The Web Of Darkness

Soledad

Chapter 006

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Chapter 6

Chapter Notes

Remember Glóin’s remark on Elrond’s Council that the Nazgûl promised to return for Darin’s answer to Saran’s offer, soon. Tolkien never told us which Nazgûl it was (albeit Khamúl as the lieutenant of Dol Guldur would be the most likely choice) or whether he really did return or not. So, I took a little poetic licence here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART 06

Drizzt stayed awake all night. Partly out of fear from the nightmares, partly to reflect on what he had just learned from – and about – these Dwarves here. There was a lot to think about, many facts to put into context, and despite all that he had learned in Montolio’s house, Drizzt was no scholar.

It had been his experience, though, that if he allowed newly learned facts to ghost around in his mind, sooner or later, they would find their proper place on their own. Thus he kept sitting on the balcony, wrapped in the warm cocoon of blankets, and listened to the subdued noises of the night.

Dawn was still at least two hours to come when the feeling of dread began to tug on his consciousness. The feeling was not new – ‘twas similar to the one he had felt shortly before being pulled into Middle-earth, although not entirely the same. And it grew steadily, as if its source would be nearing the Mountain at high speed.

Driven by inner unrest, he left his chambers to find the way back to the Front Gate, Fortunately, having been born and raised in a great underground city had taught him to remember all paths and tunnels under the earth that he had trod before, so the task was fairly easy for him.

The guards at the Gate glared at him in suspicion.

“What are you doing here, Dark Elf?” one of them, a big BlackLock by the name of Orin, asked.

“I am not certain,” admitted Drizzt, “but I can feel that something is coming. Something evil.”

The guards exchanged knowing looks.

“Well, it was to be expected,” said another one, an amber-eyed IronFist whom the others called Snorri. “The messenger has promised to return… in truth, he promised it before the end of the previous year, so he is, in fact, late. We better wake the King now, so that he can be prepared. Go to him, Hjorr, but be discreet about it. There is no need to make the whole city worry.”

Hjorr, a young Dwarf with the customary forked beard of the LongBeards (although his was not long enough to be tucked into his belt yet), marched off in a hurry. Drizzt gave the guards a worried look.

“Who is this messenger you have been expecting?” he asked.

“One we would prefer never to see again,” replied Orin grimly. “One from the South – from Dol Guldur.”

“The Necromancer’s Tower?” asked Drizzt, for he had learned much about the dark powers that haunted Middle-earth from his mind-sharing with the wizard Aiwendil. Orin nodded.

“The Dark Lord himself has abandoned this stronghold more than seventy years ago,” he explained, “but his servants still dwell there, poisoning the South of the forest, filling it with Orcs and other foul beasts.”

“What kind of servants are those who can bend Orc to their will?” wondered Drizzt. He had known Orcs to obey only their own kings and chieftains, and no other living thing. He said so.

“Those are no living things,” replied Orin, and he shook himself like a big, shaggy dog, as if trying to shake off some unpleasant thing. “You’re welcome to wait with us and see for yourself. I fear, though, that you will not like what you shall see.”

But curiosity killed the cat, as Men liked to say, and Drizzt was now too curious to let this chance pass. More so as he hoped to understand how and why he had been brought to Middle-earth when he learned more about the power that housed in the dark fortress of the South.

Heavy Dwarven footsteps alerted him to the arrival of King Dáin Ironfoot, flanked by his two chief councillors, the blue-haired, scholarly Dwalin and a large, elaborately tattooed BlackLock by the name of Dori. They gave the Drow identical frowns, and the King looked at the guards in askance. Orin shrugged.

“He could feel the approach of the messenger,” he said. “So I thought he could just as well stay and see the foul thing. He needs to know what he might be facing one day.”

Dwalin turned worried indigo eyes to the Drow.

“You can feel the Nazgûl?” he asked incredulously.

“I know not what a Nazgûl is and what it feels like,” replied Drizzt, “but I do feel a strange pull from the South, all the time. Master Radagast believes ‘tis the same force that has pulled me over here from my own world.”

“Why would the Enemy do such thing?” wondered Dwalin, his frown deepening.

“Most of my kind are evil,” answered Drizzt with a laconic shrug. “Perhaps he thought I was like the rest of us. Perhaps he wanted to use me against the Wood-Elves… or against your folk. He could not know that I was a renegade; those are extremely rare among Drow Elves, not to mention short-lived. The Matrons do not tolerate insolence.”

