discouraged when he received no response.

He continued to look around the room, his eyes at last coming to rest upon the sleeping orc a few paces away.  The creature’s slumber was obviously deep, for he had not stirred at all at the others leaving, and Pippin’s eyes came to rest upon his blade, lying a few feet from his outstretched hand.

Quickly and quietly, he removed the ropes from his wrist, then bent over and pulled away the ones from around his ankles as well.  He knew that once he made his first move, there would be no turning back.  He would have to be quick and silent, and if he were to fail… He did not allow the thought to finish.  Failure was not an option.

Before he could lose courage, Pippin silently rose, closely watching the two orcs who had their backs turned to him.  With as much stealth as he could muster, he tiptoed over to the sleeping orc, bent over and carefully picked up the creature’s sword.  The weapon was heavy, and Pippin let out a soft grunt as he lifted the blade over the orc’s still snoring form.  He hesitated only for a moment before swinging the sword downward with all his might.

A sickening crunch filled the cave as the sharp sword cleanly cut through the orc’s neck, severing his head completely in one blow.  A spray of black blood rose upward, splattering onto Pippin’s face and causing him to wretch violently.  He felt as if he was about to be very ill, and it took all of his strength to turn from the dead orc and face the remaining two guards.

The creatures had jumped to their feet and were staring at Pippin in complete astonishment, their eyes wide and disbelieving.  Pippin used their moment of inactivity to steady himself, gripping the orc blade tightly and preparing himself for what would come next.

The orcs’ surprise only lasted a second, and with a howl they reached for their weapons. 

Pippin darted across the cave, slashing out with his new weapon and managing to cut deeply into the wrist of the first orc.  The creature let out a howl, dropping the weapon he had been in the process of raising.  Pippin pressed his attack, stabbing inward and feeling his sword slide smoothly into the orc’s abdomen.  He yanked the blade back, feeling a moment of panic when the weapon seemed to catch.  He was desperately aware of the third orc racing toward him, and with a final yank he managed to pull the blade free. 

The orc was upon him, and Pippin barely managed to raise his sword to block the downward stroke of the creature.  The force of the blow drove him to his knees, and the orc raised his blade above him.  Pippin flung himself sideways, his sword arm flinging out to cut at the orc’s knees.  The creature howled and jumped backward, tripping over its dead companion and falling to the ground.  Pippin was immediately up, racing forward and stabbing downward into the orc’s exposed chest.  The creature let out yet another blood chilling howl, limbs flailing, one arm connecting violently with the side of Pippin’s head, sending him flying backward.  He landed hard upon the stone floor, the breath knocked from him and the fresh taste of blood filling his mouth.  He let out a gasping cough, spitting out the blood before pushing himself to his feet.

The orc continued to flail, but his eyes were beginning to glaze over, and Pippin knew the fight was over.  He gasped in relief, unable to stop the trembling of his limbs.  He had done it!  He felt a surge of relief, which was quickly replaced by caution.  The other orcs may have heard their companions’ cries, and if so, they would be coming to investigate. 

Rushing forward, he swept up the first orc’s weapon, then turned and raced back to Legolas.  Now would come the difficult part.  If he could not manage to get Legolas up and moving, then it all would be for naught, for there was no way he could carry the elf.  He swiftly cut Legolas loose, then straightened and grabbed his friend’s arm, pulling lightly.

“Come, Legolas, we must go now,” he urged gently, looking deep into the elf’s eyes and attempting to find some sign of awareness.

Legolas stared back at him and did not move.

Pippin grabbed both of Legolas’ arms, pulling with all his strength in an attempt to get the elf up and moving.  “We have to leave now, Legolas,” he cried, his voice filled with desperation.

He almost lost his balance and went tumbling to the ground when Legolas suddenly responded. The elf shifted his position forward, rising shakily.  Pippin gave him what support he could, feeling a flash of relief as he gently pulled Legolas toward the nearest tunnel entrance.  The elf followed slowly, his every movement painfully sluggish, his head bowed to the ground.

A torch hung from a metal bracket next to the tunnel entrance, and Pippin realized they would need the light to navigate in the dark passageway.  Yet in order to hold the torch, he would need a free hand.  That meant either releasing Legolas or dropping his weapon.  He was not sure if Legolas would move forward without his urging, which meant he would have to leave the sword behind.  He hesitated, knowing that if they were caught, he would be weaponless.  However, at the moment, the light was more important.  With any luck, he and Legolas would be long gone before the orcs discovered their absence.

