21. The Supply Room
The more he saw and heard of Rimbrion, the more Gaergath's dislike of him grew. The Elf was insufferable, talking incessantly of his adventures and the people he had met in his travels, the things he had seen, the deeds he had (supposedly) done. Gaergath could barely get a word in edgewise, although the fellow was friendly enough to him. It seemed he was leading the sort of life Gaergath had dreamed of living himself--going about seeing the world, doing things the lad had only imagined. Apparently Sauron knew of the personages of whom the Elf spoke; Gaergath only remotely recognized the names, if at all. His mother had spoken of them while teaching him, but he had found history dull and had not retained much. Now he wished he had paid more attention.
Sauron listened to him soberly, thoughtfully. Gaergath could not imagine what he was thinking.
He wondered where Binya was.
He was of a mind to go and look for her, since he did not want to speak of her in front of this young upstart. It was late in the afternoon now, and would be time for dinner soon, he knew, but he did not know how much more he could take of their visitor.
Finally he stood up, clearing his throat.
"If you two will excuse me," he said, "I wish to go down and finish that project we were working on in the forge. That chain, you know."
"Why, you can work on the chain any time," Sauron said. "There is no real hurry."
"Well, the sooner it's finished, the better, I would say," Gaergath hedged, glancing aside at Rimbrion, who looked interested.
"May I go with you?" he asked. "I would like to see the forge."
Gaergath looked to Sauron, who shrugged.
"Why not?" he said. "Come along then. You can tell me if it compares to your father's."
Rimbrion sprang up with a glowing smile. Gaergath barely repressed a growl.
As they went down the stairs to the forge, Gaergath glanced aside and saw the mysterious door, which supposedly went to the supply room, yet Rimbrion seemed not to notice it. Well, what with the way the fellow went on talking, it was a wonder he noticed anything at all. A dragon could fly right under his nose and he would just go right on and on as if it were a mere insect buzzing past him. And this was the fellow who was going to be the greatest smith in all the land?
You won't be greater than I, thought Gaergath as he watched Sauron show him all the tools hanging on the wall, and the smelting-furnace, the various anvils, the molds, and the room full of things he had made. And he found himself thinking about that supply room once more.
No one was paying much attention to him, their backs to him. Why not just slip out and have a peek...just a quick one. They wouldn't even notice his absence. He would come back before they were aware he had gone out.
He slipped out through the doorway, which was partly open anyway, so no creaking of hinges would betray him. Yes, the supply room door was still there, and there was no lock on it....
It opened easily, with barely a sound. Hmm. Maybe it really was a supply room....
And so it was, he came to find. Yet there was nothing in it that seemed to pertain to smithing. It was lined with shelves on which sat jars and bottles and flasks, boxes and bags, bowls and beakers and small pots.
A foul smell lingered in the air, that he could not identify. It was tinged with death.
Feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment, he thought perhaps he should get back to the forge before he was missed.
And then he heard voices. Whispered voices, speaking words that were foreign to him, yet they seemed to be speaking to him. Calling to him in unutterably mournful tones. They seemed to be coming from behind a tall cupboard.
His heart fluttered and he stood rooted to the floor.
He was certain he heard his mother's voice among them.
"Gaergath?" Sauron called to him. "Where are you?"
Gaergath turned abruptly and shot out the door to see his father standing in the doorway of the forge.
"What were you doing in there?" he demanded.
"I...I thought I heard something in there," Gaergath stammered. "There were voices, whispering. I thought someone was in there."
"Did you now?" Sauron said. Rimbrion appeared behind him.
"They seemed to be calling me," Gaergath said. "I know it's incredible...but one of them sounded like my mother."
He raised questioning eyes to Sauron. Was it possible...?
"I knew I should have put a lock on that door," Sauron said.
"Is she in there?" Gaergath asked, involuntarily putting a hand to one hip.
"Son," Sauron said, "I can tell you what it was. Did you see what was in the room?"
