23. Dol Guldur: “Everyone avoided the tower. It was believed to have ...”
Everyone avoided the tower. It was believed to have spells woven about it to detect those who wandered too close to its walls. Certainly few who slipped from the shadows of the trees for a closer look were ever seen again—or at least not in recognizable forms. There were rumors, of course, that some orcs that issued from it would hold their hands suddenly as if reluctant to strike down old comrades or kindred when they found themselves pitted against Thranduil’s forces; such were slain as swiftly and cleanly as possible so as to assure that the original fëa could break free of its slavery and hopefully find its way, if allowed, to Námo’s healing hands, and thus perhaps back to its original form when rehoused. Not all residents of Mirkwood intended to heed the Doomsman’s call; but all hoped that the lost ones would do so.
More victims, however, simply appeared to be slain there in some terrible manner, a manner a few who’d once spoken with the survivors of Númenor murmured appeared to resemble that known to those who’d died in Sauron’s temple in Armenelos. Those who were particularly sensitive reported that those who died suffered unspeakably of dread and pain prior to death, and that this was intensified when at last death was granted to them.
He who had built his tower stronghold over the foundations of Oropher’s citadel was called the Necromancer—one who drew power from the deaths of others and then used that power to craft his magics. But how had he learned such arts? Why did he draw to him such creatures as vampires and werewolves, wargs and orcs? Why did the great spiders of Ungoliant’s get multiply so rapidly each time there was a new spate of killings behind those dread walls?
And what of those who were kept, it was whispered, in vaults so deep underground that no light reached them, and little of fresh air—apparently just enough to keep a few alive? Elves, Men, Dwarves, and even Hobbits had been taken from their homes and disappeared behind the maw that was comprised of the gates for the place.
Gandalf looked from the shelter of his hiding place at those gates. He’d spoken at length with those of Thranduil’s folk who kept an eye on the place from a safe distance, and the few who’d crept closer and then managed to escape with their lives, although they shuddered to speak of what they’d sensed.
Lately, one of the Mannish servitors of the place had become lazy. Described by the Elvish watchmen as a large lout of a creature, he’d apparently been charged with carrying out vats of filth to the midden pits. Those who’d preceded him in this duty had always secured the postern gate through which they passed out of the walls surrounding the place once they were outside, but this one did not do so. If the Wizard were lucky, he could use that laziness to his advantage. Saruman refused to believe those who recognized the mind of Sauron as being behind the disappearances and the abominations that came out of the tower of Dol Guldur? Well, Gandalf intended to do his best to settle the matter once and for all.
There! The postern was opening, and through it came a huge Mannish shape carrying a great barrel. And as he stumbled forward he left the door open behind him. He should just have time, Gandalf decided, to slip in before the fool could empty his barrel and return again. Taking a deep breath to steady himself, Gandalf hurried forward. Perhaps, if he was lucky, he could bring out one or more unfortunates from their prisons, or at least word of the fate of some of those who’d gone missing….