In The Pits Of Utumno
All was silent, and the halls and tunnels of Utumno were lit only by flickering flames and the red glow of firelight. Silently, stealthily, Elatan moved through the tunnels like a ghost, pausing frequently to listen for pursuers. From darkness to shadow, from deep corners to densest shade, he moved furtively and secretly further and further into the Pits. An elven warrior, with countless battles behind him, this was his most deadly, dangerous task yet – to penetrate deep into the Pits of Utumno, where no other elf had ever ventured before. At least, no other elf had ever returned to tell the tale.
Rumours whispered of elves who vanished from forests and glades to be taken to this stronghold, of hideous tortures and suffering inflicted on them. And one of those now held in this place of darkness was Elendur, his dearest friend, a companion who was like a brother to him. He would save him, or die in the attempt.
He stiffened as he heard voices approaching. Sliding into a shadowy alcove barely wide enough to conceal him, he waited, scarcely daring to breathe, as the enemy passed him by. From where he hid in the shadows he could see them, and the way the torches they carried cast grotesque shadows over their faces. Finally, when the voices had faded away and silence had fallen again, he emerged once more. Ahead lay a wide expanse, a hall lit only by fires, which he must cross – unseen and unheard.
The hall was empty. Dashing from pillar to pillar, and from shadow to shadow, he reached the far side in safety. A dim corner concealed a dark archway, and he found himself in another long tunnel. At the far end, steps plunged downward, which would lead him deeper into the Pit. Somewhere down there lay his goal – the one he had come to rescue, after the wretched prisoner had suffered years uncounted of unbelievable torment and torture.
Elatan paused at the top of the steps, listening again before he took the final steps of his quest. He had been in this place before. Below, the tunnels and passages branched and linked together again in an intricate maze, where it would be easy to become lost. With a final check that no-one was near, he descended the steps cautiously. A great, iron-bound door lay at the foot of the steps. He waited for a moment, ensuring once again that all was quiet and the tunnels deserted, then turned to the door. The heavy latch required both hands to lift it, and he struggled with the stiff catch. The door was not locked, though, and pushing it open just a few inches, he slid through the narrow gap. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a small, stone-floored room – and the prisoner he had come to save. Elendur.
He was naked, lying as if in a swoon on a heap of filthy rags. Apart from that scant comfort, the room was empty – there was no food, no water, no bed. Nothing. Elatan could have believed him dead, had it not been for the faint rise and fall of his chest. He crossed the room silently to the pile of rags, and knelt at the prisoner's side, touching his shoulder. "El – Elendur?"
Grey eyes opened slowly, and blinked. The pupils were wide in the near darkness. "You took your time," Elendur whispered.
"Hush. I have come to rescue you," Elatan replied. Removing his cloak, he wrapped it around the prisoner's body carefully. "Come. We must get you out of here. Can you walk?"
As Elendur pushed himself upright, he nodded slowly. "I can walk," he declared.
Together they crept back to the door, again waiting to ensure that the tunnels outside were deserted. "We have a long way to go," Elatan whispered. "The halls and tunnels above are lit by firelight and flames, and are guarded. We will not be safe until we are away from here."
Elendur merely nodded. "Then the sooner we leave …" he breathed.
" … the better," Elatan agreed.
Slipping out through the door into the dark tunnel, Elatan led the way as they climbed the steps, up and along the passageway, out of the dimly lit maze and back to the shadowy, arched doorway.
He halted in dismay. The hall was busier now, buzzing with orcs and other fell creatures, and at the far end – there sat the lord of this place. Stepping back into the shadow, Elatan turned to his companion. "Look – do you see?" He pointed. "It is Melkor himself!"
Elendur peered around the edge of the arch, then glanced at his rescuer. "Melkor?" he questioned.
"The lord of Utumno!" It was clear that crossing the hall as before would be impossible. They would have to skirt around the edges, and hope to avoid detection. Elatan turned to his companion. "Follow me," he whispered. "This way." Pressing himself against the walls, he guided Elendur towards the doorway. The red glow of firelight cast eerie, leaping shadows, and they remained safe and unseen, all eyes still fixed on Melkor.
In the welcome shadow of a heavy bench they sank to the floor, still tense. They watched silently for a moment, then Elendur nudged his companion. "We must go …"
" … while they are still occupied. Yes, I know. Wait – I will see if the way ahead is clear. Stay here." Leaving the shelter of the bench, Elatan moved a few paces to the door, listened intently, then peered out. A guard stood at the far end of the outer hallway, but he was facing in the opposite direction. At the other end of the tunnel steps led upwards to safety and freedom. If they moved swiftly, they could reach less populated regions, and might still escape detection. With a final glance at the guard, he turned back to his companion.
He ran into a hard, unyielding body that towered over him. A voice spoke, sounding like the thunder of doom. "Well. What have we here?"
Elatan looked at Elendur, and saw the same dismay there that he felt in his heart. To have come so close to success, and to then fail – it had been a desperate gamble, yet had so nearly succeeded. He sighed, then decided to risk all on one last, forlorn chance.
"Erestor, can you pretend you have not seen us? Please? I have to save Elendur – I mean Elrohir – from Utumno."
"The cellars. Glorfindel was telling us all about the Pits of Utumno today, and I told El that it was his turn to be a prisoner, and my turn to rescue him. Glorfindel said that Elatan was a brave elven warrior, and Elendur was his friend, but Melkor captured him. So I'm Elatan …"
"And Elrohir is Elendur. Yes, I see." Erestor stared at them, his mouth twitching slightly. "Elrohir, where are your clothes? You are wearing naught but your undergarments!"
Elrohir wrapped the cloak a little more closely around himself. "Glorfindel said that prisoners were stripped naked," he explained.
"I see. So this is Glorfindel's doing? I would have thought he had learned his lesson after telling you of the Balrog." He sighed. "Very well. I have seen nothing. Begone with you!"
As the twins dashed towards the stairs, Elladan glanced back at Erestor. "You will not tell Melkor?"
Elrohir pointed back to the Hall of Fire. "Ada. We are supposed to be in bed!"
Erestor's shout of laughter followed them up the stairs as they headed for the sanctuary of their bedroom.