"Aye. Just a lot of...jars and things. Nothing very interesting. But there were voices. They seemed to call to me."
Rimbrion was looking a trifle alarmed. Sauron's face was grim.
"The contents are from the gardens," he said, "and the voices you heard are those of the garden spirits. I suppose you heard aught from your mother's garden?"
"Garden spirits," Rimbrion repeated. "I have heard something of them."
"I heard my mother's voice," Gaergath insisted.
"They can play tricks," Sauron said. "They are trying to lure you to where you should not go, my son. Stay away from that room. She is not there, I promise you that. Now come along, and do not go in there again, no matter what you may hear."
Gaergath found that he was shivering. And that Rimbrion looked troubled and frightened.
Yet he said nothing of leaving.
"Let us go back upstairs," Sauron said. "It is nearly time for our evening meal."
And when they did so, Binya was there...smiling at Gaergath.
Drauglir was nowhere in sight.
"You have seen Elves before?" Gaergath asked as he and Binya closed the bedroom door behind them, and latched it, just in case.
"Aye, they come here sometimes," she said as she sat on his bed and lowered the lamp. "But..."
"'Tis said that they do not leave," she said dropping her voice to a whisper. Her face was pale and lovely, and just slightly savage in the dim light.
"Why? What happens to them?" Gaergath's heart thudded inside his breast. He remembered some rumors he had heard.
"I am not sure," she said. "They disappear, and are never heard from again."
He looked straight at her. He had a feeling she knew more than she was telling.
"What do you think happens to them?" he asked. "Does Sauron...kill them? To keep them from betraying his secrets to the world?"
"I do not know," she insisted. She wore a gown of a dark red, that left her arms and her ankles bare. And many bracelets on her arms, upper and lower. "Perhaps there is nothing in it. There was one Elf...he did leave. I saw him. I was looking down and saw him cross the bridge. I remember him well. His hair was red...like mine. He was the only red-haired Elf I ever saw. All the others are either fair or dark."
Gaergath shrugged. He was not interested in the Elf's hair-color. He was shivering now, thinking of those voices. And the rooms down below the forge.
"Do you suppose he throws them to the wolves?" he asked softly. "They must eat something, yes? What do they eat?"
"Must we speak of them?" Binya asked with a yawn. "Surely we can find something more interesting to do, yes?"
"Binya," he said suddenly, "perhaps we could leave here. Let's escape. I have my cloak, and you...have you a cloak also?"
"Nay, I haven't...not of the sort you have."
"Mine is a shape-shifting cloak. I could carry you. I could take the shape of a large bird, and you could ride on my back."
"And where would we go?"
"I don't know. Anywhere. Anywhere but here. This place...it is evil. If we stay here, we will become...like him. Let's go, Binya. Have I told you of my mother?"
"I do not wish to leave," she said. "And no, you've told me naught of her. Who is she?"
"You will likely not believe me," he said sitting on the bed beside her. "Have you heard tell of Thuringwethil...the Woman of the Secret Shadow?"
"I have heard something, though not all," she said, her eyes narrowing ever so slightly. "The Blood Drinker? So she...is your mother?"
"Not exactly," he said. "I told you that you would not believe me. She had another self...that escaped her one day, and came to me. She it was, who was my true mother. We lived happily together for several years, and she tried to teach me, and took care of the house. Then one night, I came home to find her gone. I sensed an evil presence about the place, and I just knew that...Thuringwethil...had come to claim her. I do not know if she killed her and hid the body, or drained her of her blood, or simply took her soul back into herself. That is what I have been trying to do. If she is still alive and trapped inside that creature's body, I must find a way to free her. It was not so long ago--about a week. I thought perhaps if I came here, perhaps Sauron could help me find a way. But I do not think he will."
He sighed, despair seizing him once more.
"Likely I will just have to kill her," he said, "and let my mother's spirit depart to the Halls. Perhaps that is all I can do. But if there is any other way..."
