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Thranduil's Shadow  by Mimi Lind

23. Bloodstained

Amon Rûdh, First Age 489

Thranduil morosely peeled the brown bulb and took a bite of its yellow flesh. He had liked them at first, the potatoes as the dwarf called the underground roots, but since they had almost nothing else to eat during the winter he had soon grown tired of them. Boiled tubers were a meagre substitute to the varied diet back home in Doriath. There, they probably had just finished the Autumn Hunt and their storages would be full to the brim with cured and dried meats, fried and smoked fish, berry- and fruit preserves, dried apples and bushels of hazelnuts.

The dull food the dwarf supplied was one of the many disadvantages of this place; the damp, constant chill of the cave was another, and the presence of a dozen unwashed humans a third. 

No elves except Thranduil and Beleg lived inside the mountain; their dwarf host had refused to accept anyone else. It was Túrin who insisted on having his friends there, or they would probably have been banned as well. 

The rest of the march-wardens resided in a permanent camp by a strip of forest some ten miles north of Amon Rûdh, not far from the Crossing of Teiglin. There were also several human camps along the Old South Road, full of new recruits who had heard about the Land of Helm and Bow and their two great captains. Like the original Outlaws, these were outcasts and dispossessed, attracted by the opportunity to prove themselves valiant and worthy, and to become part of the realm of Lord Gorthol – the Dread Helm.

In order to control all these elves and men, Túrin had promoted several of the original Outlaws to unit leaders, who now lived in the outer camps. The Amon Rûdh hill served as a hub to coordinate those companies, with Thranduil and Beleg working as sentries on its top, spotting any enemy movements from afar and alerting the unit leaders with their horns. The sound carried well over the open landscape and could easily be heard even at the farthest camp, which was a good two hours’ walk from the hill.

The downside of this arrangement was that whenever Thranduil and Beleg had to come inside to eat or rest, they were obliged to assign human sentries, despite the limited eyesight of that race. The elves would usually spend nine or ten hours each on their post, which meant that some hours every day there would only be human lookouts – such as now, during supper. But as long as no more elves were allowed inside the hill, there was no helping it. 

Spending so many hours on sentry duty meant that Thranduil had not taken part in any actual fights for a long time, which made his days beyond dull – another downside of the arrangement. 

Across the table, Beleg was trying for the umpteenth time to persuade Túrin to leave Amon Rûdh. He needlessly spoke in a subdued voice; the men at the other table were drowning all sounds with their ear-splitting clamour. They were talking, clattering with their eating knives and belching, being just as disgusting and annoying as only they knew how.

“We have become too numerous; these lands cannot support so many. It was well as long as there were just your Outlaws and fifty march-wardens, but now with all the newcomers joining us, we will soon count two hundred.” Beleg lowered his voice even further, and Thranduil strained his ears to hear. “The settlers around the Old South Road are complaining that our men are hunting game on their grounds, and I fear some may be tempted to do worse… perhaps begin to raid storehouses again. You cannot be everywhere and control everyone, and these humans were criminals after all, most of them.”

“It will not happen. They know I would punish such behaviour severely.” Túrin put his arm around the elf’s shoulder. ”You worry too much, old friend. Stop sounding as if our numbers are a disadvantage! When was the last time a larger orc host tried to cross the Teiglin? You can’t remember, right? That is how long it was. The orcs hear the sound of our horns and run like their pants are on fire.”

“And you worry too little, boy.” Beleg frowned. “Do not think Morgoth is so easily intimidated. Aye, you have burnt his fingertips the past years, but he still has his main host and he will retaliate, do not fool yourself into believing otherwise. This is not a good place to keep a large army, and not only because of the lack of food. It is too open, and Amon Rûdh is too conspicuous and hard to defend. Unlike Dimbar and the northern marshes of Doriath, this–” 

“It’s perfect! And it’s mine.” Túrin interrupted. “I am not returning to Doriath and I wish you would stop bringing that up all the time!” He left his half-finished potato and angrily stomped out.

Beleg met Thranduil’s gaze and shook his head. “I never knew someone could be so stubborn,” he muttered. 

In a dark corner of the room, Mîm smirked with glee, as always when Túrin and Beleg quarreled. The dwarf was plainly jealous of their friendship.

