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Release from Bondage

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The princess’s eyes were light and bright as the source of the River Narog, the fair pools of Ivrin for which Lord Gwindor had named her, the green-blue of leaves reflected in clear water. But the eyes of this maiden were brown, dark and deep with fear.

”Is this her?" the orc overseer snarled in the foul language Faron had learned to understand, jabbing at the emaciated elf’s scarred back with the butt of a iron spear. The blow crumpled the last strength in Faron’s knees, and the thrall went from prostrated bow to lying flat on the wet stones of the cavern. Had Angband any poetry, the broken elf would have described himself as a squashed spider. More coal dust flew into his nose and mouth, and after a long pause because he had no energy to breathe or cough out the dirt from his mouth, Faron spat and slid his hands back under his body to push himself from the ground. It was a slow process. The open sores from the missing fingers had started to bleed again, but the pain from his back, from his stomach, from the despair in his heart, overpowered the sensation. He needed to answer the overseer before the orc struck again, before the next finger was taken. The elven thrall, one of the unfortunate thousands in the bowels of Angband, glanced up at the newest arrival.

Faron was not so broken as to misunderstand why he had been dragged forth. Perhaps it would have been kinder if he did not, but kindness was as foreign to Angband as poetry.

Nargothrond had fallen to dragon-fire and the armies of the King of Angband. Its people were either dead or dragged here to the pits beneath Thangorodrim’s triple peaks. The beautiful hidden city that had so impressed and enchanted a much younger and innocent elf was no more but ruins. The enemy had overthrown its gates, desecrated its halls, murdered its inhabitants, and harried its survivors. King Orodreth, gracious and noble, was dead. Faron had loved and sworn loyalty to Orodreth, as he had to King Finrod before him, and now failed them both. If it was true that Lord Gwindor had escaped this dungeon, he was dead now. Hope was forsaken in the pits of Angband, but a detached part of Faron had hoped, like a tiny star shining unseen above the clouds that blocked all light, that the Hidden Kingdom once offering itself as home to a young and half-frightened elf would remain safe and pure. Faron remembered how his fear, that of a young boy away from home, had turned to wonder upon seeing the doors of Nargothrond for the first time. He had no memories of his body dragged from the battlefield through the iron doors of Angband, only waking in terror as the orcs shackled him and brought out the knives and the whip. Faron could no more recognize the proud boy he had once been than he supposed that smiling youth would recognize the wretch cowering before the feet of Angband’s orcs. Angband demanded all from its slaves, all memory of songs and poetry, of clear water and stars, of hope and joy, even their names.

But for all his misery and loss the elven thrall clung to the knowledge that the enemy did not have the Hidden Kingdom. They could not despoil the cliff-face courtyard with delicate stone latticework and pillars in shape of birch-trees where he had once practiced, the cool kitchen storeroom above the underground river where he had hidden from chores, the bedroom in the rangers’ barracks with the reed-patterned rug woven by his mother and older sister where he had slept, or all the places of worn memory that made him weep to recall. Now he would weep for their loss, if he survived to be thrown back into the kennels. Faron never had hope that he would escape and walk through doors of the Hidden Kingdom again, but the destruction hurt all the same. Everyone was dead now, the king and his daughter, the cooks and courtiers, the warriors that had not joined with Lord Gwindor, the other survivors from Tol Sirion. All except the newest slaves, like the girl before him, shivering in fear as two orcs held her upright by the arms.

"Is this the golug princess?” the overseer pressed again, glaring between the broken thrall and the company of orcs that had dragged the new prisoners here. “I thought the ones that sat atop those slag heaps had yellow hair, like the one Gorthaur and his pet wolves killed. Rumors say you swine disobeyed orders, killed the prisoners you were supposed to bring.”

"Rashnuf’s company did that, before getting stupid killed by the cowards in trees. We returned with our spoils. We are not cowards or traitors too fearful to fight," snarled one of the new orcs, unsheathing a blade to lunge at the overseer. The pale elven thrall squealed like a rat and covered his head with his arms, praying that the brawl would end swiftly and his pitiful person be overlooked during yet another of these unending orcish duels that brawled through the caverns of Angband. It was not a relief when the orcs turned on each other, though Faron wished he could be grateful they were so willing to murder each other, for the monsters of Morgoth did not limit their violence once weapons were drawn. The orcs were always fighting with each other and the overseers, during which the slaves and foul creatures like wargs and werewolves were unwillingly drawn into their slaughter. And when the duels ended for every dead orc there was usually two dead slaves. But the tall overseer bellowed, and the orcs all cringed and froze, except of course the one that had raised a mutinous blade, for his body had crumpled to the ground as a natural consequence of having a skull bashed in. The captive elven maiden was screaming, fresh tears from her brown eyes.

