Rating: PG for mutant monsters and violence wrought thereupon. No tabu words or sentient gore; unexplicit references to monster breeding habits — less than nature-show levels (assuming, of course, supernatural mutation of all local species.)
Setting: Late in the First Age, in the northern-central section of Beleriand
The spire leans out at an angle over the gulf, far below the levels of the surrounding walls, but high over the floor of the valley, which at this time gives no sign of the horrible death-in-life which inhabits it, and through the hours of darkness imitates the true dance of life and death in hideous parody of natural wasteland. It looks almost as though it was broken out from the mountain walls and guiltily shoved back in, in effort to conceal the accident, but it is not really sheer at all, and there are many natural steps and crannies that make ascent possible.
On its upper surface a figure lies, little to be distinguished from the stone on which he rests, dust-covered and tattered in garments that have no colors save those of the earth itself. It has taken him almost a third of the daylight to work his way up here: it is steep, and he is alone, and has no axe nor hammer nor wood to break out steps or set in brace to aid him, and he is half-starved, with no way to obtain replenishment for the dwindled stores he has brought with him in his escape — for there is nothing in this place that is not poison, save to those that dwell here in cycle of endless devouring and are of poison all themselves. Things, which he would not eat even if he might, half in fear that their flesh would kill him outright, and half that it would not—
Now he watches, having spent greatly of his reserves to do this thing, but needing to be utterly, absolutely sure before he begins his undertaking that he has left no thing unconsidered. The floor of the vale lies beneath him, he can see the slightest tilts and angles where plates of stone arise and sink beneath the overlay of earth, and the places where sudden surges of water have scoured away what now lies dry and packed with stones.
He had not meant to come this way at all, but the overhangs elsewhere were too great for one alone without belayer and the only descent he could manage led him into this ravine, from which he had thought to pass with no more trouble than all the others — that is to say, a great deal of trouble, but nothing unexpected. He had not thought to find Her here, in the farther outlet of the valley, nor all other ways from here blocked by landslide or accessible only to things with other means of going than hands and feet.
She is not the largest animal he has ever seen, nor yet the largest being that haunts this mountainous waste, but there are things as large as the aurochs of his homeland muffled in her vestibule, and their greater size plainly helped them not at all. In the hanging folds of gray shadow that clog the stone he can discern soft roundnesses, like the small egg cases of ordinary forest spiders in their webs — though these are larger than the heads of the ox-sized creatures rolled and waiting nearby for her hunger.
He has tried to feed her; he has tried to shoot her. She has turned up her mandibles in disdain at his offerings of dead Things that assailed him in the night, though the lesser spiders and the other creatures have not done so, and her hide is too tough for his arrows to pierce at the range he dares, with the dense shades of the gorge about her like the pale of shields defending her weak points, if any there be, against his sight. After brief test he gave up on that idea, having no way to recover the darts expended, and no straight wood here to make more, nor time to spend in the task.
He could, perhaps, fight through and kill her — but weakened as he is, he doubts it very much. And if he did, it would not be without wounds, and then he would be prey for her lesser kin and rivals and prey, and nothing would have been accomplished by it.
And the only way from this valley, where the water is poison that stings the skin, as all the waters in this region are, and works more strangely yet upon the mind, where every beast is hostile even to its own kind, and nothing that is of beauty grows — is past Her. The gorge is fairly wide, but not so wide that one could slip through on one side while she remained unobserving on the other, particularly with the tangle of web that stretches from side to side, and the undercut on either side makes it impossible for him to scale high enough to traverse the walls above her lair.
In the depths of Shadow that fill the gulf across from his vantage point, something stirs, half-seen, half-dreamed in nightmare vision. The darkness is so thick about her that he wonders if her webs can somehow trap the light and kill it too, as it seems to him, or if that is only the poison in his blood giving him waking dreams again.
