Theme: Halloween/harvest challenge for LOTR Community Challenges group
Elements: "In a ravine she lived, and took shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all light that she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode; and she was famished."
Author's Notes: Thank you, Ramie, for the beta. I tried to twine together an urban legend with Tolkien's world.
Summary: Directly following the War of Wrath, before the Powers sailed West, two curious elves go seeking for something that may be better off left lost.
" I, Nólaquen, son of the line of Ninyanorindo, do set these words down, that they might stand as a warning. I do attest and swear these were the true events of a journey into one of the darkest realms of Middle-earth.''
One last journey, a last time to see the ruins of what had been some of the greatest kingdoms of our kind in this wretched land, that was what we sought. Young, we were young, we were fearless, for what fear could forests hold for those of us who were Aman-born? We had come to fight in this war, this war to end all wars as the Powers were calling it, but the curiosity that had led some of our kind eastward now tugged at us and we wanted to see this last great kingdom they had called Doriath.
What had been so grand as to lure a Maiar to bind with one of our kind? Too young, I was born decades before the dying of the Trees, and so had only bard's tales of what had happened, and then sung only in secret. It was a shame, that rebellion. A shame and a marring scar that the Eldar carried all these years. Now, here we are in this land Fëanor sought so recklessly, and we would see some of it before the Powers sink it, for that is what they have warned us they shall do. Sink it below the waves, below the slumbering seas for this land is tainted with Morgoth's darkness.
We do not question it aloud, but some of us wonder; do they sink it to hide what the Eldar did here? Ah, we dare not speak it, barely think it for the Powers can be fearful even as they are generous.
"I believe this is the edge of the forest."
My companion is a historian, here to record the events of this war to end all wars. Here, with me, to see something that will cease to be in a short time. We are at the joining of the Rivers, where the Aros meets the Sirion. Here, it was said, the Girdle of Melian kept all out who were not welcome.
I wonder if some power will keep us out as well? It is clear we are not welcome. The very land speaks its dislike of us, bristling plants with thorns, jagged rocks forming fearsome hills that one cannot clamber over, and certainly our horses would never make such a journey. Even the trees seem to crowd together, forming thick barriers of green to ward us out.
Melian may have fled, but the land remembers.
And we are strangers to this land, we Aman-born Noldor.
"It grows dark. Shall we camp here, at the edge of the forest?" It truly is not a question, for nothing would induce me to enter that forest now, with nightfall approaching. The trees groan and creak as a wind picks up, rubbing and rattling their branches together in a very unwelcoming sound. "They do not like us."
"What?" Looking up from his maps, my companion frowns at me. Already he thinks me flighty, no doubt due to the Vanyarin blood tainting the good, pure Noldo in my veins. My hair is honey brown, not the ebon black of my father's house, and my eyes more a light blue rather than the pure grey eye of the elf watching me. "Keep the fire contained and low, well away, and they should not mind."
Practical, ever practical is my companion. We make camp, setting up a circle of rocks, dark earth dug away to form a pit, and tie the horses near. They crowd closer, as if they too are uncertain of this land we have ventured into.
It is dark. Not the dark of my childhood, when the Trees had died and the Sun had yet to ascend. There is no moon; Tilion is far, far away from us this night, chasing Arien again. We have only starlight, that which my people love, and even they seem distant and cold this night. I shiver and pull my cloak tighter to my body. "Do you suppose the spiders the Sindar spoke of would come this far south?"
"Ungoliant's get?" He frowns and looks into the forest, the creaking, groaning dark wall of twisted trees. "It has not been so long since Melian lived here. Yes, it is darkened, but I still feel a trace of her protection upon the land."
The water of the rivers flows clear behind us, gurgling and splashing against rocks, eddying about before rushing down, down to the falls.
"My mother always said the dark creatures fear running water." She had made the Great Journey and I believed her tales of how hard life had been before Oromë had come to lead them to Aman. Ammë knew more than either my companion or I about this land, though she was far away, in the Western Lands.
He offers a smile, a genuine smile, not the condescending sort I had received throughout the day for my tedious questions. "Lord Ulmo's power runs in the waters and so the darkness loves it little. We will be safe here."
Here. Yes, between two rushing, powerful rivers we would be safe.
