Chapter 18 – Ungoliant’s Spawn
At the first rays of the morning sun, they had left the hidden valley of Orthrond’s clan. Olorin followed in Haldir’s footsteps, while they climbed higher and higher. Fanuidhol was as steep and as hard as Caradhras and cruel with those who dared to challenge him. For the last five or six hours the two companions had marched in silence. With every difficult step forward and upwards Haldir seemed to withdrawn a little bit more into himself. His fair face was set into a mask of calm determination. Olorin –still fresh and strong from the hearthy breakfast of scrambled eggs, boar bacon and thick buttermilk that Orthrond’s female Lurzana had served him – marched on with great vigour. Although many convictions he had held firmly since his arrival in the Hitherlands had crumbled to dust during their three days in the orc camp, the information he had received concerning the mysterious master of Gobblin Town had doubled his motivation. He was firmly convinced that they would indeed discover one of the Nazgûl in the cavernous dwelling under the High Pass. Nonetheless, this conviction did not solve the mystery of the shadowy presence that lingered over the highlands of Dorthonion in the Westernmost part of King Thranduil elven realm.
When Haldir called finally a rest under the blazing sun of high noon, Olorin accepted the proposition with grace. He was not yet tired, but he desired much to discuss the continuation of their journey with his companion. The night before they had left Orthrond’s clan, the Captain of the Galadhrim had abandoned the Ista for long hours to the attention of the females and a few young members of the renegade band to disappear together with the chieftain and a dozen of his most trusted warriors in the depths of their cavernous dwelling. When Olorin had tried to follow them, a finely shapped but nonetheless ferocious looking female had barred his path with a strange grin on her face and a hand on the hilt of her hunting knife. And while he had seen with his own eyes, that even in the darkest and most shadowy creatures there was still a glimpse of the light, he had immediately understood from her gesture, that he was close to overstepping a rather thin boundary. He had not insisted, understanding from the expression on her blackskinned face that she did not desire to inflict harm upon him, but was ready to do so, if need arose. When Haldir had finally returned from his lengthy and confidential encounter, the Captain appeared as composed as ever, but Olorin had felt an intriguing tension close under the seemingly impenetrable, thick skin of the seasoned elven warrior. Wisdom and experience had told him to not enquire in that place and amidst that very special company, but now Celeborn’s tame yrch were far away.
He observed his companion for a while. The Captain of the Galadhrim had offered him a few strips of dried boar meat, that the yrch had offered them together with a skin of their brew and some packs of their own waybread as a parting gift. Then he had settled down on his heels on the edge of the small ravine that bordered the path they had followed. His storm grey eyes were set upon some far off place and he seemed to ponder upon somethingrather grave. The heavy frown upon the warrior’s brow did not bode well.
‘Will you share your thoughts with me, Captain!’ Olorin finally asked. Haldir’s stubborn silence and secretive manner of the other eve still unnerved the Ista.
Haldir did not reply, while the frown upon his brow deepened. His fair face showed signs of stress. After a moment that seemed endless to the wizard, his companion finally gave a deep sigh and shook his head in exasperation. Then he rose to his feet, turned from the cliff and walked over to Olorin’s place of rest. He settled his longlimbed body comfortably under one of large boulder that threw a heavy shadow over the sun-dazed place. ‘I can no longer reach him!’ He said simply.
The Captain nodded gravely and to Olorin’s surprise he told him about the nightly conference with Orthrond and his warriors.
‘I asked them to send a messenger to Orophin on the Northern Fences. Orophin’s regiment is much used to work with Orthrond’s band and they get along very well…’
Haldir shook his head and closed his eyes for an instant, recollecting all that Orthrond’s eldest son Tark had told him. Tark was a tremendously skilled scout and tracker and so capable of stealth, that occasionally he managed to even surprise some of his lesser experienced wardens…and he was a daredevil. The young one had ventured down the western slope of the Maiden’ head and walked the uttermost mountainous border of the ancient realm of Hollin in pursuit of some game. These lands were now considered by the Kings of Rhudaur as part of their realm. Only his considerable woodmanship had saved Tark from a terrible fate, when he had stumbled over one of the nightmares of Haldir’s already troubled dreams: a large host of warg riders, heading from the thick forests on the shores of the river Hoarwell towards the ancient west gate of the Dwarrowdelf. Orthrond’s son had spend many days tracking the host and he was convinced that they were making for the Redhorn Pass, which was the only manageable passage other then the ford of the Isen, if they intended to head for the eastern side of the Hithaeglir.