Their discussion was interrupted by a long, lonely horn-call. It came from the watchpost upon Ravenhill and announced the arrival of a messenger. Shortly thereafter, a huge black steed burst out of the darkness to the Front Gate, like some sort of dark thunderstorm, growing to monstrous dimensions in the torchlight. Its heavy hooves thundered on the road like great war-drums.

Upon the stead, like a shadow upon shadow, like darkness made flesh, a Man-shaped creature sat… just larger than the tallest Man Drizzt had ever seen, by at least a head. It wore a great black cloak with the wide hood pulled deeply into its face, and heavy black boots, with cruel spikes of steel upon the toe. It stopped its speed barely two feet from the waiting Dwarves with iron-studded black gloves upon black reins and tossed back its hood.

Drizzt froze. The black cloak opened from the gesture, and he could see a hauberk of mail and a silver helm. Yet beneath was the grey robe of the dead, and the body within – if, indeed, there was a body at all – was invisible. The Drow looked up into the messenger’s face… and involuntarily stepped back in horror, for nothing seemed to bear up helm and hood. All he could see where a face should have been were two reddish-glowing eyes.

“Dwarf-king,” the creature said, its voice barely more than a low hiss, cold and cruel. “I have come for your answer as promised. This is your last chance.”

“You have come too late, Wright,” answered Dáin Ironfoot with a calmness that filled Drizzt’s heart with awe. “I have made up my mind already – and I do not intend to serve your Dark Lord. Not now, nor in any time in the future.”

The glowing eyes flashed in a red and hellish flame.

“Then die and perish, you old fool, together with your entire greedy, dirt-digging race!” it snarled, and it seemed as if the very air would have frozen to tiny icicles from the coldness of its wrath. Then it whirled around to Drizzt, and its foul, icy breath hit the Drow like a freezing wind… like thin daggers of ice rammed into his chest. “But this one is mine. He has been summoned for me.”

“I think not that he would be willingly go with you,” said the Dwarf-King with the same unshakable calmness. “He has made his alliances already; I doubt that he would change his heart and follow you to the tower of foul sorcery in the South.”

“We shall see,” taunted the Nazgûl, focusing its full attention on the Drow. “Come now, Dark Elf! ‘Tis your destiny. Obey and follow!”

Drizzt could feel the beckoning spell grow to almost touchable strength and had no doubt that it would ensnare most free peoples of Middle-earth… although the Dwarves showed surprising resistance against it. He, however, was a Drow, used to and well-versed in the use of such foul magic, and thus he could resist better. His experiences with the illithid, the evil mind-flyers of the Underdark, had greatly strengthened him against ensnaring spells.

“You are wasting your time, Wraith,” he said with some effort, addressing the evil creature in the same manner the Dwarf-King had done before, though not with half the ease. You have no power over me; and there is naught you could offer me.”

“Is there not?” echoed the Nazgûl mockingly. "I think there is. Everyone has a hidden desire… a secret question… regrets they would prefer to forget. You cannot fathom what we are offering, Dark Elf – but you shall find out one day. I only fear you will not enjoy that knowledge much. You could become a trusted servant, wielding powers way beyond your narrow horizon. Refuse us, and all you can become is a rotting body in our dungeon, waiting for death have mercy with you… which could be a very long time.”

“That is enough,” interrupted Dáin Ironfoot sharply. “I will not have my guests being threatened before my very door. You have said what you came to say, bloodhound of Sauron; and you have heard my answer. Now begone! Go back to your tower of foul sorcery and weave your web of darkness while you can. Soon enough, sharp and gleaming weapons will make short work with your cobwebs.”

At that, the Nazgûl laughed, and its laughter, cold and cruel, pierced Drizzt’s heart and mind like a thin poisoned dagger.

“Stunted old fool,” it said mockingly. “Should we ever meet face to face again, that will be the day of your slow and painful death.”

With that, it turned about its huge black steed and rode away into the impenetrable darkness, sending a long-drawn parting cry down the wind. It rose and fell like the shriek of some giant, malevolent bird, and ended on a high, piercing note that chilled the blood in Drizzt’s veins.

For a moment, even the Dwarves were frozen with terror. Then they shrugged it off with almost identical shrugs of their heavy shoulders.

“Do not listen to the Nazgûl’s cry,” Dori, the King’s chancellor, warned the Drow. “While they are deadly when wielding a sword or a mace, their strongest weapon is the terror they plant into the hearts of all living creatures.”

“Who… what are they?” asked Drizzt.