There is his tree, a distance away from all the other trees of its kind, maintaining their territory as strictly as they do, not wound together in kinship and friendship and accident as in the woods from whence he came, not even the worst-scarred ones of the Burning so antagonistic to each other. It is, so far as he can judge, thirty paces between the two, at an all-out run. It might possibly be twenty-eight, or even thirty-one. It is the beyond that he is unsure of, how far back the gorge extends, and which he seeks to determine by his climb, to see if he can glimpse at an angle some sign of its further egress.
With small, unwasteful movements he slips one hand into the pouch at his belt and withdraws a tiny portion of its meager contents, oat-grains pounded into raw edibility, the garner of a long-forgotten field, and the dusty dry flavor of them is more delectable than honey-steeped cakes ever had, though it is more symbolic than actual in its gift of nourishment — though he has long learned to endure on less than most would ever believe possible, that had not survived the bitter teaching.
There — the Sun has moved far enough across the ice-blue dome of the sky that he can see light glowing softly from the further side, as he could not from the floor of the ravine, where webs higher than his head blocked out all traces of the golden might that the ruler of this domain of Unlife cannot bear nor defy — where the nightmare vision of his last spying nearly smote him with horror, touching something still human and frail after all this time, a sight sick-making enough in natural setting and small, but appalling beyond belief when the eaten, struggling mate is the size of a full-grown ram and the eater a cloud of darkness with eyes of conscious flame...
(Somewhere at the far distant edges of memory there is another Name that seeks to settle around his adversary, and a Tale, but those things are made of words—)
The length of the defile, is, by his best guess, about the same distance more that he must cover to reach the entrance. It will be difficult, this traverse, if it is not impossible, which he does not allow himself to consider, a run to outmatch any footrace for price or fame, though unwitnessed by any person; but he has always gone light upon land, faster than any other even before he reached his full height, not for mere power of muscle but for the unvoiceable sense of the moment — the point when careful endurance must give way to effort unconsidering of the after costs ... and for the equally inexplicable knowledge, deep within bone, of going— the sense of the slope beneath him, the roll and twist of earth under grass, the ability to perceive the hidden dip, the submerged stone, and to counter them in his passage, part of which (and perhaps the greater part) is to recover from stumbles, to acknowledge the inevitable fall and follow it through and rise up and run on. (But there can be no falls, tonight...)
Having what he came for, the man now eases himself over the sheer edge to the narrow shelf that angles up to his vantage. He regrets leaving behind the heights, though there is no hope for him upon this pinnacle, because from there the air is not so foul as it is in the bowl below, where all venomous and foul things wallow in decay, some still living, amid the rank carrion of their kindred-prey, and from afar off there is a lure beckoning his soul through his poison-heightened senses almost beyond reason and resistance, the scent and sense of some large watercourse and wilds that are green and living and filled with their own slow purpose...
But he has seen all that he can, all that he must try to avail himself of, in the only leverage that remains to him in this place, which is knowledge. Either it will suffice, or it will not. But if he is not to simply yield here and allow starvation to take him quietly, safely away from the Unlife that would devour him, in almost-sight but not in hope of that remote haven, he must go.
Carefully, (yet without the fearful caution that dooms many an inexperienced one attempting risky work to failure) he makes his way along the steep gap of the air to the sloping shoulder of the cliffs where the spire joins them. It is a long work, for he will not waste strength in needless exertion. The man slides back down from the rocks, working along the ways that the water has worn over the centuries, disturbing nothing in his path, ghosting over the dry stone like the shadow of a cloud crossing the Sun above.
Sunset approaches, and it were more than his life were worth to be caught on the ground when shadow fills the gorge like rising waters during a flash-flood. Yet he walks with lazy slowness, not hastening, along the way he has measured well, as a horse beneath its rider measures out the strides needed to carry it safely over a ditch, weighing the consideration of balance without need for words. Speed will cost him breath, which costs him water, and haste no less burns strength that he has no means to replenish. There is yet time, for all that he must accomplish before Moonrise.
