Disclaimer: I own nothing, except the plotline and my precious, evil mind.
Warnings: BDSM. Be warned--this is a very naughty fic. I am a bad person and I promise I'll be spanked later (and hopefully often).
A/N: This is a continuation of my previous Unspoken story arc (and yes, I know, it is getting entirely out of hand.) Read them in order--Unspoken/Revelations/Changes/One Last Time/Quid Pro Quo--or prepare to be confused and to miss inside jokes.
By Rune Dancer
The cave was large and dank and, as usual, Glorfindel did not like the sensation of being under a large amount of stone. Especially in this case, as there were signs that a cave-in had taken place recently, and he kept glancing up at the roof uneasily. Erestor had pointed out that it was the best place to interrogate their captives, however, and he had to agree. He stood by the entrance, where a slight breeze tickled his face and he could keep the late afternoon sun in view, while Erestor and his band of trainees did their job. He preferred not to watch.
Glorfindel had always found Erestor's abilities at information extraction impressive, but rather sickening to behold. The fact that those currently under interrogation were slavers, and particularly harsh ones at that, did not much alleviate his distaste. Violence in battle, which, ironically enough, Erestor always found unpleasant, seemed somehow more . . . honest . . . to Glorfindel. He did not shrink from hacking an enemy to pieces, if that enemy had a weapon and an equal opportunity to do the same to him. But this sort of practised cruelty always rather unsettled his stomach, no matter how much he agreed with its necessity. He tried to concentrate on the condition some of the captives they had liberated had been in when they found them, instead of on the steadily increasing cries from the inner areas of the cave.
"What? Oh, no, thank you."
Erestor came up beside him, continuing to eat his late lunch placidly, even as a particularly wrenching scream echoed through the air. Glorfindel winced slightly, but made no comment. Erestor settled himself on a large boulder near the entrance and looked him over pensively. "You should eat something, you know. You look awful."
It was true, Glorfindel knew. He'd accidentally seen his reflection in a stream that morning and hadn't bothered to look again. The scene two nights before between he and Elrohir still made him nauseous to contemplate, and he had not helped the problem by getting very drunk in his rooms thereafter. He had not seen Elrohir since as the search team had left at first light in pursuit of the dwarf.
"I take it he found out about you and the king?" Erestor looked sympathetic. They had not really had a chance to discuss the issue before, as all their time had been spent on the trail. It had been easy enough to find, but catching up to Elwyyda had proven more difficult, as she had had the intelligence to steal a horse. They had finally tracked her to a well-traveled road heading north, but then made the unpleasant discovery that someone else had found her first. Well, it could be worse, Glorfindel thought; it could have been orcs, in which case there would be no chance at all of ever seeing her again, or of locating her mysterious mountain.
"Orophin told him. I tried to explain." Glorfindel repressed another wince at the memory, instead running a hand through his already tousled hair until it stuck out wildly in every direction. He could not stop seeing Elrohir's eyes, hot with outrage and yet filled with tears, as he asked him WHY. Suddenly he wanted another drink.
"I take it the explanation was not very helpful."
"He hates me, Erestor. He thinks I was toying with him, that he was only one of a string of lovers that I gladly threw over as soon as Thranduil appeared."
Erestor smiled, and waved a flask under Glorfindel's nose. This he accepted thankfully, noting as it burned its way down his throat that it definitely wasn't miruvor. "If he knew Thranduil better, he might feel otherwise," Erestor commented. "The king is not accustomed to being denied what he wants. And he wants you. He made that rather clear in Mirkwood, as I recall."
Glorfindel gasped, both from the alcohol--what WAS this anyway--and at a shrill screech from indoors. "That was 500 years ago! You would think he'd have forgotten by now."
Erestor shrugged, looking philosophical as he casually glanced back in the cave. "Be careful, Cam. I want information, not a corpse." He retrieved his flask and took a drink. Its potency did not seem to bother him, but then, Erestor was a connoisseur. He'd probably long ago become accustomed to it. "Thranduil has lived a long time, Glorfindel. He has learned to be patient. There is a difference, however, between patience and forgetfulness. I do not think Thranduil has forgotten you; you are not rid of him yet."
"I'll never trust him again."
Erestor looked surprised. "I didn't know you'd trusted him before. At any rate, your feelings are not the point. Until you convince the king to leave you alone, patching things up with the young one will be difficult. You may have scared off Haldir's brother, but there will be others . . . Elrohir is very fair."
Glorfindel glowered at his friend. "Is this supposed to be comforting?"