Túrin was the only person Mîm seemed to like, and the young man treated him respectfully in return – though Thranduil could not for the world understand why. 

Their shady dwarf host was high on his growing list of disadvantages of this place.

.

“I wonder why Mîm has not come back yet. It is almost dark.” Túrin glanced at the passage to the entrance door. “I hope nothing bad has happened to him.”

Thranduil stifled a grimace. If the dwarf never returned, none would be happier than he, but Túrin had a soft spot for the creature.

“The dwarf knows these lands like the inside of his pockets; he can take care of himself,” Beleg retorted. The lack of love between the dwarf and the elf was mutual.

“He never stays out this long. He’s been gone since dawn. I mean, how long can it take to gather some roots?”

“Perhaps he – unlike you – realises we have grown too many, and decided to take his potatoes and his son elsewhere,” said Beleg wryly.

“He would never do that. We are friends.”

“Friends.” Beleg snorted. “One of your men killed his other son when you first came here, right? He tolerates you, perhaps even likes you, but he will never be your friend.”

“You are wrong.” Túrin locked eyes with the elf until he dropped his gaze. Not many could win a staring contest with the young man.

“I just want you to be careful.” Beleg sighed, rising from the table. It was his turn to take the first watch this night.

“I am. And I am also a good judge of character.”

There was a noise from outside, like stones rattling on the hillside. 

“It is probably just Mîm returning. I will check.” Túrin left through the narrow passage, but quickly returned, his cheeks flushing. “Orcs! The hill is swarming with them!”

“But how?” Beleg jumped up, scrabbling for his sword and bow. “The sentries–”

“Dead. One lay just outside the door, shot through his head with a black arrow.” Túrin hurriedly donned his dragon helmet. 

Around them, the Outlaws were all on their feet and the room filled with the clang of metal as swords and axes were gathered.

“The dwarf!” Beleg growled. “He led the orcs here! I knew it.”

“You don’t know that,” Túrin snapped. “Anyway, the enemy is trying to climb the hill, but the door is invisible so we should be safe. Let us take the inner stairs to the top and you can shower arrows on them from above. That should teach them.”

If the dwarf betrayed us they know where the door is, and the password too. We must barricade it, or they will come at us from two sides.”

“He didn’t! But sure, if you insist.” 

Together with the men, they rolled a large stone before the door. 

“Waste of time,” Túrin grunted.

“Better safe than sorry.”

With the entrance safely locked, they hurried up the narrow stairs in a single file and came out on the flat summit. Thranduil cast one look down and felt his stomach twist. Swarming indeed! Amon Rûdh was dotted with crawling, climbing orcs, possibly a hundred or more, making it resemble a giant anthill. How had they got here unnoticed?

Beleg drew his great bow and began to shoot orcs in quick succession, but for every one tumbling down with shrill shrieks, two more took its place. A few of the Outlaws were fairly decent archers and helped the elf, while those armed with swords and axes joined Thranduil and Túrin to push back all who came over the edge. 

The defenders might have managed to hold the hill, had not the enemy been equipped with bows as well. The flat top was too open, with nothing to cover behind, and the orcs too many. One by one the Outlaws were shot down, and despite Beleg’s best efforts, the number of orcs who managed to reach the top increased. Thranduil and Túrin were soon hard pressed.

At last Beleg lay down his great bow and drew his sword. “Retreat to the stone,” he cried.

Those still on their feet obeyed, falling back to a boulder in the middle of the summit. They formed a circle with their backs against it, desperately holding the horde at bay.

Thranduil was engaging three orcs simultaneously now, sweating profusely and bleeding from several nicks and cuts, and in his ears his pounding pulse drenched all other sounds. He had never been in a more dire, desperate situation before, but for some reason he was not afraid. His heart sang, and his blood rushed, and he felt alive in a way the tedious days on sentry duty had failed to provide. Of course, he knew that the feeling would not last, he would not be alive much longer. Still, if he was going to die he preferred it happening like this, taking as many foes with him as he could.