The Captain pulled a long, slender hand over his face, which seemed suddenly worn with age and sorrow. ‘I cannot reach him with my mind any longer and there is a host of warg riders on their way over the mountains. This, the bands of yrch and snaga, the looming shadow and the necromancer in Gobblin Town….’ He clenched his teeth, trying desperately to control anger and fear. ‘We must bring wardens from the South to the Northern fences and send urgent warning to Durin’s people…and I am stuck here with you on the top of Cloudyhead…I cannot reach him and Elrond’s even further away for my small skill to farspeak…and Orthrond’s warriors cannot outrun wargs.’
Olorin placed a comforting hand on his companion’s arm. ‘Will you tell me, what you decided with your friend yestereve?’ He enquired gently. He felt, that for the sake of the Captain of the Galadhrim he would be soon obliged to reveal himself.
Haldir gave a deep sigh. It was no habit of his to carry his heart upon his sleeve and bother your next elf or wizard with problems that were his duty to solve. But he was stuck! Galadriel had ordered him to go upon this lonely quest with her fishy friend against his own better judgement. He pondered the issue for a moment in silence: There was more to Mithrandir then hit the eye. The Lady would not waste her time with some amusing but bland cheap conjurer of the second born kin. He had felt himself, that the old man hid something rather carefully and Orthrond’s perceptive female Lurzana had spoken of an awesome light magic, stronger then the magic of the Lady of Light to which she had grown accustomed over the centuries. He decided to muster his legendary sangfroid to challenge his companion.
‘I shall tell you everything,’ The Captain said calmly, ‘…and I shall continue with you upon this accursed quest, doing whatsoever your whim and bidding, even if this means to get us into the very caverns of Gobblin Town and under the Great Gobblin’s darksome throne. But you must do something for me in exchange.’
Olorin squeezed the Captain’s forearm, chuckling softly. He was clever, Celeborn’s foster son…clever and very hard-nosed indeed. But it was a small price to pay to humour the warrior and none could say, that Haldir requested something from him just to gratify his own curiosity. And he had had the tact to not ask any snoopy questions.
‘What do you want, Captain?’ Olorin’s eyes sparkled. He already knew the reply and he would oblige Haldir, but he was nonetheless a little bit curious.
‘I have the feeling, that you are quite capable to speak to another’s mind over some distance. For if not, you would not have been able to catch me trying to pry your thoughts on that morn before we crossed the Silverlode.’ He lifted an eye to spy the wizard’s reaction, then bit his lip and swallowed.’Alas, I cannot farspeak over great distance and Caras Galadhon is beyond my reach and skill…and so is Imladris and the Lord Elrond. If you may, in your own ways, try and touch either the Lady or the Peredhel and tell them, what we have learned of Orthrond. It will take Tark at least eight days to reach Orophin’s garrison and the way through the chimney of the Maiden’s Head is unknown to Orthrond’s tribe. The other messenger will be en route for at least a forthnight, before he can cross into the Naith…’
Olorin nodded thoughtfully.’I shall do your bidding, Captain. But tell me: Why shall I contact Galadriel and not the Lord Celeborn?’
Haldir gave the Ista a nonchalant gaze.’My adar is no longer in Caras Galadhon, Mithrandir, but far to the south of the realm. I wonder, if he’s taken to pay visit to Thranduil on the other side of the Anduin, for I cannot feel him any more, since we reached Orthrond’s cavern.’
Olorin decided to simply take his companion’s statement as a fact and while his curiosity pushed him to enquire about the distances over which Haldir was able to contact Celeborn, although he seemed unable to get in touch with anybody else who possessed the gift and skill of farspeak, he understood that the moment was perhaps not well chosen. He closed his eyes for an instant and reached out towards Artanis.