“Once, long ago, they were Men,” replied Dwalin the scholar, fingering the plaits of his blue-black beard thoughtfully. “Mighty Kings or chieftains… or, the worst of them, sorcerers. They accepted Rings of Power from the Dark Lord, the Enemy we are all fighting, to escape death and to gain even more power. Only that they have not; not truly. The Rings trapped them, enslaved them to the will of the Enemy, and they have become something neither dead, nor alive. ‘Tis a sorry existence they have led for thousands of years; and there will be no escape for them, unless the Enemy’s power is broken for good.”

“He tried the same thing with us, you know,” King Dáin added, shooting Drizzt a darkly amused glance from under thick eyebrows. “He gave Rings to our seven Kings, at about the same time. But Dwarves cannot be enslaved by the will of others; that is how Mahal made us.”

“Is Mahal your god?” asked Drizzt, still not very well-versed in the beliefs of Middle-earth. The King shook his massive head.

“Mahal is the Maker,” he replied simply. “He has made us for endurance, and endure we do, beyond the measure of all good people of Arda. And even though he had done so without leave, the One accepted us as a part of Arda and let us be. This is why we differ from all other good peoples of Middle-earth; for our origins are different. Is it not so for the Dwarves of your world?”

“They consider themselves the creation of the god Moradin, who fashioned them into a likeness of himself, using gems and metal, and then breathed life into them,” replied Drizzt. “But they know many other gods of importance: Abbathor, the god of greed, for example, or Berronar Truesilver, the god of safety, truth, home and healing; or Clangeddin Silverbeard, the god of battle, Dugmain Brightmantle, the god of scholarship, discovery and intervention; or Dumathion, the god of mining, Muamman Duathol, the patron of wanderers and expatriates; or Vergadin, the god of wealth and luck, to name just a few. There are many others, I am told, but I do not know their names.”

“Is it general custom in your world to worship such a confusing number of gods?” inquired Dwalin while they were slowly walking back to the inner halls. Drizzt nodded.

“Each race has its own deities. Some are good and some are evil, but they all have their priests, rituals and followers.” He gave the Dwarven scholar a curious glance. “Why are you surprised? Are your Valar not the same?”

The blue-bearded Dwarf shook his head.

“The Valar are not gods,” he said. “Not even Mahal, the Maker. They are all the creation of the One: Ilúvatar, the All-father… although calling him father, or indeed he is a simplification. In any case, the Valar, too, are Ilúvatar’s children, born from the very thoughts of the One; they just have a higher rank and much greater powers than mortal beings – or even Elves – can ever hope to gain.”

“But what are they then?” asked Drizzt in mild confusion.

“They are the Guardians of Arda,” replied Dwalin, “who tend to the work of Ilúvatar yet hardly ever interfere, for the flesh of this world is not strong enough to bear their presence… unless they take on a mortal form that restricts their powers greatly. Yet even so, the last time they decided to interfere, half Middle-earth crumbled into the Sea as a result of the strain. Since then, they have left it to us to deal with the evil of this world.”

“They have abandoned you?” asked Drizzt in shock. Dwalin shook his head again.

“Nay,” he said. “They consider us grown-up children who do not need the doting hand of their parents any longer.”

“Sounds lonely to me,” commented Drizzt.

“It is not,” replied the Dwarf with a shrug. “We can fend for ourselves well enough.”

Drizzt suppressed a smile. Irrepressible self-confidence seemed to be a universal trait of Dwarves, no matter of which bred. For some reason, he felt more at home among them than even among the woodland Elves. More refined or not, they all reminded him of Bruenor.

He wished them a good night and returned to his chambers, only to find Silinde waiting for him.

“What has just happened?” she asked. “I woke up feeling something evil close by. Have you seen it?”

Drizzt nodded. “It was a Nazgûl, or so the Dwarves say – I have never seen one before.”

“And I would be grateful if I never saw one again for the rest of my life,” declared Silinde grimly. “Our King has been told that they had sought out both the Dwarves and the Men of Dale in the recent years, but we thought they would have given up by now.”

“I believe they have, at last, or so it seems,” replied Drizzt, telling her the gist of that which had happened between the Wraith, the Dwarves and himself. Silinde grew even more grim as he was listening to him.

“’Tis dire news,” she finally said. “The attack upon us might be closer than we have feared. I shall send messenger birds to the King, first thing in the morn, and we will set out for home at the earliest possible time. We will be sorely needed to protect the forest, sooner than we might imagine.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
When they reached the Elvenking’s Halls again, they found the entire place in great excitement. Alagos had come back just the night before, and his news were both worrisome and a relief.