What of when we entered the woods?
Fog crept in during the night, wreathing the trees in shrouds of grey wisps that seem to cling to the branches and the damp cold settles into my cloak, leaving me feeling cold and clammy. Daylight, grey and listless as it was, did nothing for the forest. Dark it was yet, thick and wary of keeping what secrets it held.
"We will follow the river still." He is looking at his maps again, ignoring the land around him, the bristling woods and gurgling of water. "There is a branch of the Esaglduin further north that we can follow to get us closer to Menegroth."
Menegroth. We had heard stories of its glory from those who had fled the kinslaying of Dior and his people. I pitied those survivors. First to lose their king, what was it they had named him? Ah, yes….Elu Thingol. They had lost him to treachery, lost their queen to her grief and, such a short time later, lost the son of Lúthien and Beren to Fëanor's sons. "They left his sons here in these woods you know." I stare into the dark, loveless woods, cold and harsh and wonder what would drive an elf to abandon children to such a fate?
"Yes, I had heard that as well." He shivers as a tendril of breeze pushes past, swirling the grey fog. It moves on to tease the fog around a tree like a grey cat winding around the legs. "Do you suppose they killed them?"
Abandoned, they had said, but the words stuck in my throat. I could not imagine such a horror. Not from my own people. Morgoth was the evil, or so I had always been taught, but I was seeing here in this land that my people were capable of great bravery…
…and great evil as well.
"I…I don't know." Moving closer to my horse, I rub her jaw and lean in against her warmth. This is a cold land. Cold and hard. Perhaps it had not always been so, but now…now I begin to see why the Powers would want to sink it beneath wave and water.
"Ah well, let's move on, shall we? I want to see as much as we can before Eönwë summons us back."
Another shiver. Manwë's herald had promised. Promised we would all hear the Summons, calling all of us out of the lands before the Powers sank them. I hope he will keep his word. It is odd I doubt the word of a Maiar, but this land…it seemed to suck the very hope from my bones.
For the first time I wonder if perhaps what we are doing is utterly foolish. No one had warned us away, or told us not to go. Others were trying to reach Gondolin, to see the legendary city before it too was lost to all time. Leaping up on my horse, I urge her forward.
At least we were staying with the water where Lord Ulmo's power ran.
Hemlocks and Beech trees were a welcome change from the thick, dark forests now on the other side of the river. We had forded the Esgalduin at a narrow point and decided to ride on the side that seemed…happier. Not happy, for even now we hear no birdsong. Neldoreth, they had called this forest to our left. Region was where Menegroth was hidden and I had less desire than ever to ride into that dark forest, even as we rode east.
Skittering noises came to us near nightfall. Noises I had never heard, as if something huge and light ran through the trees, paralleling us, shaking leaves and branches with its passing
"I hear it." My companion stops his horse, steadying her with a few quiet words. Nervous. Even the horses sense there is something in those trees and I am happy we decided to cross the river and put that rushing water between us and whatever lived in that dark forest of twisted trees.
Ahead there is a turn in the river, a large sweeping turn where it bends and heads northwards again. We stop there, before that bend, and make camp again. We speak little, my companion and I, instead watching the forest for what we heard. It is too dark, the trees too close, limbs twisting together to form a canopy, to see anything.
But we heard more of the skittering noises. The horses whicker at us and roll their eyes, unhappy at whatever they sense, as are we.
"Perhaps we should reconsider this thought of finding Menegroth." There. I had said it, the thing that had weighed on my mind since we had first beheld this forest. This great, dark unwelcoming forest. I am not too proud. I came to this land, curious to see what my parents had left. The fact that they had left it meant something to me, chiefly that they had not seen anything so wonderful that they had to remain.
He turns to look at me, surprise clear on his face. "But we are so near!"
"And whatever is in there is following!" I point, gesturing to the water rushing past. "Only the river keeps them from us."
A snort and he rolls his eyes. "My young friend…."
I scowl. He is not so much older than I.
"…I have not come this far just to turn away before finding that which I seek. Nor would I turn back now and leave all to wonder what has become of Menegroth."
