“How fortunate that he left a handkerchief behind,” Radagast said looking at the square of cloth with a bit of embroidery that looked somehow familiar. “Nildë, my lass, sniff this well, and remember the scent. Do you think you can do that for me, my love?”
The dog, sitting back on her haunches, sniffed at the handkerchief, looking at her master in some puzzlement. He stooped down at eye level with her, then began singing or chanting something very softly to her. Sméagol watched with anxious interest. Then the Wizard sprang to his feet once more, snatched up a broken limb nearby, and dabbed a bit of grease from Sméagol’s skillet on one end. This he dipped into the small fire.
“Dowse it now,” he said to Sméagol, who jumped up and stamped on the flames with one foot until they were all extinguished. Radagast nodded his approval.
“Let’s go!” he said, holding his torch high in one hand, the handkerchief in the other. Nildë stood up also, and leaped off into the direction he indicated. “Let us hope the scent is still fresh to her,” he said to Sméagol.
“What about donkey?” Sméagol glanced back at Baran.
“He is patient,” Radagast said. “He will wait for us, and guard our spot well. I’ve a feeling it will want guarding.”
Greenjade tried to cry out as something pierced the skin of his throat, two somethings in fact, and a burning sensation permeated his bloodstream, but his paralysis would not permit so much as a groan. He felt Duathris’s hands creeping over him as she sucked his blood, but they might have been two great spiders, for all the arousal they produced in him. He heard her moaning, faintly, a sound much as he had heard from certain females as he made love to them, had heard from himself, save that her moaning alternated with a revolting slurping noise, much like a dog gnawing on itself to catch its own fleas.
And then he felt more burning sensations, one in his wrist, where one of the creatures was holding it to his mouth, and another on his other wrist, still another on the other side of his throat. He felt icy wet hands touching him, on his back, slipping up under his tunic and inside his breeches, in his hair, on his face, voices laughing, murmuring, moaning, snorting, making sucking sounds, hissing and whimpering in anticipation, and he wondered if he had perhaps died in his sleep, and found himself back in that Dungeon, surrounded by unspeakable things even his worst nightmares could not have produced….
And he could see some of the others now before him, their hoods thrown back, their faces unbelievably hideous with their scarlet eyes, lipless mouths, razor-sharp teeth with bloodied fangs, ruined flat noses and pustuled skin…. Orcs? he wondered wildly. But I thought the orcs were all gone….
Then suddenly Duathris sprang back with a screech, and so did a few others, and she whirled about flapping her arms wildly, as hideous as the others, and Greenjade could see burning places on her black gown, smoking, as she frantically slapped at them. And somehow his paralysis was suddenly gone, and he seized the opportunity and gave her a hearty kick in the stomach which sent her sprawling backwards…into the fire.
He would never forget the shriek she gave as she went up in flames, then bounded somehow upward and went spinning erratically in the clearing, burning, wailing, howling, and he glanced sideways and saw Serilinn, standing motionless and holding…his money pouch.
He felt an absurd impulse to spring and grab it from her, then paused, as if someone were physically holding him back…and so it felt. Then he saw the figure that had once been Duathris collapse, moaning in utter agony, then lie still, and then it seemed she began to dissolve before his eyes until nothing remained of her but a heap of black ashes.
Then some of the other creatures sprang screaming at Serilinn, and she dug her hand into the pouch and flung coins at them, hard, and they shrieked and flailed their arms as the silver hit them, igniting some of their clothing. Greenjade looked down and saw his staff lying nearby, and he bent and snatched it up just in time to see another black-cloaked creature coming straight at him, and he took the staff and thrust it so that it struck the creature full in the middle, impaling it. It howled and writhed on the staff, black stuff spurting from the wound, until it too began to collapse and crumble. He jerked the staff away and managed to knock over another creature which was staggering in his direction, and with a certain relish he impaled it also. And then he heard a sound as of wings, and before his eyes some of the creatures seemed to vanish or turn into huge black birds, and he felt the foul air rush at him as their wings beat upwards. Others ran off into the forest to be swallowed in darkness.
And he shouted at Serilinn, “RUN!” She turned and fled in the opposite direction of the others and he took out after her, still holding the defiled staff, wondering at her swiftness, and at the same time thinking ridiculously about his silver. He caught up with her soon enough, and she held a hand out to him and he grabbed it, and on they ran, scratching themselves on bushes, but not stopping…
And then Greenjade heard his name called.
It seemed to be coming in the direction he was running.
“Nildë, what is it, lass?” Radagast said as the dog stopped, growling, then she began to tremble in every bone.
“She is frightened,” Sméagol said rather unnecessarily, stopping short. “Bad things in the woods. Bad things, bad thingsss….”
“I can see that, but what things?” Radagast said.
And then he heard a shriek the like of which he had never heard before in all the ages and hoped never to hear again. Not even the Ringwraiths had ever made such cries.
“It’s THEM!” Sméagol yelped in terror, throwing himself on the ground. And Nildë sprang up and ran in the opposite direction!