Many eyes watch his going. It is always thus. But so long as there is daylight they cannot approach him, unless he is foolish enough to venture into deep shadow.
Night, however, is another matter. The only good thing is that the largest of them are least able to bear light, so that when the Moon is aloft he need not fear anything bigger than a wild boar about -- but that is only when the Moon is in the sky, and that is not for some while yet. And the lesser ones are still frightful, and hungry, and aware of him at every instant...
Soon it will be time, and the coming of darkness will allow him to venture the dark passage of the rocks where She lurks, between the times that she goes out to hunt. And though this seems madness, it is sanity, because he knows too well that in the shade of the gorge it might as well be night, and at brightest noon the changing from one to other will blind him, and he will be quick prey for the one who hunts there. At night he will have other foes, and other perils, and this, too, he knows well — very well indeed.
Indeed, he counts upon it for the workings of his plan.
He no longer thinks in words: it has been so many months since he has even heard human voices, so many years since he had human companionship, that his mind works in ways that would be alien to his race, and which are nonetheless removed from those beings that surround him — if only by a little. And his plan is built, as a wild creature may yet build something of fabulous care and skill, laying stick by stick and stone by stone, to dam a stream to overflowing or shape a house of sand that withstands the weight of water in that stream, or delve earthen tunnels beneath the surface that weave around themselves in mazes that would confuse a mere human mind, or that impossibility of architecture and art alike, the six-sided cells in limitless array of the honey-hive — even so, wordless but not thoughtless, he has crafted a means of escape from this last trap.
These four days pinned here have not been wasted: every instant of waking time has been an observation, and every observation an element of the construct that he now brings to completion. Bearing the last needful fact, that indeed this is the last gorge he must venture, and that beyond that axe-blow cleft in the valley's stone lies open country and water, he returns to the tree that has been his shelter in this ravine. There he has only a few more preparations to make, before he sets the plan free to unfold under the sky.
As trees go, it is a horrible thing, burnt-looking and twisted as though in pain, with several trunks rising like the long legs of a skeletal beast, supporting a framework of branches like cage of broken ribs, and it is set everywhere with thorns, that he must avoid, or saw off with his sword to make space for himself, thorns not like the wild rose nor even the hawthorn tree's fierce bite, but like the heads of spears, long as his forearm, and hollow at the point.
If he had not known already from his long journey that this kind had no interest in anything that was not insect, he never would have dared lay hand on its bark, let alone bide in it, but the spray of tentacles that lashes forth at approach of every winged Thing has never shown itself from the mouth of any thorn when he draws near, and he cannot stay on the ground, and the spikes serve to help keep off other beasts that might climb, but have no wit and cunning as he to make hidden ladder with his sharp iron of the tree's defenses. It works well enough: it does not seem to care if he cuts away its outer bark, so long as he does not touch the tendril-structures within, his flesh draws the blood-sucking insects on which the tree feeds, and the tree keeps them from reaching him, and so both are benefited by his presence.
Avoiding the water-like ripple in the surrounding dirt that betides the presence of something that he has never seen, only its upcast earth as it takes unwary crossers-over, he hitches himself up in a weirdly-graceful rush of movement, evades the untrimmed thorns, and folds himself into the open framework of the upper boughs. The usual inhabitants of the tree are small Things that feed on its fruits, and each other, like dormice with scales and without fur and with too many eyes, and they avoid him as a menace greater than themselves, though they chitter resentfully at him from their own branches.
Balanced here, as much at ease as upon the firm surface of the pinnacle rock, he draws his sword and his whetstone, and sand, and goes to work on it while there is still light in the sky, as the Sun drifts ever westward and the wayward Moon rises eastward in pursuit.