“A great army of Orcs and Wargs has been sent out to the South from Dol Guldur,” he explained, “straight to Lothlórien’s northern border. I fear Haldir and his archers will have a hard time to protect the Golden Wood.”

“The Galadhrim can take care of themselves,” waved Silinde dismissively, “and there is also the Lady’s magic to protect their enchanted forest. I am more concerned about the King’s kinfolk in Dor-Lelmin. They live in a place that has little natural defences. Valiant as they might be, they are in dire peril”

“They will be here in two days' time,” replied Alagos. “They are on their way already. And my people have retreated to the fortified watchposts as well. Our net is spread over the entire forest. We are ready.”

“As ready as we ever will be,” Silinde sighed. “This is not some minor skirmish with the usual rabble of Orcs, my friend. This time the Enemy is truly determined to wipe us out.”

“He has tried before… and failed,” said Alagos with a shrug. “He will fail again.”

“I wish I had your confidence,” replied Silinde glumly.

Alagos shrugged again. “The trees will protect us, as always.”

“If there would still be trees,” said Silinde. “Remember the time when the Enemy last made war upon us in earnest? Remember the great woods of Eriador that were burned to the ground? The North never truly recovered from it; woods like those will never grow again.”

“Life is change,” said Alagos. “Much that was once great and beautiful is now lost, ‘tis true; yet we are still here and adapt, grow with the changes. We shall overcome this, too, as we have overcome previous hindrances.”

“If you say so,” said Silinde, still full of doubt.

“I say so,” answered the ancient Elf, “for it is so. Now, let us go to the King and discuss with him defence strategies.”

And off they went, with Orendil, the Captain of the Guard, leaving Drizzt in the capable hands of Silivren, the silver-haired Princess of Mirkwood. This was the first time that Drizzt got the chance to actually speak to the Princess, who was a scholarly person, like her father, Maelduin, but had the sunny nature of her mother, the Lady Nelladel.

Drizzt was surprised to learn that the Princess no longer lived in her father’s halls, having been married to Egilstadir, the heir of Dor-Lelmin, since the very year when the Dwarves had re-taken Erebor from the Dragon. She had been visiting her parents for a while and got trapped here when the road had become too dangerous for her to return.

“’Tis a strange thing to be at home for a longer time again,” she admitted. “The kinfolk of my husband is very different from our own. They are good people, but a little too grave sometimes… and they never eat meat. I have missed my uncle’s roast venison leg in the last sixty years or so.”

“The King cooks himself?” asked Drizzt in surprise. The Princess laughed.

“Only on special occasions,” she explained. “Most male Elves are good cooks, but Uncle Thranduil has a special talent. He says, cooking calms him down. I rather think though, that it reminds him of happier times; of times when Aunt Lálisin was still with us.”

“What happened to the Queen?” This was a question Drizzt had been wondering about but never quite dared to ask. Unlike the young princes who had fallen in battle almost an Age earlier, the Queen was practically never mentioned at court. “Has she sailed to the Blessed Realm?”

“Nay,” replied Silivren grimly. “She has been captured by the Enemy’s servants, less than two hundred years ago. Our scouts, led by Legolas himself, followed her trail as far as Dol Guldur… but we do not have the power to enter that fortress of foul sorcery. Aunt Lálisin gave up her life willingly, rather than reveal to the enemy her secrets,” she glanced at Drizzt’s intently observant face. “We can give up our lives at will, you know. Flee our bodies, if there is no other way out.”

“But what sort of secrets were those that she would be willing to die for them?” asked Drizzt. “Powerful spells of protection?”

“Nothing so fancy,” answered the Princess with a sad little smile. “Just the same power that lives in the trees, in the water, in the earth under our very feet. Aunt Lálisin was a Wise Woman of the Faithful; perchance the last true one of them. They were one with the forest in a way no-one else could hope to become. Not even other Elves.”

“And the Enemy wanted the key to that power,” murmured Drizzt, finally understanding, “so that he could make the very earth his tool and his servant.”

Silivren nodded. “Aunt Lálisin could not allow that – thus she fled her body. She could not have resisted the folter of the Enemy; no-one could. She chose not to suffer unnecessarily, and yet keep her secrets safe. ‘Twas a wise decision.”

“But how would you know what happened to her?” asked Drizzt.

“She appeared to Legolas under the Great Ash,” replied the Princess simply. “If it was true sight or must a waking dream, no-one could tell. The dead send us messages both ways sometimes.”

“Legolas… he is the King’s son, is he not?” asked Drizzt. Silivren nodded again.

