Clutching the glowing crystal in one hand, Rumil
dived beneath the surface of the lake. The cave was dimly illuminated
but beneath the water the world was black and oily and, even with
the torch to light his way, the elf could see nothing. The profound
darkness made him nauseous, but he kept trying, diving down as
deep as he could bear, turning full circle, then coming up to
the surface, taking a great gulp of air, swimming to another spot,
and diving again
But this time his older brother was waiting for him. It
has been too long, muindor nín, said Orophin,
catching him by the arm. Come. Swim back with methe
others are waiting.
No, said Rumil, wrenching his arm free. Dínendal
says that he can be revivedif I can find him, he can be
revived! He tried to swim away.
Orophin grabbed his brothers shoulders and, like a human
adult chastising a child, shook him hard. Dínendal
said, he corrected, that a person can sometimes
be revived if the water is cold enough... But listen.
He nodded his head towards the southern edge of the cave where
an ominous clack-clacking sound was rapidly approaching. More
of the crab-men. We must get the others to safety, little brother.
He is not dead, Orophin. I know he is not dead.
The older elf tightened his grip. If anyone could have
survived, it would have been Haldir, he agreed. But
we have run out of timeRumil! He shook his
brother again. He would have moved us off long before
No! You are talking as though he were dead! cried
Rumil, angrily. He is not! And he would never give
up looking for one of us!
Rumil? Wilawens tearful voice suddenly echoed
across the water. Is there any sign of him?
Rumils normally impish face contorted with grief.
No, shouted Orophin. So we are coming back.
Be ready to move off.
What about Arador? asked Valandil, helping Orophin
bring Rumil ashore.
Nothing, said Orophin. They sat his younger brother
on a rock. He turned to Dínendal. Miruvor?
The healer laid down Haldirs bow, fished in his healing
bag, and brought out a small flask, which he uncorked and handed
to Rumil. Just one sip. We must make it last.
What about Drizzt? asked Valandil.
Gone, said Orophin, strapping on his quiver. He
must have left the moment we began to cross the lake. He
took a sip of cordial and passed the flask to ValandilQuickly.
But without him, said Valandil, or the map...
He handed the flask to Wilawen.
I know, replied Orophin. We will have to trust
Ceryn Manwë! They are almost upon us! Come
Rumilare you ready, Wilawen?
The woman returned the miruvor to Dínendal, and wiped
her wet face with the back of her hand. Yes, she said,
with a sniff. Then she added, Drizzt and the boy showed
me the map, so I may be able to find the tunnel. She scanned
the wall of the cavern. I think it is over there.
She pointed to a shadowy recess towards the souththe direction
from which the noises were coming.
Orophin, said Dínendal, taking up his borrowed
bow, if we leave this cave, we will be blind. Would it not
be better to fight them here, where there is at least some light?
I do not intend us to fight if we can avoid it
The closeness of the noise took them by surprise, and the elves
turned, instinctively raising their weaponsValandil stepped
in front of Wilawen. Can you see them? he whispered.
No... said Orophin, peering into the shadowy maze
I can see one, said Dínendal, sounding unnaturally
calm. He had already nocked an arrow and drawn his bow. Over
by that crooked spireand I think there are two others, further
I see them. Orophin aimed for the centre shape. Valandil,
take the left, Rumil, Dínendal, you take the right. We
must aim between their armour plates.
I cannot see well enough for that, said Rumil.
Then wait. Let them come closer. Do not waste your arrows.
Wilawen dropped to the ground, searching for a weapon, a blade-shaped
stone, which she could use as a dagger if it came to a hand-to-hand
Something moved on the mirror-still surface of the lake.
She crawled closer to the waters edge.
It took Wilawen a moment to understand what she was seeingto
realise that something must be obscuring the light that filtered
down from the ceiling.
Slowly, she raised her eyes.
The creatures charged.
The elves, shooting almost blind, loosed their arrowsand
Orophin must have scored a lucky hit, because the one in the centre
suddenly dropped like a stone but the others, protected by their
living armour, came on, snapping their massive pincers.
Discarding his bow, Valandil drew a short knife and ran at the
creature on the left, ducking under its outstretched arms and
coming in close to its bodytoo close for it to bring its
pincers to bear on him, too low for it to use its beak.
Instead, the thing folded him in its arms, and crushed him to
its armoured chest.
Struggling to breathe, fighting the darkness that was quickly
filling his head, the elf slid his knife point up the creatures
bony casingif he could justyeshe found a chink,
below the things left breast and, willing all his remaining
strength into his hand, he worked the blade into the narrow gap
between the plates, andpraying to the Valar that the creatures
organs were arranged like his ownhe drove it home, ramming
it upwards into the monsters heart.
The creature shuddered, and tightened its arms around him; and,
as the darkness finally claimed him, it seemed to Valandil that
the world was falling away, and that he was spiralling down after it...
Aim for the eyes! shouted Orophin as he, Rumil and
Dínendal took on the rightmost beast.