He does not, strangely, sharpen the sword this time: true, it is sharp enough that to whet it further might as easily take off the edge as increase its hone; but that rarely dissuades the nervous watcher before battle, who wears away the hours by wearing down and reshaping, over and over again, the sword's bite. Instead he polishes the flat of the blade, scouring away any faintest spot of tarnish or shallow scratch, until it shines like a long slim mirror, like a clear river in the brightness of the ebbing daylight, and a streak of fire dazzles from the branches of the tree like lightning wrought small to hold.
Sheathing the mirror-smooth blade, he lashes his ragged cloak and small bundle of gear together into one flat compact roll, ignoring the chill of the falling darkness, and binds it together with his bow and quiver with contents well-secured into a single burden that he now fastens to his back, diagonally, tying it as closely as possible that it not beat against him in counterpoint to his going and slow him, even by as much as a fleeting thought's duration. This he does with two of his four costrels, for water is even more of a weight and a burden when it gets to swinging against the runner's pace. The other two he sets aside for further work.
He wraps his hands carefully, binding fresh strips torn from his cloak to replace the ones sanded thin in his climbing, making sure that nothing will come loose to distract him or tangle him. Once that is done to his satisfaction he reknots the bandage-bindings that hold his tattered boots together, a task even more important than the previous: once he starts running he cannot stop, nor even slow, not for fighting, not for making sure of the way, not for the ground underfoot or obstacles of other kind.
He must go as a flung spear through the midst of battle, or he will die. If he has erred in his calculations, if he has made misjudgment of distance, or of his strength, or of the ways his foes will answer his actions, then he will die. If he stumbles, or swerves, or doubts his path, he will die.
But he will die if he remains here, in any case.
Now he takes one of the remaining two water-skins, the heavy one, freshly filled at the poisonous fall at the cliff-base. Into this vessel he carefully drains blood from his arm, through a hollowed thorn-tip, being extremely careful to let none of it spill out onto the leather, or the ground beneath his tree. It would not do to summon them too early. Enough to scent all the water that there is therein — they do not need much of it to waken them, he has seen them gnawing at the rocks that have dried all day in the sunlight after he has passed over them, where the wrappings that mended his torn boots have given way.
—Not enough to weaken him much more, he takes great heed for that.
When he is done he sets the thorn carefully into the hollow of three branches' join, and is not surprised to see the bark close over it, drawing the blood-wet fibers into the parent wood. It does not menace him, though, and that is all he asks for. It is almost time, in any case, and the tree will not have the chance to decide that perhaps it might find him fit prey after all. The heavy flask with its enriched liquid he now slings on, knotting it so that it too will not swing against him or in counterpoint, but so that it hangs solidly against his hip, lashed to his upper thigh, where each step he takes will jar and slosh its contents within.
Darkness has fully fallen now, though it is made fresh as with a breeze that is not of this reeking vale by the increasing brilliance of the rising Moon. His eyes having adjusted as the light has waned, and his night-sight honed by years of practice, it makes no difference to him.
There is one last thing he will do, before he goes forth from this place for the last time, a thing inexplicable even had he yet the mastery of words, but the most necessary of all in a way that his mind is certain of though it know not why. From the fourth and lightest of his water-flasks he removes the stopper and pours out a little of what remains into the palm of his hand, where it glimmers in the distant starlight for an instant before it soaks into the woven wrappings.
He rubs it over his dusty face, wiping away the bitter film of thin poison that is ever- present, clearing the grit from the corners of his eyes, and with a little more he touches the self-inflicted puncture in his wrist, cleansing it as much as possible. With one hand he moistens the other, as though he could possibly remove the ingrained dirt from his fingers, and at the last he wipes the wet cloth along his swordblade, point to tang and back, along both sides, and then around the grips and hilt pieces. He does not know why, but it is the right thing to do.
Then he carefully, slowly, gratefully drinks the last of it, the last of the water that was drawn from the cool depths of a vast lake that once when he had words, would he have called sacred, and which until this present cold season of waning light he haunted like a stray dog, coming back to ever after wandering, to a house which is ruined and empty of masters ... He knows enough to know that he needs his mind clear, clear as starlight, not the crystalline clarity of poisons dried at edge of polluted springs — though those have served him too, in his need.