A sharp sting in his calf made Thranduil lose his footing. Dropping down on one knee, he managed to destroy two of the orcs he fought, leaving him with one opponent for a while. He risked a quick glance to see how the others did. Only Beleg and three Outlaws were still standing. Túrin lay on the ground, caught in a crude net and disarmed, but unhurt as far as Thranduil could tell. They wanted him alive, then. He was not sure that was an advantage – Morgoth was known to do horrible things to his captives, and Túrin had annoyed him for a long time. Burnt his fingers, as Beleg had put it.

Thranduil returned his full attention to his foe, which had been joined by two fellows. He tried to rise, but his throbbing leg would not hold his weight and he sank back on his knees. They must have teared his muscle badly, but he did not think the bone was broken.

An orc slashed his curved sword in a wide arc, and from his awkward position Thranduil could not reach to parry it. He ducked, avoiding a possibly mortal hit, but did not entirely escape the blade. A line of burning pain sprang up from above his ear to his forehead, and blood trickled into his eyes, making it hard to see. 

He dodged a new sword stroke, but the action brought him in the reach of another orc. Its hard boot blew the air from his lungs, flooring him. Before Thranduil could scramble back up, a decapitated Outlaw collapsed on top of him, knocking his breath out a second time and nearly crushing him under his weight. 

Beleg jumped forward, cutting down one of Thranduil’s antagonists with his mighty Anglachel, the black sword King Thingol gave him many years ago. Thranduil helplessly looked on from the ground, his view rose-tinted from his own blood and that of the dead Outlaw. 

With another swipe, Beleg managed to beat the sword out of the second orc’s hand. That did not help much, for new orcs were crowding in on him from all sides. Dismayed, Thranduil realised his friend was alone; there were no more Outlaws standing. 

A net like the one they had used on Túrin was thrown over the elf, tangling him, and then it did not take long until he lay disarmed beside his friend.

Thranduil did not move, even to roll out from under the corpse. Maybe if they believed him dead, he could somehow sneak up on the orcs and set Beleg and Túrin free. 

Snickering and jeering, the ugly creatures dragged Beleg to a flat part of the ground. They hammered four iron pegs into the rock and bound him to them, his arms and legs splayed out like a cross. 

“Leave him alone!” Túrin cried, thrashing against his own bonds.

“Oh, we will,” replied one of them in a heavy accent. “He’s for the dwarf to toy with.” It laughed evilly.

“Mîm? Why would he want Beleg?” The young man’s eyes widened in disbelief.

“No idea. Perhaps he fancies him? He asked for him as payment for showing us the way, and for telling us when your pretty elf mates weren’t watching.”

Thranduil swallowed. So this was how the orcs had managed to catch them unawares. If only he and Beleg had not been so predictable, and avoided eating and sleeping on fixed hours! 

“He betrayed me,” Túrin whispered, tears coming into his eyes. 

How young he was, and how naïve. Of course the dwarf had betrayed him, just like Beleg predicted.

“Well, he did want you to be set free. Not that we ever intended to do that.” It smirked, revealing a row of crowded fangs.

“Oy! Look here. A stair,” wheezed another orc. It had found the entrance.

“Finally. A way down to the good stuff.” The other’s eyes gleamed with greed. It picked Túrin up and flung him across its shoulder like a sack, disappearing into the hill. The rest of the surviving orcs followed suit, and soon cheers and sounds of furniture breaking echoed up from below as they ransacked the place. Good riddance to them; Mîm had no riches, all they would find was potatoes and spare clothes.

Sure enough, it did not take long until the echoes died out and the hill became quiet again. Straining his ears, Thranduil caught a muffled trample when the orcs walked off in silence, probably to avoid notice by the outer camps. They were heading north of course, returning to Angband with their loot and their captive.

Beleg was desperately trying to wrestle free of his bonds, cursing under his breath. Thranduil rolled the dead man aside and started to move towards his friend, but the sound of footsteps on the stairs made him freeze and hold his breath.

The door opened and Mîm stepped out. As he caught sight of the fettered elf, his face cleaved into a spiteful smirk. “Ahh, there you are. My payment.” He drew a short blade from a scabbard in his belt. Thranduil recognised it; it was his eating knife.

“You treacherous bastard. This is how you repay the kindness you have been shown?” Beleg’s voice was matted with contempt. 

“They took my son. I had no choice.” 

“There is always a choice to do what is right.”

