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The Prisoner of Dol Guldur
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
Part 2

For disclaimer, rating, etc. see Part 1.

Author’s note: I changed a bit the actual canon events, adding Thranduil’s helping host to the mix. As you will see, it was necessary.


~~~

"Three times Lórien had been assailed from Dol Guldur, but besides the valour of the elven people of the land, the power that dwelt there was too great for any to overcome, unless Sauron had come there himself. Through grievous harm was done to the fair woods on the borders, the assaults were driven back; and when the Shadow passed, Celeborn came forth and led the host of Lórien over Anduin in many boats. They took Dol Guldur and Galadriel threw down its walls and laid bare its pits, and the forest was cleansed."

The Return of the King, Appendix B: The Tale of Years (p. 472)


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The siege of Dol Guldur was almost over when a host of Mirkwood archers arrived to the battle, lead by their own King, no less. They had come from a long and vicious battle fought in the North, following the trail of their fleeing enemy that led them straight into another battle. With great wrath did they throw themselves into the fight once more, and soon the battle was won, the Elves emerging victoriously.

This was the first time since the early Second Age that Thranduil and Celeborn, the estranged kindred, met again. And though Thranduil was still wary about Galadriel and her Ring, he had to admit that Nenya’s power was a great advantage. They came no closer, the Lady of the Golden Wood and the King of Mirkwood, but at least they made peace for Celeborn’s sake, whom they both loved greatly – he as one would love a brother and she as one loved the other half of one’s fëa(1).

And when the dark tower of Dol Guldur was gone, its blackened walls torn down to their foundations, its defenders slain to the last Orc, Thranduil’s chief tracker came forth, one of the Faithful whom the Noldor sometimes called the Avari – and Elf older than the sun and the moon, who wore the name of Alagos, which meant Storm of Wind. He and his fellow Faithful had shovels and began to dig up the collapsed dungeons.

“You truly hope to find anyone still alive down there?” asked Haldir with a frown.

The Dark Elf shrugged. “We cannot know for certain. We knew not when we dug up the pits of Utumno either. And yet I found my brother back then… even though he was more an Orc than an Elf already. Many of our people have vanished without a trace during this Age – even if we do not find any of them, we can at least say that we tried.”

That was an unusually long speech from Alagos. He was an Elf of few words and many deeds. This alone showed how much he was touched by the possible fate of his people. Haldir shrugged. For his part, he doubted very much that they would find anyone down there – anyone that still lived, that is – but the Lord Celeborn had ordered them to support the troops of Mirkwood in anything they might need. Thus he took a shovel himself and helped them.

On the first few levels, they found naught but rotting bones and the rusty remnants of the chains with which the unfortunate prisoners had once been fastened to the iron rings on the walls. Some all too well known signs revealed that they had been eventually eaten by the ever-hungry Orcs. When they were no longer of any use for the questioners, most likely. Imagining a fate like that made the Elves of Lothlórien, most of whom had enjoyed the protection of Nenya for an Age or even longer, sick with horror and many of them gave up their task, ashamed but utterly relieved.

Alagos did not blame them. Not everyone could stomach the horrors of such places, even less so without previous experience. He and his fellow Avari kept digging, though, and thus they finally came to the deepest level of the dungeons.

The sight of those pits made everyone but the hardened Avari sick. The prisoners kept there had obviously been still alive during the siege of Dol Guldur – and many of them had been maimed and tortured for years upon years. Empty eyeholes, missing limbs, deliberately inflicted horrible wounds had destroyed their once-possessed beauty beyond recognition.

“It seems that the Abhorrent One was trying to find out Melkor’s secret,” said Alagos to his King in a low voice.

The mere thought of that made Thranduil turn deathly pale.

“You mean he tried to turn them into Orcs?” he asked. Alagos nodded, his hard face blank and closed like the shutters of a tower chamber.

“These wounds… they look frighteningly familiar,” he said. “I saw Elves maimed and disfigured like this… in the pits of Utumno, when they got laid open. ‘Tis a blessing none of these here survived.”

Thranduil swallowed hard and forced himself to take a look at every single one of the victims. He owed them that much. They had once been Elves – his Elves, his brave and faithful warriors.

“Some of them do seem familiar…” he said, a great sadness spreading all over his heart.