As if in mockery of his desperate wish, a distant shout echoed through the cavern, drawing closer.  Pippin immediately dropped his sword, grabbed the torch, and then plunged into the cold, dark passage, pulling Legolas behind him.  He tried to push the elf to a faster pace, but soon found that Legolas seemed only capable of a slow walk.  He reminded himself that his friend was hurt badly, yet he still felt frustration rise in him at each passing second.  It would not take the orcs long to discover which tunnel they had taken, and Pippin wanted to be well ahead of them when they did.

Only a few paces in, the passageway split, and Pippin did not hesitate before plunging into the left tunnel.  He did not know where the passageway led, yet anywhere was better than where they were before.  He cared only that each step hopefully carried them further from Malek’s lair and the orcs that hunted them. 

He kept a tight grip on Legolas’ arm, wincing every time the elf stumbled over a loose rock or the uneven ground.  The torch illuminated only a couple feet ahead, and Pippin was kept busy watching every step while listening carefully for any sounds of pursuit.

The tunnel split again, and this time Pippin turned right, only to find the passageway ended abruptly a few paces in.  Quickly backtracking, he prayed that the whole tunnel would not turn out to be one gigantic dead end.  Already, he could hear distant shouts back the way he had come, and he guessed that the orcs had figured out that their prisoners had escaped.  It would not take them long to be on their trail.

Suddenly, Legolas tripped, almost going down and carrying Pippin with him.  The hobbit barely managed to catch his balance, steadying Legolas and eyeing him with concern.  The elf looked even paler than before, if that was possible, and his dull eyes had a glassy look to them.

“Come on, Legolas,” Pippin urged quietly.  “Just a little bit further and we shall be out of this dark hole.”

Not surprisingly, Legolas did not answer, and Pippin once more led the way forward.  As they moved on, Pippin slowly became aware of a gentle rushing sound filling the tunnel.  At first, he was confused by the sound, for the further they went, the louder it became.  Suddenly, he stopped, slow realization dawning on him.

“Water,” he whispered aloud.  “It must be one of the underground rivers Aragorn spoke of.”  He continued forward slowly, a plan beginning to form in his mind.  If he and Legolas could find the river, then perhaps they could follow its path out of the mountain.  He could no longer hear the sound of pursuit, yet he knew that did not necessarily mean that the orcs were not there, or even that they were not close.  Orcs could be quite silent if they had a mind to, and Pippin was not going to dare hope that they had not been followed.

The tunnel split several more times, yet Pippin now began to stop at each diverge, listening carefully before choosing whatever passageway he believed would carry him closer to the river.  He was unsure how long he and Legolas had been travelling, but his friend was beginning to stumble more often, and Pippin feared he would not make it much further without rest.  He had not wanted to stop until free of the black cave, and yet if they did not find the river soon….

His thoughts trailed away as he rounded a corner of the tunnel and the roar suddenly increased tenfold.  The edge of his torch just barely illuminated the edges of the river, and Pippin felt a surge of renewed energy.  He quickly moved forward, then stopped, a frown crossing his face. 

Instead of running parallel to the path, as he had hoped, the river cut across it horizontally, surging into yet another tunnel and disappearing into the inky blackness.  This was not what Pippin had expected, and he found himself wondering what to do next.  He was not given long to ponder, however, for a sound back from the direction they had come caused his blood to freeze and his heart to race.  The unmistakable sound of a boot scuffing against loose stone, and it was not that far behind him, either.  There would be no backtracking. 

Pippin stared hopelessly across the expanse of the river.  It did not look to be particularly wide or deep, nor the current very strong, yet with the poor light of the torch, he had no way of being certain.  He had little doubt that he could manage to swim across it on his own, but with Legolas, things became a little more complicated.  He did not know if the elf was aware enough to swim if he entered the river, and he doubted he could keep both of them afloat and still make it across without being carried away down the tunnel. It looked as if they were trapped, with no way forward, and no way back.  He didn’t even have a weapon with which to defend them.

‘Has it all been for nothing then?’ he questioned numbly, feeling as though he would like to sit down and cry.  ‘What am I to do now?’

As if in answer to his silent plea, Pippin imagined he felt the soft caress of a gentle breeze brush against his cheek.  He froze, his eyes staring across the river and down the passageway beyond.  The breeze came again, this time strong enough to cause the torch to waver slightly. The soft movement of air wrapped about him, carrying with it an unmistakable fresh scent.  His heart began pounding wildly, and he peered forward intently across the river, imagining that he could barely make out a tiny pinprick of light at the far end of the tunnel.  He had no way of being sure of this, yet when the gentle breeze once more caressed his face, he knew what he had to do.

