How many centuries had she lingered here, in the half-light, with a single solitary window hovering just out of reach? The sound of birds and beasts fluttered in from the forest without, soothing her aching soul. An age had passed since the servants of Morgoth took her, and his faithful lietenant had decided to keep her. She was one of his favourite playthings. He loved her spirit, the way she appreciated the darkness as much as the fragments of light that she received, the way she took every half-rotten piece of flesh and chunk of mouldy bread that was offered her and ate it with relish, defiantly refusing to succumb to misery. He would torture her for days on end, lashing her to racks for scourging, hanging her by a single limb over pits of hungry wargs (this he eventually stopped, once he discovered a number of his beasts reverting back to innocent wolves), his favourite was the iron maiden; at times the pain of its piercing spikes would become too much for her and she would scream and yell at him – granting him ill-won satisfaction.
No one ever came to rescue her; for she was a forgotten soul. Orphaned by the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, she was adopted by the spirits and sprites of the forests of Beleriand. The sprites taught her the ways of the earth; so that she learned to listen to the hearts of flora and fauna alike, better than any Elf before or since. The beasts and spirits were her friends, so that she sought not the companionship of others. So it was that when a band of orcs came down from the mountains they snatched a maiden whose absence would go unwritten in the annals of history.
All of this Niphredil remembered not. Centuries of thraldom had erased her mind, so that even her name escaped her. Sometimes she would dream of lush green forests perched high on a steep mountainside, ribboned with streams and pocketed with caves. She imagined the feel of grass under her bare feet, the merry chatter of birds and beasts in the trees and on the ground. Occasionally she mistook the stagnant vapours that poured through her window for a fresh, fragrant breeze, and once in a while she remembered a feeling altogether alien to her; a warm, soaring flutter of the heart that caused her to stop and smile and forget her woes. Happiness was a stranger to one such as her.
One day she awoke to a great clamour. The orcs were stampeding to and fro in the passage outside her door, shrieking and bellowing so that the walls shook and Niphredil clapped her hands over her ears. Hanging on to the wall, she pulled herself up off the cold, wet stones. She could see the tops of their heads as they passed, loping in unkempt ranks toward the stairway. Dragging her chains behind her, she staggered over to the heavy wooden door, gripping the greasy bars as she peered curiously through the narrow rectangular window. What in the world –
A great crash interrupted her thoughts. The room jerked violently, throwing Niphredil to the ground. Outside, the orcs' voices reached a crescendo of wild roars and screams, punctuated by the odd gurgling moan of the dying. Niphredil tried to gather her limbs once more and failed; a fall in her weakened state was more than enough to immobilise her. So she lay on the floor once again, listening to the great commotion and wondering what sort of disagreement had divided the orcs this time. It was not uncommon, you see, for battles to break out in the fortress of Dol Guldur, for orcs and goblins can live in peace for only a short time. Their nature compels them to shed blood. Niphredil had witnessed many battles happening just outside her door over food rationing and shift rotations. This one seemed particularly bad, however. Perhaps some of them have begun eating the wargs again.
Eventually the din died down. The last shuddering breaths of the fallen faltered and ceased, and the victors could be heard tramping to and fro, silent in their gloating. She heard voices muttering, which gave her pause. Why are they whispering? She wondered. The prisoners are the only ones around to hear… Her heart sank. She had heard the guards grumbling over their depleting rations not two days ago. Apparently orders had come from Barad-dur to cut everyone's share, as the ever-growing orc population was becoming harder and harder to feed, and Sauron's armies needed food more than the few hundred guards that resided in Dol Guldur. They are going to start eating prisoners. In all of her time locked in a cage, she had only witnessed the orcs feasting on Men and Elves twice. Twice she had evaded the mouths of starving orcs, twice she had been fortunate. Niphredil pondered her chances of escaping a third time.
The door creaked open. Niphredil closed her eyes and imagined rustling leaves and sunlight, sunlight that warmed her face and dappled the grass at her feet, she imagined the smell of the flowers and the soft caresses of a summer's breeze and the lively splashing of a clear stream over a rocky bed. A hand touched her cheek. Niphredil flinched. Don't touch me! She gulped, sweet thoughts dispelled by the idea of sharp teeth sinking into her living flesh and ragged nails ripping her from navel to throat before a dozen orcs began to feast on her innards.
This time, the hand pressed gently against her forehead. Soft, warm fingers caressed her flesh. It was no orc-hand. Niphredil's eyes snapped open and were shocked by a stream of bright, warm light pouring through the open threshold. She blinked several times, trying to focus on the figure bending over her. He was speaking to her, she realised. His soft, lilting voice felt wonderful to one so used to hearing the harsh growls of orcs. Niphredil fancied that she could have understood him, once, before she had forgotten herself. Instead she smiled at the pleasant sounds he was making. He was fair of face as well as voice, an Elven warrior clad in shining armour, with a river of silver hair flowing down his back. As Niphredil looked up into his shining turquoise eyes, she felt that warm feeling returning to her heart.