“I recognized them all,” replied Alagos grimly, and walking from one broken body to another, he called them by their names and bode them the traditional farewell of the Faithful.

“Why is it that I cannot see who they were?” murmured Thranduil with regret. “They were my people. I should recognize them, too.”

“They were your people, ‘tis true,” said Alagos, “yet you have never seen Elves twisted this way before, my King. I have. Too many of them. My eyes are trained to see beyond what they are now. Remember, I am much older than you are. I have seen more.”

“And yet I think I do know this one,” said Thranduil suddenly, halting by the broken corpse of someone who must have been an exceptionally tall Elf once. The body was maimed horribly, the face crushed almost beyond recognition, due to repeatedly broken facial bones and a missing eye, the long hair wild and matted, all four limbs broken – and healed badly – in several places, and yet…

“He was not one of us,” decided Alagos after a long, hard look.

“Nay, agreed Thranduil sadly, “but I know who he used to be.”

“Who then?” asked Alagos, surprised that his King would recognize this one while unable to do so with his own people.

“I cannot be entirely certain,” said Thranduil slowly, “but I think this was once Malgalad, Haldir’s father.”

“Sweet Kémi(2)!” murmured the Dark Elf. “He must have been kept here since the Last Alliance, then. For more than three thousand years.”

“And yet Sauron has not succeeded to turn him into a monster," said Thranduil. Alagos shrugged.

"The Abhorrent One never had that kind of power. Not even while he still had that cursed Ring of his. But at least Haldir and his family can be comforted now. Horrible as Malgalad’s fate has been, he is finally at peace.”

Thranduil nodded. The tale of Haldir’s father was a well known one among the Silvan folk, one people told each other with their hands covering their mouths, for it caused them great fear and great sorrow. Malgalad – a Nandor Elf of noble descent – had been King Amdír’s chief warlord and led the remainder of Lothlórien’s army into battle after Amdír had been slain upon the battle plain of Dagorlad, being cut off from the main host and driven into what was called later the Dead Marshes.

After that, Haldir’s father vanished without a trail. His body had never been found; but many thought that he had been captured and dragged to an unknown fortress deep in Mordor where the servants of the Dark Lord lay hidden, preparing for a new Master to arise. There had been whispered rumours that Malgalad might not have been killed but turned into some hideous monster and had been serving the evil purposes of the Enemy, even after He had been overthrown and perished.

These were, of course, malevolent rumours only – but hurtful enough for Haldir to become haughty and slightly hostile towards everyone who was not already an old friend. It made Rúmil’s once so merry nature a little bitter and his jokes biting. And it caused Orophin – the youngest brother, who had hardly even known their father – to withdraw even more into himself, 'til his voice was hardly heard any more, unless necessary.

Gwenethlin, their mother and one of the last Wise Women of the Silvan folk, carried her unspoken shame with stubborn pride, saying that she would have gone to Mandos’ Halls voluntarily, should the rumours have proven true; yet no-one could silence them completely, and for a very long time, the whole family had to wear the mark of evil, with or without true reason.

Thranduil was glad that the truth had finally been found out. He respected Mistress Gwenethlin greatly, and knew that no matter the grief, she would be relieved to learn the fate of her husband.

Someone ran to call Haldir and the other Lórien Elves, and they gathered around their former captain with great respect. Even Celeborn and Galadriel came to pay their respects. Although Malgalad had supported Amdír against them, he had been a great leader and a faithful friend and deserved to be respected.

As the people of Lothlórien began their lament for Malgalad, the Avari of Mirkwood continued their digging, while others prepared the place of final rest for the murdered prisoners. There were no nargaladh(3) trees in the branches of which they could have laid the dead, as if was the custom of the Faithful, thus they decided to bury them farther away from the naked hill of Dol Guldur and raise a mound above them.

Suddenly one of the Avari ceased his work and called out to Thranduil. “My Lord, we found the last one… and he seems to be breathing still!”

Thranduil hurried to the last dungeon, where two young arches had just unearthed a limp, motionless figure that had been buried under broken stone and clam soil. It was a male Elf, his practically bare body only covered with mud and filth – and, although frighteningly thin and wraith-like – more or less unharmed.

Alagos felt down that skeleton-like chest and found that practically all ribs were broken or at least knacked, but it seemed to have happened only a short time ago, perchance due to the destruction of the dark tower.