‘T’is done!’ The Ista stated unassumingly after a while. He had told the Lady of the Light all they had learned from Celeborn’s tame yrch and also, that two of their kin were on errands towards the Northern fences and Caras Galadhon. ‘Would you like to get word to Elrond, too?’
Haldir shook his head.’ There is no need. My Lady will let him know, for a hord of wargs on the loose are grave danger on both sides of the mountain. But they will not make for the West and Rivendell.’ He bade the wizard with a sign of the hand to get back to his feet and continue their journey. It was not necessary to sit and talk. What he would tell Mithrandir, he could also say, while walking.
Orodhrim had ridden hard, after he had left his brother Legolas andd the caravan of their people. It was a kind of gut feeling, that the gentle old wizard who had established his home on the outermost border of his father’s realm some fifty years after the War of the Last Alliance and the downfall of the Great Deceiver possessed the lore and knowledge to at least answer the questions concerning the gigantic spider webs they’d discovered in the ancient dwarven tunnels. Orodhrim’s keen elven eyes already spied the wooden fences of Rhosgobel. He reined in his steed, padding its shoulder gently. He thought of the shadow over the Amon Lanc. He was convinced, that this shadow and the appearance of the first spider webs in the tunnels were related. A fortnight after their hunting trip with Legolas and the first discovery of the webs, a very small elven child of 10 summers had suddenly fallen into a dead like slumber and faded away within the week, notwithstanding the healers’ desperate efforts. He still remembered the eery sight: The elfling’s skin had been yellowish and dry like old parchment. The next victim had been a rather youngish elleth and she, too had fallen into the strange and deathlike slumber.
The great gate that left into Rhosgobel stood open and already from afar, Orodhrim perceived Radagast’s thin body bent over one of the numerous flower beds of his herbal garden. An impressive quantity of feathered friends of the strange old man where with him. The young elflord saw a beautiful egret fishing in Radagast’s small pond and several little singing birds fluttered excitedly over his horse’s head. A wild sow and her brood of piglets were turning over a muddy spot by the fence for roots and some small deer grazed peacefully together with some sturdy and long haired ponies.
Radagast did not seem to notice his visitor. He had a wicker basket by his side and was cutting small, yellowish flowers that resembled Laurelindòrean niphredils, also Orodhrim knew from an earlier visit they were not. He stopped his horse and dismounted waiting for his curious friend to finish his business and turn around.
It did not take very long, before the strange old man had filled his basket and carried it from the gardens. Perceiving his elven visitor he smiled broadly and motioned him and his horse over to the main dwelling, a wooden longhouse with a neat tatched roof, sourrounded by dark red and violet hollyhock, sunflowers and pale yellow evening primroses.
‘Son of Thranduil, I great thee!’ Radagast exclaimed cheerfully. He pulled a handkerchief from a pocket of his roughed brown robes, brushing the sweat from his brow. It was an extremely hot early summer day and he had been busy since the first hours of the day with harvesting healing plants.
Orodhrim answered Radagast’s greeting in kind, strolling with the old man towards the house and an inviting mug of cool cidre. After he had taken care of his steed, he joined the brown wizard in the shadow’s of a tree.
‘So t’is true.’ Radagast answered, after Orodhrim had given him a short account on the problems they had faced in and around the elven capital of the Great Greenwood and a detailed description of the strange ailings that had befallen elf children and grown up elves alike.
Orodhrim stared at the old man with surprise written on his fair face.’You knew? Why did you not send word of warning to my sire? Why did you not tell us?’
The brown wizard laying a comforting hand on the prince’s arm, shook his head. He had not known, only felt something evil that way come.He had arrived from Valinor in Aman some threehundred years ago together with five companions and the mission of the Valar had been clear from the day Manwë had summoned him and his peers to the halls of Taniquetil. The fact that the desperate victory of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men against the deceiver Sauron had only been half a success was no secret for the higher powers of Arda. And he was Aiwendil, the friend of birds and all the creatures that lived in the wild!