He brushed her hair out of her face with gentle words and slid his arms under her, lifting her up against his chest. Her manacles fell away as he stood, though she could not recall anyone opening them. She laid her head against him and closed her eyes. This is a good dream. She thought. This is the best dream I have ever had.
She came to as the soldier laid her down on the grass. There were more voices around her now, and from somewhere a way off came an immense cracking sound, as though someone was tearing the stone apart at the seams. Niphredil sat up shakily and looked about. There were Elves all around her. Most were hurrying to and fro, arms clattering and garments rustling as they went, but a small group had gathered around her. She spotted the warrior that had carried her out in the half-dozen faces gazing down at her. Someone was leaning over her again. He was fairer and grimmer than his soldier, with the mark of millennia in his shining blue-grey eyes. His hair was long and golden, held back only by the spiked silver crown he wore atop his head. The crown was interwoven with fresh flowers of many hues, for spring had come; its glittering sunlight shocked Niphredil's weary eyes and painted the forest with vibrant colours such as she had only ever seen in her dreams. The Elvenking's deep, tender voice called her attention, and she frowned at him as she struggled to understand. She knew the words, but meaning eluded her. She smiled coyly and lowered her head.
"Thranduil." He said, placing a hand on his breast.
Niphredil moved her mouth uncertainly. When had she last spoken? How had she formed words before? Embarassed, she shut her struggling jaw and gazed helplessly up at him. The King nodded, and though she knew he understood, shame clawed at her.
Thranduil put his hand to his shoulder and unfastened his cloak. This he pulled off and draped carefully around her. Niphredil had spent so long naked in the dark that she had forgotten about clothing and modesty, but she quickly remembered her humility at this gesture, and clutched the grey cloth tightly to her. Thranduil offered words of comfort and reached out to her. She took his hand and allowed him to help her up. Balancing uncertainly on emaciated legs, she wrapped the cloak properly around herself as he held her up. With his help, she staggered limply over to his steed; an ireas, Giant Deer in the Common Tongue. The magnificent animal knelt down patiently as the King helped her up onto his back. He held her as the deer stood, lifting her high above everyone else. Niphredil clung to its neck, relishing the feel of its soft brown hair against her skin.
A noise like thunder tore through the sky. Niphredil started and looked back toward the fortress just in time to see it crack straight down the middle and collapse in on itself in a cloud of black dust. In the midst of the great cloud there glowed a tall figure clad in white and gold. She shone like a radiant star through the dark vapour, her golden curls tossed about by the gale of hot air that burst forth from the crumbling tower. Soon enough there was next to nothing left of Sauron's former hiding place, and the Lady Galadriel lowered her arms, standing proudly over the wreckage. Lord Celeborn stepped out from among his men and stood next to her, laying his hands on her shoulders. A shout nearby pulled Niphredil's eyes away from the most beautiful couple in Middle Earth.
A dark-haired Elf was pushing his way toward two thralls being escorted away from the rubble. He had a high brow and grey eyes. His face, fair though it was, was slightly darker in complexion than an Elf's should normally be and lined very faintly as though with age, belying his half-blooded nature. Elrond Halfelven was greeted with joy by his twin uncles, whom history had long proclaimed lost. As Eluréd and Elurín embraced their sister-son in turn, Niphredil looked about. All around her she witnessed similar meetings, as Sauron's former pets were welcomed back to life by people they had once loved, and though she could not recall her former life, an inkling that no-one would come for her darkened her heart.
Someone touched her arm. It was one of the twins. He was saying something to her. Niphredil sighed and shrugged. Thranduil strode up beside him and listened intently as Eluréd told him something about her. When at last he gestured to her and uttered the name "Niphredil", she gasped. Thranduil looked up at her. "Niphredil?" She nodded, grinning inanely. It was good to know her name, if nothing else.
After a lengthily discussion about her and a number of other things, Thranduil bid the hosts from Lothlórien and Imladris farewell and mounted his ireas. His people assembled in single-file behind him, and together the host of Greenwood set off home. Niphredil sat quietly in front of the King, drinking in the sights and sounds of the forest. It felt familiar, somehow. She guessed that she must have lived in a forest such as this before, though she failed to recall even the faintest of details about it. As the day drew on, however, she found her attention waning. A heavy weariness descended upon her and she found herself slipping into her first peaceful sleep in Erú knows how long, with her head resting against her mount's broad neck.