“Well, in all honesty… I had a choice. I went to them deliberately.” A slow grin spread on Mîm’s lips. “Morgoth’s spies have been coming here for months, a few at a time, hiding all over the place. I knew exactly where they were, of course, they could not hide from me. But you… Oh, you elves think you’re so clever! But you had no idea they were here. No idea!” The dwarf picked up a stone and began to sharpen his knife with slow, deliberate movements.

“You do not want to do this. Release me so I can go after the boy and free him. He may even forgive you.”

“No, I think I do want to do this. I’ve looked forward to it, actually. One can have so much fun with a knife.”

“Coward,” spat Beleg.

“Maybe. Maybe I am a coward. But nobody will ever know, for you will soon be unable to prattle. It’s difficult to speak without a tongue.”

Thranduil realised he had to act before it was too late; any moment now the dwarf would cease his gloating and begin to hurt his prisoner. As silent as possible, he crawled closer, wincing in pain when his damaged leg was dragged over the uneven ground. 

It went excruciatingly slow, and his head throbbed. How deep was the cut? He tried to shake off a sudden bout of dizziness. 

The dwarf crouched with his back turned to Thranduil, bending over Beleg’s outstretched form. He stroked the elf’s face with his knife, letting it caress the other’s eyelid and then his lips. “Why are you shivering, pretty elf? Don’t you like it? Perhaps it’s a man’s spear you prefer? I know your kind. An abomination, is what you are. Your lustful looks at the young man made me sick!”

“I never thought of him that way! He is like a son to me! Let me go. Please,” begged Beleg. There was a desperate tone in his voice now, the fear finally growing too strong for him to hide it. 

Suddenly Thranduil hated the dwarf for humiliating Beleg so. He was the greatest archer of Doriath, a renowned captain, famous in all of Beleriand. This was unworthy.

The anger infused Thranduil with new strength and he clumsily came on his feet, supporting his weight on his good leg.

A weapon. He needed a weapon. He caught sight of a sword and fought to wrench it from its dead owner’s cold fingers.

“I know what I saw,” said Mîm, and suddenly sliced a long gash in each of Beleg’s cheeks. ”Not so pretty now, are we? I wonder how you’ll look without a nose.” 

Beleg clenched his teeth and closed his eyes. His breaths were quick and shallow.

Thranduil had finally managed to free the sword and awkwardly charged, hopping on one leg.

Mîm turned around, crying out in surprise and pain when the sword sank deep into his shoulder. He scuttled backwards on all fours like an upturned crab, and when at a safe distance, jumped to his feet and fled towards the exit with a trail of blood in his wake. Thranduil tried to follow but lost his balance and tumbled heavily to the ground. Thankfully Mîm did not see that, he had already disappeared into the hill and slammed the door behind him.

Thranduil wormed his way over to Beleg and cut him free.

“Thank the Valar you are alive!” Beleg grasped his shoulders briefly. Then he noticed the injuries. “Damn. Are you alright?”

“Don’t worry,” Thranduil mumbled. The dizziness from before had returned. “Go after the dwarf. Kill ’im.”

“He is no threat anymore. When I am not tied down like a drying deer pelt he cannot harm me. And you need to be sorted out before you lose all the blood you got.”

“You’re bleedin’ too,” said Thranduil unsteadily. Why was he suddenly so tired?

“It is not deep. Just a scratch. Now, let me look at you.”

Neither of them wished to go back inside the hill – though they were fairly certain Mîm was far away, licking his wounds in a remote cave somewhere. Instead Beleg ripped off a piece of the hem of his shirt and used that to wipe off the blood, singing a healing spell as he worked. 

It felt good to be tended to. Thranduil closed his eyes, feeling his slashed temple close under the other’s fingers. The cut did not disappear entirely, but the bleeding stopped. 

His calf was a harder match even for someone with Beleg’s gift of healing; the wound was deep and like Thranduil had suspected, much of the muscle was ruptured.

His friend did his best with what he had available, splintering and binding the leg temporarily.

“There. All set. Our healers at the camp can fix it more permanently.”

“Nay. I have to follow the orcs. Túrin–”

“I shall go after him. You need a healer.”

Thranduil sat up. “I feel much better now. I am coming with you.”

“Don’t be so stubborn. You are in no state to walk.”

