Back to the Valley
He no longer remembered his name.
He no longer remembered his kin.
He no longer remembered fields or stars or spring breezes beneath the twilight.
He knew that these things existed. Or rather, they had once. But he could no longer see them. They were gone. Banished. Lost to the forgotten years before the Orcs and the screams and the night. Two things only had he retained from a past that was now so distant it seemed to be nothing more than a mortal dream. He remembered the name of his home, and he remembered the song.
He remembered the name because that's what they called him when they weren't cursing him or comparing him to the creatures that shared his food. "Imladris elf." That was his name to them. Or more commonly, "Imladris maggot." "Imladris rat" was not unusual either. But the word "Imladris" was always used, and the filth that taunted him deliberately profaned the name, surrounding it with vile jeers and laughing to see him wince.
He remembered the song because…well, it was the kind of song that was impossible to forget.
The Orcs visited him often. They said he was unique. A rare and precious treasure. One of the few elves in Barad-dûr that hailed from Rivendell. There were some Avari from beyond the eastern borders of Mordor and a sizeable group of Silvan elves from Mirkwood and Lothlórien, names that were vaguely familiar only because he sometimes heard the newer prisoners lamenting their lost homes. But the other elven kindreds were few and far between. The Noldor knew better than to be taken alive, and the Sindar would sooner seek death in battle than surrender to the hated Orcs. The Imladris elf sometimes wondered what he was and how he had come to be here. He wondered if elves still sailed West and if his fëa would follow when he was released from life. He wondered if his friends and family would be able to recognize him when he finally departed. He wondered if he would be able to recognize any of them.
But most of the time he tried not to wonder anything at all. Wondering was dangerous. If he wondered too much, he might remember something more of his past than the name and the song. He had taken such pains to forget the rest. As long as he did not remember, his torturers learned nothing. They could scream and rage and beat and burn all they liked, but it would not change the fact that he had nothing left to give them. Years ago, he had hoped they would kill him for his lack of answers. He had long since forsaken that hope. Despite what was said in the free lands beyond the fences of Mordor, Barad-dûr was not a fortress of death. Not for its prisoners. Death was too merciful.
Footsteps sounded beyond the door of his dank little cell, pulling his attention outward. The elf thought about looking up to see who had come but ultimately decided against it. He would find out soon enough. In the meantime, he would hang quietly in his chains and prepare himself. Not that preparation helped. It was simply a way to pass the time.
A key jangled in the locks, and the heavy door was forced open with a creaking groan. Iron-clad feet stomped across the bloody floor, and the elf frowned as he counted the steps. There were many this time. That was unusual. The Orcs might visit him often, but there were never more than two or three of them at once. They no longer tried to extract anything from him other than blood and screams, and they did not need great numbers for that.
Ah yes, that was another of his names. Strange. He had nearly forgotten that one. It was so easy to forget things now.
"The Nazgûl have returned."
The Nazgûl had returned? When had they left? And why was this important? Nonplussed, the elf blinked and looked up, taking an interest in his interrogators for the first time in decades. He had never been offered information before, and this change in tactics disturbed him.
"They followed something of interest to the Great Eye. They went as far as the Fords of Bruinen and were turned back by a wall of water. How? Who holds the power to summon the river against us?"
With a start, the elf abruptly realized that the figure speaking to him was not an Orc but a man, and a deep, nauseating dread settled in the pit of his shrunken stomach. The men employed by the Dark Lord were cunning and perilous. Their talents were reserved for only the most valuable prisoners, and the elf did not think he still qualified as such. Not since he had forgotten. Why would that change now?
"There was a Ranger and an elf who opposed those not taken by the flood. Who were they? Whence came their power? Speak!"