He had not known for certain, what was happening in the southern part of Thranduil’s realm, but his little feathered friends were telling him for many a moon, that they did not like to live there any longer and preferred to migrate further North or else cross the Anduin and nest in the golden wood of the Galadhrim, where no evil could touch them. He took his time to explain, what he had learned of nature life to Orodhrim and requested of the elven prince more detailed account of his father’s strange ailing and the shadow that had befallen the Amon Lanc. And when the prince of the Great Greenwood finished his story upon the spider webs they had come across in the old dwarven caves, he frowned.
Ungoliat’s spawn had never entirely disappeared from the lands of Aman and he knew that many a dreadful creature still dwelled in the hiddeaous abodes that the re-shaping of the lands had created after the sundering of Beleriand, but he had never ever thought to be so close to a dangerous dwelling. The last sightings the eagle’s had reported to him had been those in the far north close to the holy Mount Gundabad, where Durin was awaken ages ago by the will of his creator Aulë and these fell beasts did not hearken to any master. They simply fed and sated their hunger on every creature alive, be it some thing of the dark or else a being of the light.
Radagast pondered Orodhrim’s request to help the elves for a while and tried to weight the good he could do by accompagnying the elven prince to the capital of his father against the ill to abandon his watch over the Misty Mountains, were more and more yrch were seeking for new homes, answering the call of the Great Gobblin of Gobblin Town. T’was a strange happening to have one of a sudden rise an orc creature about all others and finding in itself the skill and cunning to unite them under one rule. It was also a dangerous happening, for the yrch of the Great Gobblin were by now so numerous, that they could send out hosts against the leven realms on both sides of the mountains. With the civil strife already under way for years unnumbered between the three successor states of ancient Anor, the scene was set for something that could ressemble the terrible war between the Elves and Sauron. Radagast felt that a new terrible power was growing under the Misty Mountains that would change the fragile balance of powers in Middle Earth for many years to come. And the elves alone were no longer strong enough to fight such a foe!
‘ I will ride with you, Orodhrim!’ The old wizard replied gravely. ‘For grave danger not only lies in front of us and in the depths of the Hitaeglir, but also in the heart of Thranduil’s realm and I must understand who is the mastermind …if there is one and then we shall seek together for a way to fight these shadows that threaten not only your people, but also all other life in this part of Middle-Earth. I wish I could consult with an old friend of mine, who is wiser and more learned in these matters. I shall send one of my winged friends to search for him and bring him as quickly as possible to the heart of the realm of the Greenwood, where the shadow you describe seems to dwell.’
Orodhrim gave a deep sigh of content when he heard Radagast’s decision. He had hoped that the wise, old man would come with him, but he had not expected that the master of Rhosgobel would bring to their aid another master of wisdom. Hope was blossoming in the elven prince’s chest. They would discover what haunted them and had pushed his father Thranduil to the point of almost fading away…and then they would fight it and chase it from their home.
He bowed deep to Radagast and thanked the wizard in the elven style. ‘I am at your command and my sword will protect thee, wise man and each and every elven warrior of my father’s realm shall willingly step into danger yt your side! When shall we ride?’
Radagst smiled at the enthusiasm of his unexpected visitor. He had many things to do, before he could take saddle and abandon Rhosgobel to its own devices. ‘I shall be ready in two days time, Orodhrim. Go you now and rest, while I see to my mansion and those who dwell here under my protection.’
The march from Caras Galadhon to the banks of the Anduin had been quick business. Celeborn had managed to bring his chosen elves and several good and stealthy embarkations down to the Laurelindorean side of the great river in less then a day. Now the wardens were manning two-by-two a range of flets that stretched over almost a league to both sides from where the strange occurrence with the deer and the monster had happened. He himself had questioned the two young wardens, who had send word to the capital and against all predjudice voiced by Aiglironion, found their story not only credible but consistent. Neither of the young elves gave him the impression of being frightened by strange noises in the dark or prone to see ghosts. They were well trained, self-assured and competent, equal to those of Orophin’s command who manned the dangerous Northern fences and who had been fighting a constant, bloddy battle with the remainders of Sauron’s terror regime and other potential enemies of his realm for the last ten centuries, since the downfall of the Great Deceiver.