"Oh, forgive me. I was under the impression that you wanted advice, not comfort. I can tell you that all will be well if it will make you feel any better. However, unless you do something about this situation, I am not at all sure that it will be. The problem is that you are not accustomed to thinking like Thranduil. You have to be devious enough to beat him at his own game."
"You think I can't be devious?"
Erestor looked him over critically. "It's hard to say--you aren't exactly at your best at the moment--but I have never known intrigue to be your forte. My dear Glorfindel," he said calmly, as his companion flushed, "do please try not to become emotional. I know you are upset and that I speak plainly, but I thought you wanted my help. Otherwise, what are we talking about?"
Glorfindel glanced around. No one was within hearing range, especially not with the caterwauling going on within the cave. "What did you have in mind?"
Elrohir spied on Thranduil from his hidden vantage point high in the limbs of a tree adjacent to the library windows. The king was reading something, his long silvery hair almost covering his face as he bent over the leather bound tome before him. He was dressed fairly plainly that day, in a light green cotton tunic and leggings with only a few mithril adornments. One of the latter was a large, beautifully wrought hair clip from which his silken tresses cascaded over his shoulders.
Elrohir had finally calmed down enough to examine the question logically, and had come to a few important conclusions. First, Thranduil was far more attractive than he would ever be, was a king, was vastly wealthy, and was personally magnetic. Second, he and Glorfindel had a previous relationship that Thranduil obviously wanted to continue; wanted it badly enough, in fact, to risk jeopardizing relations with Lorien by concocting a risky scheme to obtain his desire. Third, Glorfindel obviously still felt something for the king; in spite of his protestations, Elrohir knew what he had seen. Added all together, the situation seemed completely hopeless, and Elrohir knew he should just give up. Thranduil always won--at least that was his reputation--and who was he to oppose him?
The king chanced to look up from his reading at that moment, and locked eyes with Elrohir, green to brown, for what seemed an eternity. There was nothing said, but some communication passed between them anyway. Thranduil was the first to look away, returning to his book as if nothing had happened, while Elrohir sat, stunned, clinging to his tree limb. Thranduil had not looked at him with contempt or even with pity. Instead, there had been a challenge in that stare, as if he saw Elrohir as a formidable adversary. It took a few moments for Elrohir to absorb that, and to understand what it meant. When he finally slid down the tree some while later, it was with a fourth resolution in mind. This time, despite all the odds, the king of Mirkwood would not win. Elrohir went off in search of his brother, a determined look in his eyes.
Haldir waited until he sensed the last elf slide into place around the small camp. It had taken the better part of the night to catch up with their quarry, even with the slavers' information. It had started to rain heavily early in the evening, and the water had obscured the trail. Thankfully, the family was in an old wagon with a wonky back wheel, which kept their pace slow and forced them to stay on the larger, firmer roads. Finally, after managing to lose them three times when the road passed various likely looking junctions, the band of elves finally caught up with the purchasers of that annoying dwarf. Two days and nights of ceaseless toil she had caused them. Personally, Haldir would have preferred to let her stay with the family once she was questioned, as she couldn't possibly receive any worse treatment from them than she had in the mountain all those years, but he knew Gildor would never agree. He closed his eyes in horror of the thought of a dwarf living in his family talan. He would never live it down.
The circle of elves began to close in silently, although with the sound of the rain and the decibel level of the snores coming from inside the little wagon, their caution was probably unnecessary. Haldir reached the door first and cautiously reached for the handle, just as something bit him on the ankle. "What the . . . ?" He jumped back and peered under the wagon, but it was far too dark even for elvin eyes to make out much. He thought he saw something moving--probably a rabid dog based on how his ankle felt--only to see it scurry across to the other side where Gildor nabbed it.
"Elwyyda, it's me!" Haldir heard Gildor's delighted tones and scowled even harder. He should have known. The next time he came anywhere near the creature, he was wearing armor. And she probably WAS rabid . . .
Their party retreated into the forest once Gildor had sawed through the stout rope tying the little dwarf under the wagon. It was fortunate that they had arrived when they did, as she had already made good headway on freeing herself by rubbing the rope over a rough iron nail in the wagon's floorboard. She struggled halfheartedly, but Haldir thought she looked almost glad to see them--or at least, to see Gildor. She glared at Haldir, although why was a mystery. SHE had bitten HIM after all, not the other way around. He eyed the remains of Gildor's tunic which she still wore with a true sense of loss, and listened as his lover tried to worm information out of her. Erestor volunteered to talk to her, but the look Gildor sent him could have curdled milk. "Talk only, I assure you," Erestor said, amused, but Gildor was having none of it. Finally, after nearly an hour standing under still dripping skies, they had enough information to go on with and set out again, Elwyyda riding behind Gildor, her small arms tight about his waist.