“Nildë!” Radagast cried in anguish. He made a move to go after the dog, but stopped short as he heard more screams and howls. And he stooped down beside Sméagol, watching, but not certain what to do. Sméagol threw his arms around Radagast like a frightened child clinging to its mother in sheer desperation.
“I do hope and pray whoever that is does not have him,” the Wizard murmured. Sméagol whimpered, clinging more tightly and hurtfully, hiding his face against the Wizard’s robe. Radagast patted him with a trembling hand.
And then he saw something burst from the trees—huge black birds, or so they appeared. They flew up with a foul rustling of their enormous wings, then flew ever further into the darkening sky until they were out of sight.
And then he saw two figures running.
“Would that we could give these poor creatures a decent burial,” Radagast said looking at the pile of dead animals. “However, that would take too long and we should get back to our camp as quickly as possible. There may be some still lurking about. And I dearly hope Nildë has gone back there by now.”
“Just please let me find some of my coins first,” Greenjade said. “I worked hard for that silver. Yes, it saved my life, and all that. But still…”
“But if it remains here, then they will not come back, and the defilement of this spot will be washed away in time,” Radagast said. “See how twisted and stunted and bare these poor trees are? Perhaps the silver will help them to grow to fullness once more, and the barren fields out there will once more bear grain and fruit.”
“And those creatures will only go foul up some other place,” Greenjade said. Sméagol glanced about nervously, as he crawled about on hands and knees, helping to look for the coins, more for something to do than anything else.
“There is not enough light to search anyway,” Radagast said. “Perhaps we can come back in the morning and look. Although I had just as lief not come at all. There’s an air of evil that lingers about it still.”
Sméagol nodded his agreement.
“Just a few more moments,” Greenjade pleaded, at the same time touching one of the wounds on his throat which hurt confoundedly. “I’ve found some of it already. There can’t be that much more. This torch provides enough light. And it’s as you said, for some reason they don’t like silver, and won’t be coming back here. Likely we are safer here than there”
“What is your name, my child?” Radagast asked. In all the excitement, Greenjade had failed to introduce his new charge.
“Serilinn,” said the girl, who was sitting close to the Wizard, huddled up clutching her cloak to her once more.
“What a lovely name,” he said. “It means ‘lover’s song’ does it not? It suits you well, I must say.”
A faint smile flicked over the girl’s face in the torchlight, and it seemed she sat up a little straighter.
“How long have you been a captive of these creatures?” Radagast asked her, brushing a hand over the top of her dark head.
She looked down at the ground, at Greenjade and Sméagol, then at Radagast, then at the ground once more, and shrugged.
“Duathris…she was my mother,” she said at last., “and…”
“And? What of your father?” Radagast prodded gently.
She shook her head, and stared down at the ground at her feet.
“It may be Gaergath,” she said after a moment. “He was their leader. Duathris was with him a great deal. But…I do not know. Duathris was not my true mother anyway. She was a Dark-Elf princess and a witch, and she spent all her time studying the craft and working her magic. Then Gaergath turned her. Meleth my nurse is the one who cared for me, she was my true mother. But she is gone now.”
“Dead? How so?”
Serilinn was silent once more. “They sleep in the ground,” she said without answering the question. “And they drink…blood.”
Radagast shuddered. “I know who they are,” he said. “They are the children of Thuringwethil, the Woman of Shadow. Very likely she was the mistress of the Dark Lord Sauron.”
“Some are orcs,” Serilinn said. “Gaergath turned them also. He promised them they would have their beauty and power back, if they would do his bidding. They can appear beautiful, when they have fed.”
Greenjade stopped short in his search and looked back at her, then at Radagast. So did Sméagol.
“It is said that they take the form of giant bats,” Radagast said softly, “although what I saw were more like great birds. Yet I am sure they must be the Children of Thuringwethil. It has been said that they are blood drinkers, and they sleep by day and prey by night. I have never seen any before, and had come to doubt their existence. And yet…and yet…but never mind. We must get away from here now. Greenjade, Sméagol, come, we must be getting back. I am sure this poor child does not wish to abide any longer here. You may search for your coins tomorrow if you wish. Or better yet, I will give you some of my own. You are wounded, after all, and I've some stuff that will soothe and draw out the poison. Come, all of you. Douse the fire well, and let us be going.”
Serilinn stood up, shakily, and suddenly went over to investigate a pile of dark ashes that lay some distance from where the fire was. She stood looking at it, then a soft sound came from her, as mournful as any sound could be imagined, and Greenjade remembered that was the spot where Duathris had fallen. He spoke softly to Radagast.
Then the girl began to wail, a sound that carried the sorrow of ages and places and people and things, and Greenjade forgot his silver which seemed utterly unimportant in the amplitude of that cry, which pinned him to his spot as surely as Duathris's eyes had done. Radagast went to the girl and lifted her up into his arms and held her, then began carrying her from that violated place, never to enter it again, and the others followed leaving the remaining coins to guard and heal it for all time.