"I see you are in no mood tonight," Binya said after a moment. "Therefore, I will go, and leave you to your thoughts. Perhaps Rimbrion desires a bit of female companionship."
"Nay--do not go," he said catching her arm as she rose to leave. "You are mine. You belong to me...not him."
"What did you say?" she said staring at him in disbelief, and he could scarcely believe himself, what he had just said.
And before he could say more, she was gone.
By the time he finally sprang up from the bed and went to beg her not to go, she was gone, of course. In that mysterious way she had of coming and going, and just disappearing. He did not know where she stayed. He had wanted to ask her, the previous night, but there were other things of more pressing interest going on, and so the subject did not come up. He had not wanted to frighten her off by asking too many questions, anyway.
As he went down the hall, opening first one door and then another, in a burst of self-pity he asked himself why he should want her back anyway. She was cold, indifferent, she had no interest in him or his doings or desires. She had no heart. She was uncaring, little more than a beast really.... She was only good for one thing. Besides dancing.
Likely she was hunting down Rimbrion now. Aye, she was little more than an alley cat. She'd do it with any male who looked her way. Slut. Such creatures were to be avoided, he thought self-righteously. She was a mere tool of Sauron's, a ploy to try and keep him here....
Where was Rimbrion, he wondered. He must be on the opposite end of the building. Curious, Gaergath stole down the hallway, until he had reached the very end...and there was a partially opened door with some light shining inside it. That must be the one, he thought. But she could not be there, or the door would be closed, surely. Gaergath crept closer to take a peek, and saw the Elf sitting on the bed, shirtless, his back to Gaergath. A candle burned on the little table beside the bed. Binya was not there.
He started to withdraw when something caught his eye: the mithril dagger. It lay on the little table beside the candle-holder.
He found himself longing to pick it up and hold it, to see how it felt in his hand. But then suddenly Rimbrion stood up, and Gaergath ducked out of his sight before the Elf could turn and see him watching.
He went back down the hallway, back to his room. But just as he reached the door, he heard something.
The hinges of Rimbrion's door, creaking.
Instead of going into his room, Gaergath quickly ducked behind the curtain that hid the window next to his door. The cloth was just transparent enough to enable him to see a light shape moving down the hallway. He was carrying the candle--why? There were sconces on the walls that were kept lighted at night. Gaergath saw the light shape pause at the intersection of one hall with the other...where the door to the stairway was.
Of course. He was going downstairs. To the forge.
Or was he? The forge door was kept locked at night, Gaergath knew that much.
The supply room. That was where he was going.
Gaergath waited until Rimbrion had disappeared through the door, then padded noiselessly down the hall to the doorway, and watched him go down the stairs, making no sound at all. After a few minutes, Gaergath started down the stairs as well, taking care not to make a sound. He heard a very familiar creak, and smiled a little to himself. And went down and stood outside the doorway.
He could hear Rimbrion moving about--examining things, no doubt. Opening drawers, cupboards, removing corks, lifting lids of jars.... Gaergath fought off the temptation to suddenly open the door and give him the fright of his life. He repressed a snicker at the thought of Rimbrion's face, but decided to wait until he came out. Perhaps the Elf might tell him what he saw.
Yet he was taking his time in there. What did he find that was so interesting?
After a while Gaergath began to get sleepy. He sat on the lowest stairstep, leaning his arms on his knees, then his head on his arms. He could no longer hear Rimbrion moving in the closet. Had he taken some poison in there and fallen down dead? Or had he found some secret passageway leading into another room...perhaps the stairway leading downward?
He could hear nothing, no voices, only silence. It was unnerving, and he contemplated going back to his room. Finally he rose and turned to go...but then he went to the door and opened it just a crack. Then wider.
It was all dark. Rimbrion was not there. Gaergath flurried back out the door, and ran up the stairs as fast as he could go.