‘There is the way out of this dark hole, and there is the way we must go!’ he thought with grim determination.

Carefully, he positioned the torch between an outcropping of rock close enough to the river that the majority of their journey across would be lighted.  Once they reached the other side of the river, they would have to proceed in darkness. Yet if his guess proved to be correct, they would not have to go far. 

He quickly stripped off his cloak, rolling it up tightly and tucking it into the back of his belt so the heavy cloth would not drag at him during the crossing.  He considered doing the same with Legolas, but decided against it.  The cloak was the only thing covering the elf’s back and shoulders, and he would need some protection against the icy cold water.

With a sigh, Pippin gave a final glance back the way they had just come, last minute doubts clouding his mind.  He had heard nothing else since the last shuffle of boots, and he was beginning to think maybe his frightened mind had merely imagined it.  Crossing the river definitely had its dangers.  If the current was stronger than he thought, or the river deeper, Legolas and he might be easily swept away to their certain deaths.  Even should they manage to cross, freezing to death was a possibility, for they would have no fire with which to stop and dry their clothes.  Also, he was unsure how long they had been wandering in the tunnel.  It was possible that it could still be night outside the caves, which would mean the absence of the sun to warm them once they had made it out.  Legolas was already far too cold, and with his injuries, a simple swim could easily cause the elf to take a turn for the worse.

On the other hand, backtracking, even without the risk of running into orcs, would mean wandering around for who knew how long, searching for another exit that might or might not be there.

“This is the way we must go,” he said softly, aloud. 

He quickly turned and grabbed Legolas’ arm once more, plunging forward with the elf before his doubts could cause him to change his mind.  From the minute his feet hit the water, they went numb, and he gasped aloud at the icy temperature.  Yet he did not turn back.  Moving as swiftly as he could, he surged forward, moving upstream, against the current.  Legolas followed silently after, wading into the frigid water without a sound.

Luck seemed to have decided to stay with the two companions for just a while longer, for the current was indeed not very strong, and the river was actually shallower than Pippin had first expected.  He was very close to the center of the river before his feet no longer touched bottom and he was forced to start a lopsided swim, kicking with his feet and stroking forward with his free arm.  As for Legolas, the water was barely over his waist, and he seemed to be moving forward easily enough, if a bit slowly.

Pippin’s eyes remained glued to the opposite bank, a mix of determination and adrenaline helping him fight off the numbing cold.  He breathed a sigh of relief when his feet once more touched the bottom, and he could walk the rest of the way forward to the rocky bank of the river.  Once he pulled himself completely free of the cold clutches of the water, he had to fight off a desire to sink to the ground and allow his weary body rest.  They were too close to their goal, and he would not allow them to stop until he felt the fresh air of freedom. 

Surging forward once more and half dragging Legolas behind him, Pippin made his way toward where he had imagined seeing the pinprick of light.  The blackness of the cave soon surrounded them, the light of the torch lost behind, and Pippin had to slow his pace, careful not to trip and bring both he and Legolas down to the floor.  He was not sure he would be able to rise if that were to happen.  

He might have lost hope within the black expanse of the tunnel if not for the softly intensifying smell of fresh air, and the gentle breeze that continued to wrap about him.  Slowly, he found that he could make out different shapes within the tunnel before him as the blackness seemed to be replaced with a soft light.  The further he went, the brighter the light became, and with a small cry of triumph, Pippin and Legolas rounded a final bend in the tunnel and stepped forward, out of the cave and into the starlit night.  The moon hung low and heavy within the night sky, casting a bright glow upon Pippin’s face and reflecting off the slow flow of tears down his cheeks.



Malek was not happy.  A fact that caused all the orcs in his near vicinity to shy away fearfully if he even glanced in their direction.  The orc army was tramping their way back to the cave, and it seemed that all knew of the displeasure of their master, for everything was silent but for the heavy tramp of feet.

Things had not gone as anticipated at the city this night, and Malek’s eyes flashed dangerously as he thought back over the battle.  Tonight was to have been his night of victory.  The night he took Calembel, crushing her army and capturing the members of the so-called ‘fellowship.’  He had had everything planned so perfectly, only to have it thrown back into his face!

The city had obviously received reinforcements, and Malek’s army had been continually thrown back until the coming dawn had driven them to retreat.  Malek’s plans had failed, and that was enough to throw the creature into a fit of rage.