"She is the princess," a new orc said, one of the two holding her aloft. "Look at her fine clothes. She was holding a crown when we dragged the golug from their stinking dens.” His tone, from what little the elf could discern, was a blend of confidence and groveling to cover himself, the fear of being wrong subdued by the fear of showing subservience.

The elf maiden was of the same age as the princess; the torn remains of her gown had fine gold embroidery, and her necklace had empty fastenings that probably once held emeralds or other fine gems. The orcs had plundered the gems from the casings, for Faron learned in his long years in the pits that while the orcs could not fashion gemstones, nor anything of beauty, they coveted treasures and even wore them in their own crude fashion, at least the highest among them. The overseer had a single ruby hanging from one ear, which he would fondly tug as he whipped prisoners. He was tugging at the ruby now.

"Slave," he barked, kicking the elf at his feet. "You were once from that stinking rat’s nest. Tell me if this is the princess."

The thrall glanced up at the maiden’s face, pale as bone with dark brown eyes full of fear, dark hair in limp greasy strands around her face, a yellowing bruise above her brow. Faron knew the face behind the fear and injuries, knew who the girl was. Faelindis, those brown eyes were of a girl named Faelindis. The face belonged not in Angband but to the life of the proud elven youth who lived in Nargothrond. A boy named Faron knew that face, a boy named Faron who practiced archery with the ranger company of King Finrod, who hid from the steward in the kitchens along with the other lads and laughed when Edrahil could not find them, who practiced his letters with a friend who died in the werewolf pits of Tol-in-Gaurhoth. The girl’s face belonged to the daughter of the seneschal of Tol Sirion, a young Sindarin girl who was often at the princess’s side as her closest constant companion. That face had often smiled and only cried when teased. Faron remembered when Lord Orodreth brought his family to Nargothrond, first on visits and then permanently after Tol Sirion had been overrun, the seneschal’s daughter following as always in Princess Finduilas’s wake. Her father had died when Tol Sirion was lost, and the girl had smiled less, as everyone smiled less. Still, Faron knew her. Faelindis sat with the princess as they embroidered or gossiped, giggling behind each other’s hands as they watched the rangers and Lord Gwindor practice in the training courtyards. The young women of Nargothrond liked to watch the soldiers practicing swordsmanship and archery, and the young men, a far more carefree Faron among them, had liked the attention, especially from the beautiful and noble. Faelindis had been a slight and dark shadow framing the brilliance of King Finrod’s niece, one of the small smooth rocks that lined the pools to make the waters of Ivrin seem all the brighter and clearer. In a distant sense she was kin, for they were both of the Sindar, though Faron’s family had from the beginning been followers of Lord Círdan, rich and high-ranking mariners who plied the shores of Beleriand, and none of her kin had ever stepped a foot in the ocean. But she was someone from home, someone who recognized his face through the wretched mask Angband had made of it, and he could see the shape of his old name falling from her lips.

"Fael-" he stuttered, stopped, considered. If the orcs and their dark masters thought the girl a Noldor princess, thought she was Finduilas Faelivrin, then she would be a prize kept to taunt the other elven lords, what few were still alive. The enemy enjoyed the use of hostage kin, to drag them out before another and mock their helplessness. There were only a few of Princess Finduilas’s family alive still, an aunt, some distant cousins. But there was no family left for the seneschal’s daughter, and a Sinda of no noble title held no value to the orcs. They wanted slaves that could mine for iron, who could fashion stone for fortresses, or work in the pits tending the beasts. Those they decided were not useful were killed, their bodies fed to the dragons and wargs, or sent to the dungeon bowels where it was rumored more orcs were made. A maid such as her would be sent to the dark spirits that created the orcs, that bred new soldiers for Morgoth in manners the elf thrall shied to think on. It was a foul fate that death would not save her from, for the spirits of elves who died in Thangorodrim would not find release. The Great Enemy had sunk his power into the earth of the Iron Prison, ensnared the souls of all under its shadow, warded it from the freedom of Mandos’s call. Faron would weep if his soul could but find the path to the safety of the Halls, but that was an escape as impossible to reach as one for his physical body.

"Faelivrin," he whispered, staring into those brown eyes, willing her to understand this deception was as close to mercy as he could offer. "She is Princess Faelivrin."