Without, Part 30
Terror and joy.
Opposite emotions, but remarkably similar in their scope, in their power, in their seduction, in the lengths to which people would go to avoid one or acquire the other. Heka had used them often to obtain His goals over the past tens of thousands of years of His existence, and rarely had He encountered beings able to resist.
He anticipated few such problems with this group; they seemed simple enough. A few handfuls of elves and humans, a vampire—hm, intriguing, that one could come in useful—a dwarf, and an Istari. In all, a fascinating blend of races. The wizard alone would pose trouble for Him; with a wave of His hand, Heka separated the tapestry-wrapped bundle that was Radagast from the others before getting down to business.
One of the snakes twining around him slithered down around his leg to more closely investigate the strong woman, known as Dagnir or the Slayer… her fears were many, and all revolved around the safety of her loved ones, especially that elven husband of hers. Heka clucked His tongue in derision; how easy she would be to manipulate with a few nudges in the direction of abandonment… As for the husband, his was of a dilemma than a fear, per se: to heed the call of the Valar and leave for Aman, or stay with his human wife in Arda? Heka mixed up a little nightmare involving rejection by both the gods and his wife, and with a flick of the finger, set it on Legolas.
There were three other couples, three other pairs bound together, heart and mind. The first of them featured an elven female and human male, both their souls weighing heavy with responsibility—for the kingdom they ruled, and for the consequences of their love. The elleth’s fear involved being cast aside by the Man for whom she’d forsaken immortality; his was an interesting mélange of both horror and a peculiar, desperate hope that she would change her mind about being his mate, and leave for eternal life in Valinor.
Heka frowned in displeasure; the ones who tortured themselves were never any fun. With a disgruntled twitch of a shoulder, He sent dreams of infidelity and the destruction of Gondor to Arwen and Elessar respectively, and nearly dislodged the second snake, which glared at him as it gripped just a tetch too hard around his neck. Smirking, Heka loosened it with a thought.
The second of the pairs were both human, but the female was… Heka sucked in a deep breath as the magnitude of her power made itself known to Him. This was the Key, the nexus of all magic, the joining-point for all mysticism in any dimension, any universe.
“They made it into a person?” Heka thought in baffled outrage.
Of all the harebrained schemes… to force all that sheer untapped potential into a small, frail, finite container was sheer lunacy. And He’d lay odds that she had no idea of the extent of her abilities, either-- that she had no concept of what she could accomplish. It was almost perversion that her main concerns were over her offspring, her mate, her sister; such petty issues when she could destroy entire solar systems with a single word. With a sour look that spoke of frustration and not a small amount of jealousy, He channeled some persistent images of death and mayhem her way before turning to her husband.
This one had been beleaguered recently, especially by that lustful inhibition-releasing spell Heka had worked for Aker a few days ago. It would seem it had called into doubt all he thought he knew about his sexuality… How He loved to make them doubt themselves! A few fantasies involving various males of Boromir’s acquaintance should do nicely, the god thought, and made it so.
The last pair were another mixing of races. The elf had been hard done-by of late, first under the thrall of the cartouche, then the same spell as for the Man—ah, they were the causes of each others’ anxiety, Heka realized, reading further into Haldir’s mind, excellent—and then Satet’s mixed blessing of permitting him to remember each failure as he strove time and again to defeat Her. Despair, loneliness, shame… poor elf, Heka thought mockingly, and decided to send him something pleasant to stew over, made all the more bittersweet because it was actually obtainable. “This one refuses to accept what is being given to him with both hands,” Heka thought in amazement. Self-denying types never failed to mystify Him, and there were few mysteries left for one such as He.
As for the woman… her fondest dreams had already been offered to her by Seshat, that old softie… Heka made a mental note to speak to Her later. It simply wouldn’t do to have His specialty usurped just because She wanted to impress Her new followers. Folding His arms, He tapped His fingers thoughtfully on the opposite slender bicep. What to do, what to do… her greatest fear was that the elf would find her undesirable now that he wasn’t enspelled by the cartouche any longer. A future involving significant weight gain, the addition of several hairy facial moles and a severe flatulence issue, and an obviously unfaithful elven husband should do the trick, He mused, and sent that her way.