“The only one he still has,” she said. “Uncle loves him very much, for he has much of his mother in him, unlike his sister.”

“His sister?” that surprised Drizzt. “The King has daughters, too?”

“He used to,” said the Princess. “But Celebwen has long succumbed to the Sea-longing and lives in the Havens now. Sweet little Aiwë… she was barely ten when killed by a poisonous spider-bite. ‘Twas terrible; the poor thing has suffered so much, and not even Master Aiwendil could help her.”

“How awful!” Drizzt could imagine what the loss of such a young child – and a girl-child at that! – must have meant to the King. He had learned by now how much the Wood-Elves loved their children, and besides, elflings were not meant to die. Less so due to some malevolent, eight-legged monster.

“I feel that I might have to go hunt some spiders again,” he mused darkly. “I have not slain any of them for days – I do not want them to feel neglected.”

“They surely deserve naught else,” said the Princess in agreement. “I think, though, that you should not leave right now. The council has been summoned to discuss possible strategies in the upcoming battle – ‘tis possible that you will be needed before long.”

“What would they need me for?” wondered Drizzt. “I might be a seasoned warrior, but I am just one Drow.”

“And yet you might make a great difference,” replied Silivren. “No-one is expendable in these days, and many of us believe that you have been sent to us for a reason.”

“I have been summoned by the Nazgûl Lord to be used against your people, Princess,” Drizzt reminded her.

“That may be so,” allowed Silivren, “and yet here you are, with us, preparing to fight the Nazgûl, because Ilúvatar chose a mere hunting cat to dwarf the plans of the evil forces. If you do not mind my asking: how came that you have followed Half-tooth rather than the summons of the Nazgûl?”

“I… I guess I have a soft spot for big cats,” replied Drizzt with a helpless shrug.

“Is there a reason for that?” asked the Princess. Drizzt nodded.

“It is called Guenwhyvar,” he answered softly.

That answer led to even more questions, of course, and ere he realized, he was telling the Princess all that he could about his magical friend, the panther from the Astral Plane… and why Guenwhyvar was lost for him, forever. Silivren listened to him with great interest, only asking a few questions here and there, to nudge the tale forward.

“If I understand you correctly, your cat friend is alive and well on his own plane of existence,” she finally said. “You are just unable to summon her anymore.”

Drizzt nodded. “That is true. I am glad she is safe, but I miss her.”

“Do you still have the figurine?” asked the Princess. “We are not very good at handling magical trinkets, but the Dwarves might be able to put it together again. Some of them have still not entirely forgotten how to unite skills and magic.”

“Sadly, I have never quite managed to find all the shards,” answered Drizzt. “I fear that a reconstruction of the figurine is no longer possible.”

“A shame,” she said. “Though it is not certain that you could summon her to Middle-earth, even if your magic item were available. ‘Tis said that magic works differently on each plane of existence, and mayhap a channel to the plane of your cat could not be opened from here at all.”

“But magic does exist in Middle-earth, too, does it not?” asked Drizzt. “The gates of the King are magical… and there are other such things, I am told.”

“Very little of it, and possibly of a different kind than you are used to it,” replied Silivren. “Elven magic is naught but better, deeper understanding of the powers of earth, water and other natural forces, and using them to our advantage. Dwarven magic, if I understand rightly, is the same, just with metal and stone and fire. Neither of us is trying to force anything around us to do something they were not supposed to do.”

“What about the Enchanted River?” asked Drizzt. Silivren laughed.

“They say that was a spell that backfired,” she said. “My grandsire, King Oropher, had learned a lot in Doriath about how to use rivers as natural defences. I am not certain, though, that this was the effect he had desired. He was great warrior and a wise ruler, but spells were not his forte.”

They laughed in quiet understanding. Ere they could have continued their conversation, though, one of the House Guards approached them, bowing politely.

“Forgive me, Princess Silivren, but the King asks Drizzt Do’Urden to join the Council.”

“Me?” asked Drizzt in surprise. “Of what possible use could I be there?”

“I was not told the reason,” answered the guard, “just that your insight would be needed.”

“Go,” said Silivren. “It seems that the overall plans have been made, and now the tasks are being handed to everyone. The time for small skirmishes is over. This time, we shall truly be going to war.”

She watched the Drow leave with the guard, thinking about the true meaning of her own words.

“I hoped I would never see this day come,” she murmured forlornly. “’Twas wishful thinking, after all, it seems. As long as the Enemy is still sitting in his dark tower, there will never be true peace in our forests. A pity, it truly is.”

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