It felt like his head was going to burst open. As his vision slowly returned, Caethir tried to rub his temples but his arms would not obey his bidding. He knew something was wrong, but his thoughts were muddled as with too much ale.
I see trees, but they are laying in rows while the ground is vertical, he thought, frowning.
He tried to move, but in doing so, whatever was restricting him, seemed to tighten its grip.
Then he heard it – a low hissing and the clicking of fangs – and he knew what had befallen him. He was trapped by the Spiders of the Old Forest. Caethir focussed and tried to slow his breathing, conserving energy and enabling his elven poison-resistance to work better.
It doesn’t solve my current predicament, but at least I can think more clearly now, he reasoned.
Only his eyes and nose had not been wrapped by the arachnids, allowing him to breathe and now, to see. The deep, unnatural green light of the Old Forest hid most predators from their prey, but Caethir could make out many spiders scuttling around. Some were busy repairing webs, while others were feeding on other similarly-wrapped victims. That thought, coupled with remnant venom in his system, nearly caused the Elf to vomit.
Don’t draw their attention Caethir!, he rebuked himself.
The Stench of Lebrennil
At long last, feeling returned to his extremities and he realised he was still gripping his dagger in his right hand. He attempted to turn his wrist to discover whether he could begin to cut his way out, but as he began to work the webbing with the blade, a larger spider-form caught his eye. The hulking spider-matron was moving steadily into the centre of, what Caethir presumed to be Weaver’s Den in the heart of the Old Forest. Each of her eight, monstrous legs cast their own hideous shadow, while her jaws clicked menacingly, as though tasting the air for her preferred meal.
The Elf’s heart beat like a resounding drum in his chest as he failed in his attempt to stay calm. At that the matron, turned and hissed in his direction.
Valar help me, it’s Lebrennil! Caethir willed, closing his eyes to the encroaching nightmare.
The musty, poison-infused scent of the spider seemed to choke all life from the air around the Elf and he struggled to breathe.
He cursed the day he learned to understand creatures and his body tensed involuntarily awaiting the inevitable, deathly grip.
A Noisy Intervention
Just when he thought he would be released into the Undying Lands, he heard once more the horn call and beings he could not yet see ran shouting into the fray. The Matron, angered at this intrusion on her kingdom, turned on her assailants, flanked by innumerable minion spiders.
“Begone, creature of the night!”, a man’s voice roared.
There were some squeals mixed with grunts of pain from the invaders and many other sounds of battle. Caethir could not see any of the struggle taking place. He wondered whether he was falling into the hands of another enemy or whether this was his salvation. After a frantic few minutes of overwhelming noise, an ear-piercing hiss erupted followed by a ground-shaking thud. Then all fell silent.
“Everyone alright?”, the male’s now-tired voice questioned.
“Spiders are as disgusting in death as in life, my lord!” another man responded, “My banner is black with their sludge.”
“Banners can be cleaned, Reggie. Your life matters more.” the former voice affirmed, “And you m’lady?”
A slight pause.
“We’re fine, thanks. Now we just need to find him”, a shaken female responded.
Caethir was about to announce his presence when a large black bird, with red tipped-wings flew over to him and hovered, staring straight into his eyes. Then it attacked, jabbing with beak and scratching with claws. Just as he was going to shout for help he realised the bird was not assailing him, but the webbing that surrounded him. Little by little, thread by thread, he felt his prison loosen around him, before he finally rolled out onto the ground, liberated at last.
A New Face and an Old Acquaintance
Groaning he willed his aching body into a sitting position, attempting to breathe the air that was now thick with the scent of the death of what seemed like a million spiders. One of the Men knelt in front of him and lifted Caethir’s face to meet his eyes.
“Glad this stupid journey here was actually worth it, Caethir.” he smiled kindly, “The poison’s almost out of your system, I see.”
The Elf coughed, his throat dry from dehydration. He looked at the battle-worn figure in front of him, his strong shoulders and his greying hair. A man of experience and leadership, whose kindness was tempered with uncountable moments of adversity in the past.
“Who do I thank?” he rasped, “And why do I recognise those green eyes but not the face in which they are set?”
The Man smiled and gave Caethir some of his water to drink.
“You should thank Adso next time you see him, though that might not be for some time. I’m Faeladar and this is my ally Reggie. We need to get you out of here before more spiders get here. Plenty of time for questions once we’re on the move again.”
Caethir turned his head and the Lesser Eagle landed next to him, followed by an elven lady who was dressed in a red and white robe, her long, dark hair braided and tied draped over her shoulder.
“Jo?” he asked frowning.
The lady bent down and offered her hand to him, which he took, gathering the strength to stand.
“My Westron name is no more. Neither is my lute, before you ask. I’m known as Herynglas now.” she stated firmly.
“How long did it take you to get here?” Caethir asked as he re-sheathed his dagger and stretched his leaden arms and legs. He was also eager to change the subject of the conversation.
“Two days, we think. And we don’t know how to get out of the Forest.” Faeladar sighed.
← “Previous: From Fire to Forest