"Perhaps some things are better left…" This thing has been growing in me, this certainty that we are trespassing on sacred ground and are not welcome. Whether it was sacred or desecrated I do not know, nor do I wish to discover. "Untouched. Let the dead lay where they are, undisturbed."
"You Vanyar." He sighs. "Always so worried about the sacred and such. It surprises me still that some of you came off your sacred mountain to journey with us in this war."
I had heard similar sentiments and let it go. I would not be deterred. "Do you not sense it? Can you not feel how unwelcome we are here?"
But his gaze goes to the trees across the river as something shook the branches and the skittering noise came to us again. The horses rear, snorting, pulling against the ties holding them in place it takes all of our skill to calm them. Even then, they shiver and paw the ground, clearly unhappy at being here.
Something over there is stalking us, and the stories of the great spiders fill my mind. Spiders of immense size, filling the air with their Unlight that steals hope and strength from all it touches. No, these are not things of bards' tales or late night stories, these are history. Such a creature had killed the Trees, sucked the life from them, and left them as husks. If it could do that to the Two Trees, I did not want to know what Ungoliant's descendants could do to two foolish elves.
"Look," he spreads his hands, conciliatory, voice soothing. "They are strong only in the darkness. We will wait for morning and then go."
Forgetting or willfully ignoring that the forests were so dense, the trees grown so tightly together as to nearly keep all light from falling to the forest floor.
I am weary and have no wish to quarrel. "We will see in the morning." It is all I can agree to.
Morning dawns grey and cold yet again. If anything the fog is thicker, but a wind blows up about an hour after a hazy dawn, carrying some of it away. It is a cheerless day, cold and gloomy, and even the water of the river looks steely cold and harsh. Murky.
"You cannot wish to go in there." It is impossible for me to imagine why anyone would want to do so. Ever.
"We need to find a good spot to ford the river." He gestures and swings up on his horse that prances nervously, and tries to go back the way we have already been. "Just a bit more. Come, you must want for a bit of adventure if you made the journey from Aman. Would you turn back now when it is right before you?"
I frown; his words are close to what my brother said, taunting me when I was hesitating in my decision to make the journey at all. "Fine. A bit more but if we cannot find a spot to cross…."
"Yes, yes." Fighting his horse he finally regains control and they surge forward.
"Oh, yes, please make more noise and alert them all that breakfast is on the move." I sigh and mount my horse, soothing her as best I can with words and touch. "Just a bit, and then even if he doesn't want to turn back we will." The mare snorts and paws at the ground, unhappy but trusting me.
I only wish I felt up to such trust.
The ground grows wet as we travel up the river, and finally we stop at a place where trees have fallen into the river. It does not create a bridge, none of the trees reach that far, but it has pooled the water, damming it so there is a brackish pool of dark water that moves very sluggishly on our side. It is murky, and stinks. "Something has died there."
"Your imagination is only bested by your bravery," he mocks and knees his horse forward.
A sighing moan from the opposite side of the river sends a chill down my spine and my mare dances back, ears pinned. "The horses sense it as well!"
"It's just the wind!"
I watch in disbelief as he pulls his horses' head around, kicking her forward towards that water. The moment her hooves touch the brackish pool the mare explodes in a spinning rear that dumps her rider in the pool. She squeals and backs away, still rearing even as he sputters and staggers to his feet.
"You ridiculous creat—" His words break off as he glances over at the forest and stares, mesmerized.
Movement from the trees grabs my attention and I dig my hands in my mare's mane as the air grows so cold I suddenly can see my breath.
Two children stand on the bank, feet almost at the edge of the water, but not touching. So carefully not touching the flowing water. Hand-in-hand, they stand watching us.
"Sweet stars," I whisper. "Could they be…"
He shakes his head. "I know not."
The child on the right speaks, his voice clear, Sindarin accented. The other child watches in silence. "Will you help us, please?"
I would have thought survivors would be more desperate, more terrified after spending so long alone with the skittering terrors we had only heard, but not seen.
Clearing his throat, he too is shocked by this sudden appearance of survivors, my companion yells, "Children! What are your names? Have you been here alone…all this time?"
The child on the left glances back, over his shoulder before looking to his companion. Again, the first child speaks. "Please…will you help us?"
Something odd came to me as they began walking along the shoreline, never touching the water, walking towards that gnarled mass of black trees and brackish pool. More odd than the lack of fear or desperation, more odd than two children being out here alone….