“I think he will live,” the Dark Elf judged, “but we shall need a stretcher. And we must wash him first to see if he has other injuries.”

They carefully moved the barely breathing prisoner closer to one of the hurriedly made fires and laid him on the bare soil, as not even grass could grow on this hill that had been soaked with evil for so long. Someone brought a bowl with warm water, a cloth and a piece of soap-root, and Alagos gently began to wash away the layers upon layers of filth, mud and dried excrements that crusted the prisoner’s body.

‘Twas like peeling an onion; it took him several fresh bowls of water and several fresh clothes and many pieces of soap-root to soften up and clean away every new layer of dirt, each of which seemed to be a bit less dark than the previous one. An eerie feeling that mayhap there would be nothing left when he finished overcame him, but he went on with his work nonetheless.

Unlike the others, he recognized the prisoner at once, but his heart refused to believe it. Yet when finally all layers of filth had been removed, the painfully thin, deathly pale face was unmistakable. It had more in common with a skull – the cheeks nonexistent, the eyes deeply sunken and unnaturally large in that wasted face, the teeth rotten to blackened chunks, the mouth lipless, the neglected hair brittle like dry straw and caked with mud. And still, behind that grotesque mask of pain – and possibly even madness – he could see what it once used to be like.

And Alagos, the Dark Elf, who had seen more than anyone else still dwelling in Middle-earth, he who had been born before the Sun and the Moon, he who could take anything with a shrug and who faced the Úilari without a flinch, now sank to his knees and wept.

Thranduil, alarmed by the strange behaviour of his unflappable chief tracker, pushed through his people to take a closer look. After one short glance, though, he came to a halt, as if suddenly rooted in the stony floor. He could not utter a single word, just stood there, thunderstruck, staring at the freed prisoner with wide, shocked eyes.

Celeborn walked over to him, leaving Haldir to his own grief, and laid a comforting hand upon his cousin’s forearm.

“Do you know him?” he asked quietly.

Slowly, barely visible, the King of Mirkwood nodded.

“I… I know not what he is now,” he whispered. “But once, an Age and a lifetime ago, he used to be my second-born son.”

He, too, fell to his knees, gathering that wasted body in his arms, holding it with the utmost care as if he would hold something very fragile and infinitely precious.”

“My poor son,” he murmured, “my poor, brave son. Whatever happened to you? Enadar, can you hear me? Are you still in there at all?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There was that achingly familiar voice again: rich, deep, gentle, calling his name, anchoring his slipping mind to a body that was barely able to hold him any longer. He struggled weakly against the sweet temptation, did not want to stay, being here hurt, he wanted to be in peace. But the pull of that loving voice was too strong, being called by his name held too much power, his weakened will could not resist. With a weary sigh, more thought than actually given, he gave in and returned to his fragile shell.

It hurt more than he had expected. The fresh smell of wind and water tormented him, after so many hundred years spent in the stale stench of the dungeon. The soft voices of his rescuers sounded loud and harsh after the bleak silence that had been his existence for so long. And when he opened his eyes, just a little, the dim light of a warm sunset stabbed them as if someone had rammed hot-red iron spikes through his eye sockets. A weak, raw scream burst out of his throat – he was too dried out for tears, and the pain was excruciating.

“Ssh,” that familiar voice soothed him in a whisper softer than the evening breeze,” all will be well now, my little one. You are with me again. You will rest and heal, my heart.”

Every inch of his skin hurt, having been robbed from the protective layers of filth, but he relaxed into the arms holding him nevertheless. There was a soft touch on his sunken cheek, softer even than the fingers caressing him, and he knew it was a gentle kiss, although he had long forgotten what that felt like. He still could not remember whom the voice belonged, but he was sure beyond reason that he could trust it. His blindly seeking finger found a long, silky braid of soft hair; he grabbed it with the instinct of a newborn, and, having finally found something safe to hold onto, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.”

~~~

(1) fëa = the essence of an incarnate being, the rough equivalent of a soul
(2) Kémi = an early name for Yavanna; I assumed that Alagos, an ancient Avari Elf would prefer it to later versions
(3) nargaladh = fire-tree; invented by Dwimordene in her story Roots and used with her permission


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