He awoke to darkness, as always. Sometimes he thought he had forgotten what light--real light, from the sun or a star--actually looked like, for it seemed so very long since he had seen it. Sometimes he was convinced that he never had; that all he had ever known was flickering torchlight, which was itself a rarity here. The overseers needed very little light for their huge eyes, and often he was left to toil alone in the darkness, just as he awoke every day to blackness so heavy it was almost possible to reach out and touch it.
It was in those moments before they came to get him, when the final wisps of the dream left his mind and he faced the start of another day, that he most often thought of death. He had seen it come to so many over the years, to other creatures who had their strength and youth devoured by ceaseless labour, and at first he had pitied them. In recent years, however, he had begun to look on them with envy, for at least theirs was an escape of a sort and an end to the constant pain. He had begun to long for such release even more since his last true friend went away. He had tried to persuade her not to attempt escape, for the penalty if caught was a harsh death, but she had been obdurate.
In the end he had been unable to hold her back just for selfish reasons, knowing that, although the chance was slim, she nonetheless might make it. His injuries and size would never have permitted him to take the route she had found, after giving up precious hours of sleep to prowl the tunnels, silently as a cat, walking the way he had shown her. One night she had gone, slipping through the little crack she had located into an adjacent cavern that was not well guarded. He hoped she had made a complete escape, but there was no way to know. Still, he hadn't seen her dragged back, tortured and killed as an example to all the others, so a small hope remained.
As pleased as he was at the thought of her escape, it deprived him of the last comfort he had known. She had been kind and, occasionally, when the gaolers were careless, they had managed a few minutes' conversation. Other than for the dreams, those talks had been the only bright points in his life. Without them, he had no reason to value continued existence. But despite the fact that he ate almost nothing, giving his meager rations to the other slaves whenever the overseers weren't looking, his body continued to cling to life. Sometimes it made him despair, for what can one do when even death is denied?
One can endure. However, he had felt his strength beginning to fade in these last few days, and he smiled at the hope of release--if not today, then soon. It was nice to feel himself almost floating, as if his spirit was trying to escape from the body, but could not quite manage it. In the past week, as his strength ebbed, a strange thing had happened. He had suddenly begun to see things in his dreams that had never come within sight before. At first, it had not been an appreciable difference, just a slight widening of his field of vision, so that he could see more dancers than before, as well as the edge of a table far to the left, loaded with what looked like every kind of delicacy. But two nights ago there had been more.
The presence beside him, always felt but never seen, had at long last resolved itself into the figure of a person--a beautiful male with laughing grey eyes and long, dark hair, who had leaned near to ask him something. He could not hear the question, but it did not matter. He probably would have been unable to answer in any case. He was mesmerized, not only by the beauty of his companion, but also by the knowledge, sure and clear as nothing had been in countless years, that he had once known that face, known it as well as he did his own. That morning, yet another piece slid into place, as the sounds of the heavy footfalls of his goalers woke him from his uneasy rest. One sound had risen above the light music and idle chatter of his dream--a name, spoken in a voice that was clear and powerful and not at all like his was now, but had once been his own.
But he could make out no more. Harsh hands grabbed him and dragged him to his feet, pushing him into line with the others. A new cavern had been opened up, deeper than before, and there was much work to do. He stumbled on the way to the passage, feeling disoriented and unsteady on his feet. One of his gaolers stepped on his right hand when he extended it to break his fall, adding a new pain to a limb already raw and broken from past accidents. He knew he would bear the pain long, for his body no longer healed itself as it had once done. He was jerked back to his feet by a tug on the heavy collar around his neck, and forced back into line. He barely even noticed, so captivated was he by the name that still echoed in his thoughts, almost obscuring the harsh curses of the overseers. It was like music, he thought wearily, that charmed the ear as it healed the soul.
They rode the rest of the night and well into the next day before reaching the foothills of the Misty Mountains. The dwarf gave them directions as well as she could, but she had escaped at night and had not been concentrating on anything besides getting away as fast as possible, making her a poor guide. For three days they searched a number of likely looking caves that she thought might be the right entrance, but found nothing. Haldir refrained from making pointed comments about her uselessness, as Gildor had grown very protective of the little creature. So much so that he even slept by its side--no, her side, Haldir reminded himself, having already received a lecture from his lover on the proper use of pronouns.