He has harbored it all the long journey, saving it for times when the madness grew too attractive, and the untainted water gave him pain and trouble of spirit, drawing him back from what he knew enough to fear, though not why, or when he feared too great a balance of poison outright in the icy waters for his body to sustain. But this night will be his last here, one way or another, and so he spends it all, not recklessly, but in due measure. The empty vessel he leaves behind, for whatever beast or plant may choose to eat it — one smallest burden less to slow him.
The axle of the heavens has turned so that he can see all of the points which blaze like sparks of ice on the tips of a thorn-hedge in winter, when he looks backwards towards the mountains from whence he came. Once they had names, many names, but now he simply knows them for themselves, a landmark to be recognized unthinkingly like a tall stone or a shady tree, and he knows where the rest of the sky's travellers will be. He turns away, for the last time, and faces away and to the right, where now the Moon glows
With exquisite care he stabs the smallest of his poniards into the tainted water flask, low on the side facing away from him where it rests, leaving it there to partially slow the leak of bloody water that begins to dribble out. Then with care, not fear, he grasps the hilt of his sword more firmly, grips the lower third of the blade in cloth-wrapped fingers, and braces it safely before him as he edges along the twisted vault of his tree.
He springs out from the deformed branches, far out to where he has marked the safe place in the ground, though the spray of stones beneath his weight causes the creature coiled around the roots to convulse and lash coils in hope of food, and even as he lands he is half-risen to run, and the hunt is on.
One stride, and there is no sound.
Two strides, and something rattles in the rocks of the gorge behind him, but he does not look back.
Three paces, and something makes a hacking noise in the blue darkness to his left.
Four, and the dry barking is answered from a little further off.
Five — a lump shifts before him in the sand like a vast mole and he drives harder off his left foot and leaps over it and does not look down to make sure he has safe ground to land on.
Six, and as he hurtles forward there is a blow against his chest, like a flung stone, where a thing that looks like a cricket shaped by a maniac from green luminous ice has leapt at him, and finding no purchase for talons or snout in the dense-woven mesh of his armor, has fallen away to be swallowed by some other beast as it lies in stunned helplessness.
Seven — eight — nine — only the sound of three breaths, and the quiet is more frightening than the scutterings were. There is a small ting as the blade in the waterskin works loose and falls free in his wake.
Ten — something darts from rock to rock in the corner of his sight but he does not turn his head.
Eleven strides: a shrill anguished inhuman scream echoes in the ravine, making the heart stagger in sudden dread, its echoes shivering down the mind to where nightmares sleep through the waking hours.
Twelve, and the white disc of the Moon lifts fully free from behind the highest peak where the light has been growing, and the shadows change, not as at sunrise, but in a much subtler fashion, and he does not let it distract him, the dazzle in his eyes that is his guide.
Thirteen — fourteen — something directly behind him makes a globbering sound and he knows that something has found the blood-trail, but it does not matter what.
Fifteen: the crunching upon the barren grains behind him is of many more feet than four; who can say how many beasts' passing it signifies? The flask on his right side is far lighter now, and he adjusts his balance to compensate.
Sixteen strides. A baying along the path he must take, ahead and to either side of him. Perhaps it is only echo that redoubles it — His chest tries to tighten but his will does not allow fear to change his actions, and he draws another full breath —
Seventeen strides. Whatever has joined the hunt on his heels, it is heavy: he can feel its weight jar through him as he briefly touches earth in his passing.
Eighteen, and the gorge is opening before him, as should be. Moonlight is folded into its shadow and drowned there, like a swan impossibly sucked down into a bog.