“I will use a cane.”

They stared at each other, neither of them willing to yield.

“Alright,” Beleg said at last. “Perhaps they can heal you on the way, then.”

With some effort, they began to descend along a narrow footpath, which wound its way steeply down the side of the hill. It was slow going, with Thranduil leaning heavily on Beleg’s shoulder.

After a short while, Beleg spoke in a subdued voice: “Did you… Did you hear what the dwarf accused me of?”

“I did, but I did not believe him,” Thranduil assured him. 

“Thank you,” said Beleg simply.

“Actually… If anyone had that sort of feelings for Túrin, I would say it was the dwarf. Whenever you two were talking his eyes would turn black with jealousy.”

Beleg chuckled. “No wonder he called me an abomination. Know others and know yourself.”

They had almost reached the ground, when suddenly flames erupted in several places in the distance, painting the night sky an eerie orange.

“The camps…!” gasped Thranduil, nearly losing his footing. 

“The orcs must have ambushed them. Damn. Damn! ” Beleg broke into a run and Thrandul limped after him as fast as he could, only pausing briefly to cut a crude crutch from a young birch.

When Thranduil finally arrived at the first camp a couple of hours later, he was dripping with sweat and faint from exertion and blood loss. The sun was rising over the Doriath treetops in the east, illuminating the near total destruction the orcs had rendered.

Pausing to take in the grisly scene, Thranduil felt bile rise in his throat. “No…” he whispered, hardly believing what he saw.

The fire had smothered when it reached the living trees of the forest, but nothing remained of the camp. No cabins, no storages, no laundry peacefully drying on lines, no elves. The stench was horrible, a sickening blend of burnt flesh and smoldering wood.

Beleg stood among the ashes of a building, now only a skeleton of charcoal, raking out pieces of bone from under it. He had already gathered a large pile. Together, fifty elves contained a lot of bones.

“How stupid I was!” he half-growled, half-sobbed when he caught sight of Thranduil. “Why did I not blow the horn from the hill directly when the orcs attacked? I was these elves’ captain and sentry. They trusted me to warn them.”

“Why didn’t I? Neither of us were thinking clearly, and besides, we were fighting for our lives at the time.” 

“Yes but afterwards, once you had cut me loose… But all I could think of was Túrin and how to save him.”

“Do not torment yourself. It is what it is.” But Thranduil did not even believe that himself. Why had they not sounded the alarm? It was unforgivable.

.

After burying the bones of their friends in a shallow trench, the two ellyn followed the orc trail for many days. The journey was the bleakest Thranduil had ever experienced. Everywhere they came, the orc band had killed, burned, plundered and taken hostages. Sometimes they found the remains of such victims along the road; mutilated, tortured wretches whose wounds had finally become too much for them.

Thranduil’s head was healing well, but his leg hurt all the more. For lack of rest it grew worse with each passing day, until every step was pure agony. He figured he probably deserved being tormented and kept his mouth firmly shut about it. 

Beleg was silent as well. Mîm’s knife cuts on his cheeks had left ugly scars, and his once so beautiful face now looked grim and dangerous. The two of them were like a couple of ghosts; not talking, not sleeping, barely eating, just trudging on endlessly. 

They reached the Crossing of Teiglin and turned northeast, and then after a while the Ford of Brithiach. On the other side, the trail went north through Dimbar and the Pass of Anach, one of the more desolate routes into Morgoth’s lands. 

In the mountains the orc tracks were much harder to follow. Thranduil began to worry they had lost the trail, but if so, there was not much to do about it. On the other side was the desert of Anfauglith; if not sooner, they would without doubt be able to spot the orc host in that open landscape. 

Onward they went, day after day, and often a good part of the nights as well.

Then, one afternoon, they finally found something which broke the monotony. An elf.

Coming closer, they saw that the poor ellon was just barely alive. He was starved, with hollow cheeks and large eyes, and a soiled bandage covered his arm.

When the ellon noticed them, his face brightened. “Have you any food?” he asked.

“I have lembas.” Beleg picked up a packet of waybread from his satchel; it had remained almost untouched since they left Amon Rûdh. Neither of them had had any appetite.