Not that Gildor had been his lover any time recently, as there had been no opportunity for it on the mission and Haldir doubted that he had enough energy in any case. Urgency, and a feeling that time was running out had overcome the whole group. It was foolish, Haldir told himself for the hundredth time. Even if the dwarf was telling the truth, anyone who had toiled in the mines as long as this Zirak and lived would certainly still be there whenever they managed to find him--if they ever did. Still, he felt a constant urge at the back of his mind telling him to hurry, and he pressed on as unceasingly as the rest.
The morning of the fourth day of the search dawned with little reason to hope that it would be any more productive. However, as the company was eating their lembas and wishing that it was safe enough to make a fire to brew tea, they heard them. Orcs can move silently when they feel threatened, but this group was large and must have felt secure. As the elves looked down from the precipice on which they'd camped, the line of ugly, brutish creatures below pushed and jostled each other, spitting curses and making no effort whatever at silence, as they hurried back to their caves before the sun rose further above the horizon. The line seemed to go on endlessly, but finally the last few passed, failing to notice that they had picked up a silent company of followers who stayed just out of sight.
A few moments later and the line of orcs made their way into a narrow slit in the rock that could easily have been mistaken for a shadow cast by the sun. The small company of elves were now kitted out in the garb, including facemasks, of the last twenty-five orcs, whose bodies were stashed in a nearby ravine. They passed through the entrance unchallenged along with the rest of the company.
Haldir tried not to breathe, as the stench coming from the garments he had liberated for his disguise was almost overpowering. Eyes watering, it took him a few seconds to adjust to the almost darkness within the caves. He then followed Erestor, who was leading the dwarf on a chain towards several lumpy looking guards. Surprisingly, Erestor managed a convincing imitation of the black speech used by the orcs, including harsh vocalizations that Haldir would not have believed could have come from a elf. What he said to the two huge goblins who stood near a tunnel leading downwards Haldir could only guess, but they seemed happy, slapping him on the back and grabbing for the dwarf's chain. Jerking her cruelly forward, they attached a metal collar around her neck, then pushed her ahead of them down a steeply sloping passageway. Erestor gave them a short head start, then followed.
The darkness was overwhelming, and Haldir fought down panic as they kept going what seemed like a ridiculously long way underground. At last the tunnel leveled out and a few torches in heavy iron sconces gave enough light to illuminate a cavern with dripping stalactites and a few pools of water that smelled strangely. Passing through it, they emerged onto one of the most amazing sights Haldir had ever seen--a huge cave, seemingly a mile across, being worked by what had to be a thousand slaves. Some were chipping away at the sides of the chasm with picks, while others gathered up the piles of rock into large containers that still more pulled and pushed along tracks in the floor. What they were mining Haldir could not have said, but it was easily the biggest operation he had ever seen.
Their party skirted the edge of the chasm along a narrow path, carefully pressing back against the walls as the light was too dim to see the way clearly. Finally they came to a smaller cavern where a group of thin pallets were littered about the floor. The dwarf was chained to a ring set into the stone above one, her guards having left her there for the moment. Erestor quickly crossed to her, pulling a huge bunch of keys from his pocket as he did so. Seeing Haldir's look of surprise, he just winked as he flipped quickly through the bunch. "One of these will fit almost any lock--a handy thing to keep around." Apparently his boast was not an idle one, for a few moments later Elwyyda was free and guiding them rapidly through a maze of interconnecting caves.
Haldir noticed slaves of almost every type as they hurried along--men, dwarves, halflings, even orcs who must have irritated someone--but no elves. He was becoming seriously worried that the dwarf had led them all into a trap when they reached another tunnel going what seemed to be straight down. Haldir almost balked, wanting some proof that this really was the way before he descended, but Erestor, Glorfindel and Gildor fearlessly followed Elwyyda into the darkness, making the decision for him. Erestor's Noldorian apprentices crowded in behind him, causing Haldir to feel even more claustrophobic in the narrow passage, but he moved along at a good pace nonetheless.
When Haldir had begun to feel certain that they were being led into the centre of the earth itself, the passage gave way into a tiny room. At the end was a solitary, hunched figure who did not turn from his slow, steady digging even though he must have heard them enter. It was impossible to tell in the dim light who, or what, he was, but Elwyyda gave a small shriek and launched herself at him, almost obscuring him from view as her arms went as far about him as possible. This, Haldir could only surmise, was Zirak, although whether he was elf or no was impossible to tell.