Nineteen strides, to where the wallstones soar upward and inward in dim-stirring memories of door, called back from across the gulf of years —
Twenty strides. A shape looms up ahead, monstrous beyond nightmare, and She is there with her eyes shining, welcoming this gift that runs to her instead of away, and if he were yet like other men in thought he would die then in the fear-wrought panic that checked him — but he has only the object of his pursuit in mind, like a coursing hound with the scent of its prey in its nostrils, and he does not slow or falter.
Twenty-five strides: she is moving from the deepest part of the shadowed gorge towards him, and she is bigger than guessed at, but does not hasten, having no need to waste her efforts.
Twenty-six. Just beyond the edge of the moonlight in the shadows she stops, and any sane man would turn now, before it was too late, forgetting the horde of hellish wraiths that follow on, looking at what awaits him—
Twenty-seven — and the blade leaps up as though to salute the Moon, rising from ambush not to strike with edge nor hack, but to reflect a blaze of glory back into her many glowing facets, a bar of fresh-poured silver held broadside in his hands that drives her back and aside before him in shock. The sheen of it is astonishing in the clotted shadows of her gorge, the mirror-bright metal diverting the celestial disc's fierce bounty seemingly undiminished.
Twenty-eight paces, and his right foot lands in the mere of shadow, and he springs onward into the darkness, and as his light-filled hands are quenched he lets his left fall away from the blade and the point swing up in practiced move to ward beyond his head.
Twenty-nine — Beside him the half-blind monstrosity twitches and begins to unfreeze as the Moon's spell fades and her pain is not renewed. He does not look at her gleaming eye-shells nor strive to make out the limits of her shadow-drawn form — his gaze is fixed on the invisible path before him that his memory holds clear.
Thirty strides: the scraping rustle, drier than boughs of pine in the wind, the dryness of bones shifting under his feet — but he is used to uncertain footing, he runs lightly and fluidly, they are no more than dead branches underfoot to him. He has perhaps one, perhaps two paces to go, if he has erred—
Thirty-one strides, and the smell of the spider-beast is suddenly strong about him, carried on a quick rush of air, and still he leaps forward without faltering or thought of fight, all his will bent on escape as the hare that flees before the fox—
Thirty-two, and he can feel the cold light of her eyes in the edge of his own, and a cord is fended off by his readied blade, slowing him though he gave gathered strength in answer as soon as his hands felt the quiver through iron's length. —A breath, a half-step—
—and all hell uproars behind him as the maddened hunt spills quarreling and yammering into the gorge where they had never otherwise ventured, drawn by a lure they cannot withstand, irresistible temptation, meat not bred of poison and strange to the scent (save to the oldest, like the Mother of Spiders here) — they tangle on their many, many feet, bound and dragged after him in an unbreakable snare of his fresh-spilled blood.
Even if instinct did not compel her to turn at the sense of invasion, this breach of her territory, the hungry pursuers colliding with her would suffice. Snarls and squeals and wet chewing noises, gruntings and hisses and the spine-chilling noises of scrape and clack! and crunch, all racket about the hollows of the gorge, bouncing around him and over him in every direction. He does not look back, not even to see if he is safe, not to learn how his plan worked — it is enough that it did.
Through the gulf of woven night he runs, as he has once before in another life, another mind, as desperately, without thought of anything except beyond, past the huge globes of waiting Unlife like fruit of a Tree of Midnight, past the hung carcasses of Things that twitch against the future hunger of their hostess, past festoons of bones webbed into the hangings of the walls like dreadful tapestry — where might, did light penetrate the deeps, even be found some few of his own kind, lost long ago on another journey, before his generation was born.
Ahead are the clearer airs of the hills beyond, the faintest scent of water on the breeze and waterlike a distant, distant sound of trees ... He does not slow of his own will, not to catch his breath and ease his half-starved weariness, not to harbor strength against another day, he spends it all in this one great effort, though measuredly, still matching breath for stride, beat after steady beat, though he runs blind, trusting to the good sword that has served him well these years, which cleaves the lesser webs about him as he feels their pull, fends up and off the greater, so that he while slowed perforce does not slacken, is never brought to a standstill where he might be stricken unwary.