He had no doubt that he would eventually be able to take the city.  He had the advantage of numbers, and could take casualties without a second thought, while the defenders grew more desperate with each loss to their number.  It was not the possibility of defeat that angered him, but the fact that he no longer seemed to be completely in control of this game he had started.

He decided that in the future, he would just have to take a more active role in the battle.  Until now, he had been content to mostly watch and gloat; yet the defenders of Calembel were proving to be a more difficult adversary than he had planned.  Soon they would know Malek’s rage, and they would hide in terror of him.  He would take the ‘fellowship’ and have his fun with them, killing them one by one, and crushing the hopes of their people.   With them out of his way, all of Middle Earth would lie open to his taking.  He would defeat the nations one at a time, feasting upon their people and growing stronger and stronger until nothing could stop him.  He would become invincible both night and day, and the lands would bow in terror of him.

The anger in Malek’s eyes slowly diminished, replaced by an evil smile as the creature pictured his victory over Middle Earth.  The orcs nearest him sighed in relief, though they still kept a wary distance from him.

Sensing the close approach of dawn, Malek left the orc army to fend for themselves and raced on ahead.  He was still angry, desperately needing something to vent his frustration on, and he had the perfect idea.  Torturing others had always had a calming effect upon him, and he looked forward to the fun he would have with his prey.

Slipping silently into the cave he had chosen as his lair, he passed soundlessly through the twisting corridors, his eyes glowing slightly with anticipation.  He entered the main cave, his eyes immediately flying to his prisoners...at least, to where his prisoners should have been.  He stopped cold, his eyes taking in the scene before him with quickly growing rage.

Three orcs lay dead within the large cavern, their black blood forming dark pools, their eyes staring sightlessly upward.  A fourth orc stood nervously beside a tunnel entrance on the other side of the cavern, his back turned to Malek as he peered into the dark hole. There was no sign of the other eight he had left behind to guard the prisoners.

Malek sprang across the cavern, his movements so silent that the orc did not know of his presence until Malek grabbed the creature’s shoulder and flung him about to face him. 

“What happened,” he hissed. “Where are the prisoners?”

The orc let out a high-pitched wail, falling back to the floor and covering his head with his hands as if expecting Malek to strike him at any moment.  “Please, my lord,” he cried! “It was not my fault!”

Malek stared down at the orc coldly, causing the creature to whimper pitifully.  “Where are they?” he repeated softly, his voice deceptively calm.

The orc’s eyes were filled with terror, yet he knew better than to hesitate in answering.  “They escaped, my lord,” he whispered softly.

Malek reached down and seized the creature, hauling him to his feet, his claws digging deep into the orc’s flesh.  “How?” he demanded, his face a mere inch from the terrified orc.

“It was Fletwit’s idea, my lord,” the creature howled, struggling to break free from Malek’s painful grasp.  “He said that they were asleep.  He said it was safe for us to go out and hunt something to eat.  It was all Fletwit’s plan.  I didn’t want to go along with it, but he made me, my lord, he made me!”

Malek regarded the pitiful creature for a second before casually tossing him backward.  The force of his throw sent the creature flying, violently crashing against the stone wall with a bone-snapping crunch.  Slowly, the orc slid to the floor, leaving behind a black trail of blood to mar the stone wall, his eyes sightless and his head tilted at an impossible angle.

Malek, however, had already gone.  Leaving the cavern, he raced back down the tunnel; reaching the entrance just as the first of his orc captains began climbing the steep hill leading up to the lair.

The orc army stopped at the sight of Malek, and one of the captains visibly flinched as he watched his master approach him.

“The prisoners have escaped,” Malek stated without preamble.  “Take a company of orcs and find them.  They went through one of the eastern tunnels, so concentrate your search there.”

The orc captain bowed low, unable to meet Malek’s stormy eyes.  “When you find them,” Malek continued, “bring the elf back to me, for I have not yet finished with my plans for him.  You may kill the little one, but bring his body back as well.  Perhaps we shall send it as a gift to our friends back within the city.”

A flicker of evil laughter ran through the nearest rank of orcs, and Malek smiled himself at the thought.  “Go quickly,” he ordered.  “They cannot have gotten far.  Not with the elf slowing them down!”

“We will find them, master,” the orc captain boasted loudly, bowing before Malek once again.

“You had better,” Malek replied softly, “or you shall suffer their fate instead.  Now go!”

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.

Story Information

Author: littlefish

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/11/02

Original Post: 06/26/02

Go to Dark Horizons overview


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