The dwarf was easy to lead along… give him his own gem-laden mountain and a gold-haired elleth named Galadriel and he was ripe for the plucking. The vampire, however, was somewhat more complex. In Heka’s experience, the undead were usually concerned with naught but the feed; this one’s fondest wish was to have the Slayer for his own. With a tiny smile, Heka separated him too from the rest, to be dealt with more closely at a later time.
He came to the last, another elf. Related to the mate of the Slayer, if He was not mistaken…and for the first time in at least eight thousand years, came up blank. No fears? No joys? How was it even possible? Pressing harder, he forced himself into Thranduil’s mind and was assailed with an almost overwhelming sense of ennui. “What is this?” He demanded, so riled that he woke up the elf with a jolt and put the question to him personally.
The lower being’s green eyes opened slowly. “What is it you want of me?” he asked, and there was no trepidation, no alarm. Just mild curiosity and, deeper down, a slight sense of weariness.
“How can it be that you have no fears, no hopes, that I can play with?” Heka queried somewhat snippishly.
Thranduil smiled slowly as he comprehended what the god wanted to know. “I think,” he replied slowly, “it is because both my greatest terror and my greatest joy have already come to pass; there is naught you can do to me.”
“Tell me,” Heka commanded, coming closer, hands clenching and unclenching in fury. “Tell me.”
“My wife, my Elbrennil,” Thranduil replied, his voice faltering for the first time in centuries as he said her name, “is gone from me these last two millennia. That was my keenest sorrow, to lose her. She was of the Noldor, proud and fierce, and her black hair fell past her knees… when she died, the world became dark for me, and dark has it remained since.” Lost in his memory of her, his eyes became distant for a moment before he remembered his audience.
“As for the joy… I have seen the birth of my son, my Greenleaf, and nothing can ever surpass that. He is my image, but for Elbrennil’s eyes, and bears her nature, thank the Valar…” Thranduil smiled. “I am replete, knowing our love created such a fine elf. There is naught you can do to me now.”
Then his emerald gaze turned speculative. “But you, god… what can there be for you? Do you spend your days as errand-boy for others? Have they greater power or importance than you?”
“They do not,” Heka refuted, eyes very narrow and snakes hissing in agitation. “I fulfill my purpose.”
“That sounds like a hollow existence to my ears,” Thranduil said, then added, “Well I know the hollow existence, for it has been my own since Elbrennil passed to be with Mandos.” He heaved a sigh. “At least I have a land to rule, a people to lead, a realm to protect.” Schooling his expression to one of polite interest, he asked, “Do you have aught of those for yourself?”
Heka was practically grinding His teeth. “I do not,” He admitted with great reluctance, “but I have been promised a great augmentation of my powers once this is done.”
“Augmentation of powers?” Thranduil inquired mildly. “So you can continue to apply them for the purposes of others?” A wheat-gold brow raised in skepticism, but he said nothing except, “If you will be satisfied with that, so be it.” He shrugged. “It would not satisfy me.”
“The satisfaction of lower beings does not interest the likes of us,” Heka replied somewhat nastily, stung by the implication that this elf-creature was more discerning than He.
“As you say,” Thranduil conceded with a slight nod, somehow conveying a vague sense of humoring Heka rather than believing Him.
Heka’s frustration with the elf peaked; He was not known for His forbearance or patience in the best of circumstances, and as He had been a bit touchy of late concerning this very issue it was a surprise to no one (read: the snakes that clothed him and Tayet) when He emitted a wordless scream of fury and, with a single slashing motion of His hand, ripped off the sheltering cage of threads that bound the king of Mirkwood.
Then He smiled as the elf fell.
Misery without end; sorrow and loneliness and shame and fear. Buffy was buffeted by storm after storm of those emotions, reeling back and forth from the wallops as they crashed into her, and a single searing thought tore from her soul: make it stop. Anything, I’ll do anything, but please, make it stop.