The silver lord loosened his sword girth and settled himself comfortably against the trunk of the great mallorn tree upon which the central flet was build. He had chosen to keep this station himself together with an elf from the East – Merion – who was reputed to have the keenest eyesight of all the Galadhrim.
Night was falling slowly over the river banks, covering the dark waters with a silvery blanket of stars reflecting upon the surface. Small animals bristled in the underwood and occasionally the soft steps of larger beasts –mostly deer going down to the river banks for a drink- livened the dead silence in which the elves keep their watch. Merion stood motionlessly on the high platform, his eyes fixed upon the other side of the great river.
Celeborn was as alert as his companion, but his watchful eye was directed upon another target. A small group of roe deer, several females with their youngsters and a rather impressive male drank almost directly in front of the flet. The does and their calves seemed relaxed, but the huge male had his head high up in the air, sniffing suspiciously. His whole body seemed tense. The animal was feeling something wicked but had not yet made up its mind, if there was a direct treat or not to his family.
A small chirping noise, similar to the sound of a cockrobing pierced the darkness. Celeborn saw Merion averting his eyes for an instant from the bank, looking into the directin from where the sound had come. Then suddenly, in something that seemed like a burst of thunder, the stag, his females and their young ones galloped up the river bank and burst into the safety of the thick underwood. The silver lord perceived something, too: Slowly, very slowly two darkish limbs seemed to grow out of the ground on the other bank of the Anduin. Not directly in front of his watchpost, but a bit further to the flet, which was shared by Orophin and one of the young wardens, who had reported the monster of the Greenwood. For an instant, the limbs remained static, raised in the air. Then two more extremities followed and finally –Merion, who had a keener eyesight then Celeborn already flinched – a spearpoint shaped head followed.
‘T’is horrible!’ Whispered the other elf.
Celeborn did not need to see the rest of the creature climbing out of its earth hole to know, what they were facing. The two young wardens had been right. It was a monster! When the bulky body had finally extricated itself from the hiding place, the silver lord admitted to himself, that never before in his long life, not even during the desperate defense of Hollin against Sauron and his minions, had he seen a more impressive specimen of that forsaken race. Such must have been Ungoliant of old herself, when she had drained the light of the Two Trees of Valinor. He estimated the spider’s height at at least eight feet. It was higher then the highest elven steed of his stables and as bulky and solid as a cave troll. It was absolutely frightening!
Another cockrobin whistle pierced the night. This time to his left and he averted his eye from the dreadful display of monstrousity to look into the new direction. Faintly he perceived another pair of limbs testing the air. The nightmarish creature was not alone!
Transfixed the elves watched the unwinding of five more monstrous spiders from earth holes on the other shore of the Anduin. In an eery silence the living nightmares congregated. It almost looked as if they were discussing some terrible plan. Their pincers cliqued and they touched each others heads. Then they formed a massive bulk and creeped down the shores, ever closer to the water. After a few moments that seemed to Celeborn to last a lifetime, the spiders disappeared in a waste patch of reed, obviously their hiding spot for their nightly hunt on unsuspecting victims, whod come to drink from the waters of the great river.
Celeborn did not need long to make up his mind: His decision was taken before the last of the monsters had disappeared in the reed. They would cross the Anduin in their light elven boats at first daylight and investigate the full length of the southern river bank under the protection of the sun. From his former experience in Hollin he knew very well, that these six creatures would not be alone. Spiders multiplied at an alarming pace and when there was six, it would take less then a year to have hundredfold that number. And within a nick of time, the shores on the Mirkwood side of the great river would be infested with a deadly plague…and then, they would start to migrate: Contrary to many others of their kin, the gigantic spiders of the North that had ravaged Eregion in the suite of the War of the Elves against Sauron had not been afraid of water. They were more then capable to decide upon a crossing, as soon as their prey would become scarce in the realm of his cousin Thranduil.
The elven lord closed his eyes for an instant, focussing his mind and thoughts upon his beloved, whom he had left behind in the safety of Caras Galadhon. If the monsters would ever make for the shores of Laurelindoréan, they would become a present and immediate danger to the strongly populated capital of his realm and the orchards the Galadhrim kept a bit further to the South in Egladil, where the Silverload ran into the Anduin.