It had taken her a long time to fall asleep.
Her sons had joined the others on patrol tonight. They had gone on hunts before, but since the attacks began, she had made certain they stayed close to her. Now she was alone with her daughter, her baby. She had longed to go with them. When left alone, her fear overwhelmed her. But her duty was to protect her youngest child, keep her safe.
The monsters had come in a swarm. Descending upon them with barbed teeth and long razor-sharp claws, they had driven them from the Greenwood, from the trees that had been their haven, from the light they hungered for. So many had fallen, their bodies hacked and left to rot, prey to those who slaughtered for the joy of it.
For safety, they had moved to this cavern. The damp and mustiness were beginning to take their toll. She ached for fresh air, the feel of the breeze caressing her skin, the sun warming her body. Aid would come soon. Word had been sent immediately after the first attacks. In her heart she knew that this time of horror would end but tired and alone, despair ate away at her.
The silence roused her. It stretched unnaturally into the deep and caused her hair to rise, sending a single shiver coursing through her. Instantly alert, she cradled her daughter to her heart carrying her to a shelf set at the back of one of the small nearby chambers. Once settled, she covered her child in the darkness and quietly returned to the main tunnel waiting to see if she was merely over-reacting. Surely the sentry would have sounded the alarm if there were true danger.
Their stench, faint, yet sickeningly sweet, like rotting fruit, reached her before the sound of any movement. The heavy, moist air prevented her from discerning the source of the scent. Realizing that the guard must now be dead, she kept still, worried that the scent of her fear would lead them to her. She longed for some telltale sign that would provide her with a clue to their whereabouts.
Time was motionless, trapped within her terror. She had no idea how long she waited for the sound of a pebble skittering in the chamber to her right. Yet, when it came, she was ready. Leaving the shadow of the wall, she hurried across the corridor to discover their number before they moved on. From her new vantage, she could make out three of the foe. They were moving across the room slowly, searching. If they continued they would be between her and her child. If she alerted them to her presence now, she would have a chance to lead them away from her daughter.
She had learned the passages and chambers intimately in the weeks since they first sought shelter among them. Snares had been laid against just such an attack; she had helped lay them. Once begun, she knew she would find the courage and strength to do what must be done.
Armed with grace and agility, she caught her breath, and released it with an audible sigh. She did not wait to see if they were following; speed was imperative if she was to lead them successfully toward one of the traps. Outnumbered, her best hope was to keep them moving and pray that the patrol returned in time. Her familiarity provided an advantage that she dared not take; she needed to remain in sight for them to continue to chase her.
Just ahead lay a deep crevasse that had been lightly covered. She timed her leap so that her pursuers would not see it. Once across, she paused briefly to allow them a chance to catch sight of her again before racing onward. She could hear the scratching of their feet on the debris-strewn ground.
Suddenly a piercing scream echoed in the cavern. She sobbed in gratitude and continued deeper. As the sound of the cry died, she heard an answering call. Her daughter.
In the moment of her faltering, she heard a hiss. The force of the bite knocked her against the wall. Using that momentum, she dropped to the ground and was able to roll away. Her shoulder on fire, she rose and ran on.
Again her daughter’s call reached her, this time nearer. Filled with dread that the creatures would break their pursuit in favor of easier prey, she chose to double back in an attempt to place herself between the fiends and her baby.
No longer wishing to be heard, she slowed her movements pausing frequently in an attempt to keep track of her hunters. She would need to either pass by closely or take a more circuitous route back.
In her desperation, she chose speed.
She realized her mistake when again a hiss preceded a sharp bite just above her knee. As she stumbled, she felt a claw rip her belly. Recognizing the narrow corridor near the crevasse, and understanding that she had little time left, she cried for her daughter to run. With the last of her strength, she threw herself on her attacker and wrapped her limbs around it. Sinking her teeth into its body she launched them over the edge. Her last thoughts were of her child, mourning that her life would not be enough.
The patrol returned at sunrise, bearing their wounded with them and mourning their losses. The captain paused to shake his fear of the caves before proceeding. He never wanted to descend into that darkness again, yet knew that as long as the monsters remained in the Greenwood it would be required.
In his hall, Thranduil received the captain’s report that the queen spider and the young female were dispatched.