And a teasing, almost flirtatious voice answered her: Not yet.
Whimpering, Buffy’s mind cowered, huddled in on itself, trying with increasing desperation to shield itself from more anguish. Another age of pain, another request, another playful denial.
“Not yet, not yet,” she muttered. “When?” A tiny spark of anger started, and began to supplant the fear; growing steadily, as things do with plenty of fertile ground, her rage built until it exploded. She wrenched herself awake, and finding herself trapped in some sort of hazy binding, began to fight like a wild thing, with claws and fangs. The threads began to give way, and it was only with a hurried grab at them that she kept herself from falling into the busy water in the very great distance below.
“I’m not a big fan of heights,” she muttered, and squinted as she gazed around her. Except for eight other similarly-wrapped bundles, there was no one in the huge, empty cavern, and she breathed a sigh of relief before frowning. It was hard to remember what had been going on before the pain, before Legolas had laughed and deserted her, told her she was doomed, that being with her was a curse…
“Legolas,” she breathed, and scrutinized the other bundles until she saw a telltale flash of familiar pale-gold hair; swinging her weight on the tattered fragments of her own cocoon, she reached out and took hold of him, climbing on and wrapping her legs around as she reached for her boot-knife and began hacking at his restraints.
Eventually she uncovered his face, and gasped to see his eyes closed. He slept, like all elves, with eyes open, if somewhat glazed over, and to see him thus, so deathlike, frightened her. “Legolas,” she whispered in his pointed ear, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him, repeating his name, until the haze of sleep melted from him.
“Dagnir?” he mumbled. “I care not for Aman, if you cannot be there with me; I will remain with you always, only never leave me. Lle naa hûn nîn, herves nîn, amin mela lle.”
Crying, Buffy kissed him again and again, promising him without words that he had nothing to fear, and finally he came to full consciousness. His eyes, blue as lapis, stared into hers for a long moment. “It wasn’t real,” she told him, and felt a fresh wash of tears when he slumped against her in relief.
“We have to free the others,” she said, and resumed her hacking at his bindings. When his arms were free, she left him to untangle his legs, swinging over to Elessar and beginning to work on him.
“I do not suggest you wake him as sweetly as you did me,” Legolas suggested with a hint of his usual mischievous smile, going to work on the next person, who happened to be Corinne.
Buffy tended to agree, so she just slapped Elessar’s stubbled cheeks lightly and repeated his name until he came awake, then cut away his wrappings so he could work on Boromir. She moved on to Arwen, then Dawn.
Haldir was last, and he smiled blissfully, eyes still closed tightly, when she uncovered his face. “Corinne,” he murmured. “The children are well this morning?”
The others fell silent and stared at him; Corinne, who was having trouble holding on to the remains of her shroud, whipped her head around. Buffy grabbed her arm and for one heart-stopping moment, she was suspended in space held only by a deceptively fragile-looking woman… then she was locked, arms and legs, around her elf and Buffy was swinging away to help hack Gimli free, as the dwarf was most vocal about being woken from his most pleasant dream of ruling a mithril-rich mountain, the Lady of the Wood by his side.
“Haldir,” she told him, her voice low as she smoothed back a lock of his hair, “there are no children.”
“No children?” His voice, rich with amusement, was frankly skeptical. “That is not what you said last night, when you complained that there were far too many running around in our talan. You even blamed me for giving them to you, though I do not recall your complaining much at the time.” His eyes fluttered open, so clear and unshadowed and happy that Corinne felt a pang at having to disappoint him.
“I’m sorry, Haldir,” she said, feeling like her heart was breaking. “But we don’t have any children. It was—“ her throat closed up then, and she had to fight to speak. “It was just a dream.”
“Impossible,” he said flatly. “Ataralassë, our first child, how Celeborn delights there is a new generation to pester him in his study, now that she can read… Earo, so sturdy as his uncles teach him archery, and Cualla with her little dolls… Failon, newly weaned, to your great relief. How can you say they are but a dream?”