The elf quickly devoured the food, as if he had not been fed for years. Between the mouthfuls, he told them his name was Gwindor and that he came from Nargothrond originally. During the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, he had been among the first to charge against the Gates of Angband, but sadly he and his followers had all been killed or taken captive. Since then he had been forced to slave away in Morgoth’s dark mines.

“For seventeen years I toiled there, until I finally managed to overcome my guards and escape. I lost my hand in the process, but gained my freedom so I dare say it was a fair exchange.” Gwindor uncovered his arm, which looked horrible. He had pulled a leather thong tightly around the stump to stop the blood flow, but the uneven cut was dirty and wet. 

Beleg again proved himself a gifted healer. He removed the thong and cleaned the wound with fresh water, while singing a spell to seal it. Afterwards he dressed the arm in clean linen, this time a contribution from Thranduil’s shirt.

The food and healing strengthened Gwindor considerably. When they told him where they were heading, he decided to follow them, even though it was back whence he had come. “I am probably safer in your company,” he figured.

And thus, onward they went, one elf stronger.

By dawn the next day, the three of them had come to the edge of the forest and stood on a crest which overlooked the Anfauglith wastelands, and there, just below, they saw the orcs at last. They were setting up their camp, driving the prisoners into the centre with cruel whips and placing warg sentries all around the area.

“Damn,” muttered Thranduil. He hated wargs.

“If it is only wargs I can handle them. An arrow through the eye, and they will not even know what hit them,” Beleg replied. “The sun is rising, the orcs will probably sleep soon. Let us bide our time.”

It seemed, however, these orcs had no plans of sleeping. Ladened with food and drink from their plunderings, they drank and feasted, and for entertainment they played with their prisoners. 

“There… it is him!” whispered Thranduil. “They are tying him to a tree.” It was far away, but yet he was sure it was Túrin.

“The monsters! It looks like they are throwing things on him,” growled Beleg.

“Knives. They throw knives around his head, as a game. See? They aim to miss.” Thranduil stared in dismay at the horrible display below.

In the evening, the orcs finally fell asleep, drunk and exhausted from all carousing. The three onlookers waited another few hours, until the sun had set and they could sneak forward in the protection of darkness.

After a while they saw the first warg sentry some way ahead, a black silhouette against the pale grey desert. They had come up to it on silent feet and against the wind; it had not noticed them. 

Beleg drew his bow and released an arrow. Almost without a sound the warg toppled to the ground. 

Thranduil squeezed his friend’s shoulder in appreciation of his skill, before they continued onwards. The next warg in their path met the same fate as its comrade, and so did the third. 

They had reached the lonely tree now. Túrin lay slumped against its base, stripped of his shirt and coat, and a score of shafts from the orcs’ knife throwing game protruded from the rough tree trunk around him. His face looked haggard and worn, and his arms and back were covered in what appeared to be lashes from a whip. Thranduil’s chest contracted painfully at the sight, and he wished he had had a huge army behind him, so he could pay the orcs back for every cut and every nick on Túrin’s body.

The young man seemed unconscious, and did not move when Beleg bent over him to check his pulse. “He lives,” he whispered. Drawing his black sword, he swiftly cut Túrin free. 

At the sound of metal slicing through rope, Túrin’s eyes popped open and he hissed in shock when he saw Beleg bent over him, his sword drawn. He clearly did not recognise his friend in the darkness, and threw himself at the imagined enemy. 

A desperate wrestling followed. Thranduil vainly tried to pull them apart; in the dim light it was impossible to see which arm or leg belonged to who.

Túrin had always been a strong, adept fighter, and even now after days of torment and starvation he managed to overcome his opponent. He snatched Anglachel from Beleg’s hand and drove the sword deep into the elf’s chest. 

Emitting a horrible, gurgling noise, Beleg fell and became still, lying on his back in a growing pool of blood. 

“Túrin…” he gasped. 

“No…!” Too late, the young man recognised his friend, and understood what he had done.


A/N:

Túrin is cursed indeed; everything goes against the poor boy… Next, he shall have to flee again, but in his new home a certain messenger from Círdan will arrive – and I think you all know who she may be!

Note: I've now added all my pre-written chapters from AO3, so from now on I'll update when I've finished a new chapter. Usually every two weeks or so, because the chapters are long and I research them a lot, which takes time. :)





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