The gorge widens out still more, he can feel by the echoes of his passing, and he knows it cannot be far. It might be moonlit dark before him now, between the walls, brighter than the web-woven mirk, but it might also be his imagining, and he does not trust it until he sees a moving hulk of shadow-painted shadow like a boulder rolling deliberately into his path.
It is but one of the lesser spiders, (for in all this time he has not yet seen rocks that devour here) and he uses the increasing downward incline underfoot to lend height and distance to his spring and hurtles up onto the Thing as though it were in truth a stone and he a fleeing deer and is over it and past before it grasps what he is about, and thus he knows that he is free of Her dominion, for nothing weaker would dare to hunt within her range.
But there is no relief nor triumph in his heart, only the perpetual awareness of danger still present and to come, of long distances yet to go this night, stride by blistering stride across the wraith-haunted hills, not daring to stop and rest less he be unable to get up again after, striking for that promise of green wood and clean water that the night wind bears him and hope of rest and shelter — hope, and nothing more, no certainty, no promise, unless he keep it—
Behind him, in the now-quiet maw of the ravine, the one who has held court of deathly dominion over the valley for so long has reestablished her authority, and now paces in jerking, quivering agitation along the aisle of her refuge, repairing the vandalized screens, the slashed havens of silk that ward her safely from the terrible Sun and cruel Moon, moving back and forth from anxious pattings of her egg cases which hang still safely in their full undamaged potential, her instincts telling her they are precious though after they are hatched, they will be no more than other prey until of size and age to become mates as well.
With her longer claws she lifts and bears and rearranges the new valuables that have found their way into her lair, that wait their time to make payment for the injuries they have given her, these foolish ones that dared to rush upon her in her hunting and learned that singly or together, none of them were her match
That part of her self that is not mere appetite is torn betwixt outrage and approval: outrage, that her prey dare escape her, dare mock her with approach and then defy her with a blow of light -- of light! -- and flee, making her hasten in most undignified manner, and lead upon her all manner of trespassers to tumble her roughly in rude sport as though she were prey for them, forcing her to teach them harsh lesson in respect, and remembrance of who is the ruler here!
--But also approval, for did this one not at the same time give to her prey aplenty in reparation, making up for what was robbed from her, prey live, and moist, and struggling, of many different kinds and kin? And is this not fitting, this giving of tribute? Strange thoughts echo and tremor through the dark hollows of her mind, ideas with so little referent and substance to be given them that it is hard to tell what shape they might be taking. She dreams, waking, devouring, binding, of...
...lofty heights rising over deep places, piled high like the dwellings of ants and other burrowing creatures, sculpted as they are dolven of the sticky clay and silk and shadow, worked in forms of prey and power, to the best of the homage-maker's ability ... of prey dragged terror-struck and struggling, webbed by her lesser kin, to be cast at her den-place, given to her freely without work of her own, her spiderlings themselves pressing into the reach of her fangs, yielding back in worship the substance she gave them ... so that she may weave still greater workings of darkness, and web down, perhaps, that enemy of their hunting, the very Moon from the sky...
But in the end she is more Spider than Power, and she settles to the feast that has been given her, and the devouring of her rivals led thusly to disaster, and the guarding of her treasured brood, that will become her prey when they are hatched, dreams even of dread majesty and might over minds being too much alien to her soul.
And in the shadows of nameless rocks she grows, knowing nothing of the
Deeds done outside by the one who escaped her, and that one's descendants,
the very idea of family being outside her ken — grows stronger
and vaster until the world is changed and she of all her kind is mightiest
yet remaining, and known of a dreadful name, and worshipped by the creatures
of another dark Power that she slay them not, bargaining not of her pity
but of her infinite hunger, dwelling in a high place deep under stone,
the Daughter of Ungoliant — Shelob the Great.
— July 3, 2002 —