"Their eyes." I nearly gasp it as it occurs to me, the full weight of the boy's gaze falling on me.
My companion draws in a sharp breath as he sees as well. "What are your names?" His tone demands more than just questions.
"Please! We cannot cross unless you will help us!" Now the child's voice is more desperate and it chills my blood.
"Perhaps they cannot swim," my companion mutters and starts forward.
I grab his arm, nearly pitching myself into the water as my horse quivers and stamps a hoof. "No! See how careful they are to not touch the water! And think; how could two boys so young survive this long alone in those woods?"
"Would you do nothing?"
"Please, please! Will you not help us?" They are crying now, sobbing in terror.
"Why would the spiders let them be?" I harden my heart to the boys' pleas, grabbing my companions shoulder to look into his eyes. "Think on this. It cannot be right!"
"Would you leave them to the mercy of the spiders then?"
"Please, we just need to get home. Please, help us!"
Everything in me screams they are unnatural, darkened creatures and I reach to grab my bow. "No, I will not leave them to the spiders, but we cannot let them cross."
"No!" He grabs my arm. "You cannot kill them! They are children! Survivors of --"
"They are dead already. Look!"
Indeed as the light breaks through the haze for a moment, a shaft of light falls on the forest, and illuminates the boys. Beautiful they are, porcelain skin, hair as brown as the newly turned earth. Strong and slim, silver circlets holding their hair back catches the light and gleams with a cold light.
But their eyes….their eyes are black. All black, with no color escaping that darkness.
"Please….we cannot leave without your help!"
I dig my fingers into my companion's arm to keep him from going forward, even as he tries to pull away. "Those are not children!"
"We cannot leave—"
The sunlight is gone suddenly as a cloud sweeps forward and from the forest it looks as though a thousand tiny lights burn, flickering a cold, gleaming blue.
"We must leave!" The horses are all but screaming in terror, rearing and fighting to follow their instincts; they would soon break free of the loyalty holding them there. "We must go NOW!"
"Please! Do not leave us!" Sobbing, the boys hold out their hands, entreating us.
But I know, whatever, whomever they had been had long since fled. What is left is pure terror and I sense only darkness.
The first horse rears and charges off. I fight my mare, using all my skill to keep her in place as I try one last time to gain my companion's attention. He stands, knee-deep in that murky dark water, watching the boys. Mesmerized again. "Eruenvinyanto!!"
He begins wading forward, unable to resist the pleas any longer.
I cannot not watch, and yet how can I just leave him there? "No…" Choice is ripped from me as my mare spins and bolts.
The last view I have of Eruenvinyanto is him swimming hard to reach the boys who seem to glow with a nimbus of black light that steals the joy and light from all around it. I sob, for the boys who had never had a choice, and for my friend, whom I hoped would be able to hear Lord Námo's call when his fëa fled his body.
I ride hard, always keeping the river between that blackened, twisted forest and myself. The trip is a blur, and I remember only stopping long enough for the horses to rest before pushing them hard again.
The terror rode hard with me, and it was not until I reached the Falls of Sirion that I felt enough out of harm's way to slow my pace. I did not feel safe again until I was at the sea, and the Powers near.
My youth was left behind me in that forest. I have seen what this land can do to even we who dared call ourselves mighty. Born of Aman or born of this Middle-earth, it matters not. I will not be sorry to see this land sink and return again to my home where Manwë's Eagles fly.
But one last thing I had to do, and though it was some time before I found survivors of Doriath who would even talk to me of that horror. I had to know.
It was an older woman, a Silvan lady who had baked and cooked for Dior's people who finally spoke with me. She, who finally answered my question with a quick drawing of two faces, earth-brown hair and sweet smiles. The faces of two who had been led out into the forest and left to die, years before. Too many years to yet be boys. The very same faces that had cried out to me across the river. The background was a forest and in one of the trees… No, it could not be.
A web and in that web, hanging with legs dangling…a spider.
Beneath the drawing she scribbled:
From the darkness was I bred
To the darkness was I born
From the shelter were they led
And in the darkness left forlorn
End, but please let me know if you liked it, or have suggestions. Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween! :)