The trip back was much worse than the one in. Haldir decided that, once this was over, he would try to put the whole laborious climb through murky darkness, constantly in fear of discovery, and jumping several times into adjacent caves to keep from being found out, from his mind. At least Zirak was no trouble; after seeing the limping shuffle which was his best attempt at a walk, Haldir simply scooped him up on his back and carried him until his breathing grew laboured, at which time one of the Noldor assumed the burden. They had traded off several more times before that nightmarish climb was over, but finally made it to the first cave again. After incapacitating the guards by the simple expedient of lopping their heads from their ugly shoulders, Haldir felt much better, and was able to emerge from the darkness with some feeling of justice being done. Of course, it still remained to be seen if it had been worth it.
They put a good distance between themselves and the cave before stopping. A group of Noldor went after the horses while the rest turned to examine Zirak. Haldir was almost sick at what he saw. Now that they were once more in sunlight, it was undoubted that, as impossible as it seemed, the creature propped against a tree was actually an elf. But it was an elf as Haldir had never seen one, and fervently hoped he never would again. Whitish hair straggled about a haggard, cadaverous face, skin almost without colour, at least the little that showed under layers of filth. The creature was recognizable as one of the first born only because of a pair of hauntingly beautiful blue eyes. He was dressed only in a few heavily soiled rags which bared his ribs, all of which Haldir could count. Countless bruises and half-healed welts covered his whole body. Haldir could not imagine why they hadn't healed, but then, he had never seen an elf who had undergone this much trauma. Perhaps there were limits even to elvin healing abilities.
Haldir had been so appalled by Zirak's appearance that he had not immediately noticed the reactions of his companions until Gildor let out a bleat of distress. Haldir glanced at him, only to see his big brown eyes fill with tears that shamelessly coursed down his cheeks. The faces of the others were more reserved, but no less intense. Most of the Noldor looked like they were wishing they had killed a few more orcs while in the caves, with several so flushed with rage that Haldir would not have been surprised if they had simply turned and headed back for the mine. The reactions of Erestor and Glorfindel, however, were the most intriguing. Both were simply staring, not in pity or anger, but simply in openmouthed astonishment, at Zirak. Erestor's hand had crept up to his throat and his eyes were huge. Glorfindel was in little better shape, having lost all colour in his face, and one hand clenched and unclenched unconsciously.
Suddenly, Glorfindel seemed to snap out of his trance, and with a terse comment to the rest of them to wait on the horses, he dragged a shell-shocked Erestor into a copse of nearby trees. Haldir listened with all his might, as he suspected everyone else was doing except for Gildor, who had dropped to his knees before Zirak and was attempting to clean him with the aid of his handkerchief and some water from a flask at his waist. He continued to sob openly as he did so, something that did not seem to bother or, indeed, even to completely register with Zirak. Elwyyda hovered about, offering her own, extremely soiled handkerchief, which Gildor accepted but did not use. Haldir thought it could hardly make a difference, as it would be almost impossible for the elf to get any dirtier.
He turned his attention back to the conversation taking place among the trees, but caught little of it. He could see part of Erestor's face around the trunk of a large tree, and he seemed highly agitated, but his words were mostly unintelligible. Haldir did hear him shout, "But that's imposs . . . " before Glorfindel clapped a hand over his mouth, and, presumably, told him to be quiet. Haldir glanced at Zirak again, but saw nothing to explain their distress other than his lamentable state. He noticed now that Zirak's left leg seemed twisted and his foot mangled, before he looked away, unwilling to see any more.
Glorfindel and Erestor returned about the same time that the horses were brought up, and had a short argument over who should ride with Zirak. Haldir waited impatiently for them to decide the issue, which did not seem to him a point about which to contend. Zirak actually stank--why would anyone want to ride with him? Yet Erestor and Glorfindel almost came to blows over who would have the honour. Eventually Glorfindel won, and an almost comatose Zirak was hauled up onto the enormous white stallion. Gildor had managed to coax him into drinking a little miruvor, but it had not had any obvious effect. Haldir seriously wondered if they would not soon be arguing over who had the right to bury him.
He sighed and turned his horse's nose in the direction of home. He hoped this Zirak did survive, not least because of the information he could no doubt give them about the mines. If he had lived there long, there should be little he didn't know, and they would need all of it. Haldir was certain that, as soon as Zirak's condition was seen in Lorien, they would be overwhelmed with volunteers to return here. The Galadrim had much work to do.
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