Without warning, a barbed whip tore its way down the length of his back, and the elf jerked to one side, unable to control his reaction. It was certainly not the first time he'd been flogged, but the presence of the man was unnerving and he did not feel up to handling both a whip and one of the Dark Lord's most feared servants. Under normal circumstances, the elf would have closed his eyes and given himself over to the pain, retreating deep into the silence of his mind while his body screamed and wailed. It was a surprisingly effective technique, and once the torture was over, he would return with little memory of what had transpired. But for some reason, he could not do that now. This man held a power of some kind, and his dark, hooded eyes were an anchor that prevented the elf from escaping. In fact, he found that he could not even look away and that he had become trapped by a gaze far more powerful than the wishes of his own faded spirit.
"Tell me of Elrond," the man demanded as the fires of a second whip joined the first in stripping the flesh from his ruined back. "Tell me what hides his valley and where it lies. Tell me what commands the river. Tell me of the Rangers and their alliance with the elves."
Tattered pieces of memory suddenly filled the elf's mind in brief but vivid flashes, and he felt compelled to share them with this man so as to prevent the Orcs from hurting him. He knew from grim experience that whips were only the beginning. Then would come the irons and the ropes and the chains and the poles and the hooks and the—
No! He would not answer! He would not betray his family and his kin. He did not remember them now, but he knew that he'd loved them once and that was enough. He had to stop this. He had to fight back! Desperate, the elf gathered up one of the two things he fully remembered from the lost days of his past, and summoning the scattered fragments of his will, he began to sing.
There was an immediate stir in the surrounding Orcs. Those not familiar with him raised their voices in confusion. Those who had guarded his cell in the past cursed violently, and the elf's lips twitched in the smallest of smiles. He occasionally sang to himself when he teetered on the edge of death, hoping that the music would anger those around him and that they would kill him in a fit of rage. It never worked, but apparently it left an impression. This song seemed difficult to forget for Orcs as well as for elves.
"O! Where are you going, so late in returning…"
"Silence him!" the man ordered, and the whips increased their assault. But the elf did not notice, for the song was helping him do what he had been unable to do earlier. It was opening a place of retreat. It was pulling him into the forgotten years when he had walked in moonlit glades and used this song to welcome back a weary hobbit and a wandering wizard.
"The river is flowing, the stars are all burning…"
If the elf had known the significance in his choice of song, he would not have confined himself to a hidden smile. If he had known that this song had been sung in the presence of not only two of the Three but also the One Ring itself—the One Ring for which Sauron now desperately hunted—he might have even committed the heinous crime of laughing aloud. But he did not know these things, and even if he had known them once, he had forgotten them long ago. He knew only that this song was taking him away, and that was sufficient for him.
"O! Whither so laden, so sad and so dreary…"
The Orcs traded their whips for more painful devices, but the elf was no longer aware of those around him. His voice rose despite their efforts to subdue him, and his eyes closed as he soared away on the wings of a mindless tune that whispered of happier days.
"Here elf and elf-maiden, now welcome the weary…"
His head jerked roughly to one side as an enraged Orc tried to knock him senseless, and his mind wheeled beneath a starry sky that smelled of early morning dew. The next words were slurred, but he sang them anyway.
His head snapped to the side yet again, and his grip on consciousness slipped away. Spiraling into night, he could not help but chuckle silently, wondering what the man and the Orcs would tell their masters when forced to explain why he'd given them no information. Darkness loomed above him, and as he retreated fully to his place of refuge, he murmured the last words.
"Come back to the Valley…"
And then he was home.
The Orcs could touch him no more this day.
Author's Notes: The snippets of song we get from the elf are actually the third verse of a larger song that is sung twice in The Hobbit, though the words vary depending upon when it is sung. These particular words can be found on page 296 of the Ballantine 50th anniversary paperback edition at the start of the chapter "The Last Stage." The song is…rather silly, especially in light of more solemn and serious songs within LotR, and I decided that a song so utterly ridiculous had to have another purpose of some kind. This story was my attempt to give it that purpose. If simple hobbits can foil the Dark Lord, then surely a simple song can do the same.