Longing so pronounced it caused her physical pain coursed through Corinne as she imagined these children of whom Haldir spoke with such a wealth of love. Our children, she thought with despair. “Please, Haldir,” she entreated, trying not to cry. “You have to believe me. Look around. There are no children; we’ve never—“ her throat protested again. “We’ve never made love. We’re not in Caras Galadhon; we’re trapped under Mertseger in Aker’s realm, and you have to wake up because we have to get out of here.”
Haldir did look around, and finding himself surrounded by seven people swinging from ragged and torn fabric wrappings and studiously avoiding looking at him while Corinne waited, watching him carefully, felt faint as reality returned to him. “Ai, Valar,” he sighed heavily.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, hugging him.
“As am I,” he replied, refusing once again to meet her gaze.
“Sorry to break up the angst-fest,” Buffy called quietly from where she was clinging to Legolas like a monkey (much to his delight, if his luminous smile was any clue), but Thranduil, Radagast, and Spike are all missing.”
“Something must have happened to them,” Dawn said immediately. “If they’d gotten free on their own, they’d have woken the rest of us up. Wouldn’t they?” she continued, only slightly uncertain. She didn’t doubt Spike’s rescue of her and the others at all, but Thranduil and Radagast were unknown quantities and the wizard in particular seemed unpredictable. “They would, right?”
Thranduil thanked the Valar for the ninth time that day for making him an elf of the forests; his many years of shimmying up trees served him well as he climbed nimbly up the sheer face of the cavern toward where Radagast was fixed against its wall. He was still wet from his impromptu dunking when the disagreeable adolescent god with the unhealthy fondness for snakes had allowed him to tumble into the waters below. It had taken all his considerable swimming ability to keep from drowning and instead make his way to the narrow strip of shore, but he had managed it.
The gods had taken the vampire, still bound tightly, and disappeared through the waterfall just discernable at the far end of the cavern; they seemed content to leave their prisoners trussed like fowl waiting for the feast. There was no way he could reach his son and the others, though he would have greatly preferred to free them instead of the wizard, but Radagast was attainable and the others were not. Thranduil prided himself on his acceptance of facts, no matter how harsh they might be. He had not lied when he spoke of his wife; wiping his sweat-damp hand on the seat of his trousers before claiming another hold on the rock he climbed, he idly wondered why not.
“At last,” he muttered upon reaching Radagast, and prayed the little ledges upon which he stood would hold throughout as he slipped a dagger free from its sheath and began carving the wizard from the fabric that bound him. Radagast came awake before he was completely uncovered, and began to struggle until Thranduil told him to be calm; he ceased wriggling but continued to gripe.
“Of all the beings in this accursed place, it would be you… and I have no doubt you will try to apply guilt for my rescue to make me assist your elves in defending the forest.” The one eye that was thus far revealed shot the king a beady glare. “Do not think I will weaken in that regard, for I shall not.”
“I would hope you would be made of sterner stuff,” Thranduil agreed placidly, thinking fondly of how he would like to beat the wizard with his own staff. Like his son, he was a great fan of irony. “Would it not be a tragedy for a span of three thousand years of neglect to be broken?”
“Neglect?” Radagast demanded. “If that is how you see it, elf, then your eyes have failed you.”
“That seems… unlikely,” Thranduil replied smoothly, and cut the last strip. With a smile like the sun cresting the horizon, he watched as the wizard fell away from the wall with a short, sharp cry of surprise to hurtle toward the water hundreds of feet below. “There are such few pleasures to be had in an old elf’s life,” he said happily, and pushed off to follow after his adversary.
He might get to liking this diving thing, he thought consideringly as the wind rushed through his hair. It was quite engaging, and certainly made one’s blood flow faster. Perhaps a trip to the Rauros falls was in order when they returned to Arda… his body barely disturbed the surface of the water when he reached it at last, quite unlike the undignified and enormous splash that Radagast had caused a few moments before.
Reaching out, he grabbed the wizard by the scruff of his rusty-robed neck and began swimming for the shore. Quite the invigorating experience this had been, indeed.
Lle naa hûn nîn, herves nîn, amin mela lle = You are my heart, my wife, I love you