No! cried Dínendal. Forcing himself
to work slowly, he carefully nocked another arrow, and raised
Haldirs great Galadhrim bow. Aim for the mouth,
he said, inside the beak. The healer took careful
aim, and loosed. Elbereth Gilthoniel...
And his arrow flew true.
Pierced through the back of its throat, the creature took a great
gasp of air and shook its head, coughing and retching, trying
to expel the missile. Then Rumil loosed and, despite the creatures
frantic thrashing, buried a second arrow deep in its gullet. And
Orophin brought the monster to its knees by taking out its eyes
with two rapid shots.
The brothers drew their knives, and moved in for the kill.
DROW! cried Wilawen. Hundreds of drow!
Orophin whirled round, looking up into the roof of the cave.
Dark shapesYes, drow!floating against the
starlit sky, were streaming over the lake, their swords
and poisoned crossbow quarrels at the readyNot hundreds,
thought the elf, but certainly more than enough.
Forgetting the dying hook horror, Orophin took up his bow. Rumil,
Dínendal, ValValandil? His comrade was
buried beneath one of the armoured brutes. Wilawen, see
to Valandilyou two, shoot at will! Make every arrow count.
Just look at that, whispered Rumil. High above the
hovering drow, three massive lizards, bridled like the horses
of the Rohirrim, were running swiftly across the cavern roof,
their dark elf riders hanging upside down in their saddles. This
place is an abomination... Rumil loosed an arrow, narrowly
missing the leading rider but hitting his mount in the thighthough
the creature barely broke its stride.
Beside him, Dínendal drew his bowand held it. To
kill a monster was one thing. But to kill a person, someone
with thoughts and feelings like his ownsomeone with a mother
and, perhaps, a wifewhen he had taken an oath to preserve
Shoot them, Master Healer, cried Orophin, as if sensing
his doubts, they will not scruple to kill you! And,
setting his gentler comrade an example, the brother loosed, and
shot the foremost drow out of the air.
He was lying across the crab mans body, still trapped in
its suffocating embrace.
Blinking back her tears, Wilawen knelt beside him, and touched
his face. He felt cold, but she quickly found a pulse in his neckstrong
and steadyand when she checked his breathing she could see
that, although shallow, it was regular.
Thank the gods for elven resistance to hurt!
Crying with relief now, she tried the break the monsters
Darkness engulfed the three archers.
Keep shooting, cried Orophin. Shoot blind!
We have nothing to lose now!
Gently, Wilawen prised Valandils fingers from the handle
of his knife and pulled the blade from the creatures body.
She could not hope to use an elven sword, but a dagger was becoming
a familiar weapon, and she would defend her betrothed with it
until the drow took her life.
The elves never knew how many of the enemy they killedcertainly
not enoughfor, the moment they ran out of ammunition, the
dark cloud vanished, and they, together with Valandil and Wilawen,
were bombarded by a hail of tiny crossbow quarrels.
Suppose I tell you to mind your own business, said
That would be a terrible waste of good advice.
And you would pay no attention to me, anyway.
You are learning. Arinna leaned forward, and stared
at her intently. I am here because there are people in this
colonypeople I respect, whofor reasons I cannot begin
to understandcare about you and want you to be happy. So...
Arinna counted off the options on her fingers. You can
carry on as you are, betraying Haldirmany people thrive
on the piquancy deceit adds to a relationshipbut,she
glanced around the domestic chaos and raised her hands with a
flourish that Cyllien found particularly annoyingI
do not think that that is the case here.
You can make a clean break with the March Warden, live
alone, and entertain men or elvesor dwarves
Cyllien shot her a murderous look. I am told, said
Arinna, that dwarves make surprisingly tender loversyou
can entertain them wherever and whenever you feel the urge. But
you strike me as the sort of woman that does not do well on her
Cyllien sighed, theatrically.
Well, said Arinna,we have hit a raw nerve.
In that case, and taking all other things into consideration,
I would say that you have only one option left: be faithful to
the March Warden.
What is wrong with him, you foolish elleth? I mean,
apart from the fact that he is not him, (because you can
never have everything), what is wrong with him? Does he beat you?
No! Cyllien was genuinely shocked at the suggestion.
Does he chase other women?
Heno. Cyllien was certainly not going to discuss
the Mistress Perfect problem with this woman. But he leaves
Because he has a job to do. That is how men are. But, goodness,
woman, count your lucky stars! He is handsome. And, if I am any
judge of male flesh at all, he is a decent lover and ready, willing
and able to learn.
Cyllien did not reply.
You elves are designed for openness and innocence,
said Arinna, not for furtive sexleave that
to us humans.
Still she did not reply.
Well, that is all I came to say; so, if you will excuse
me, I will take my leave. There is, after all, no sense in flogging
a dead horse. She picked her way to the door. Thank
you for your generous hospitality.
The Divor Rocks
Straddling the fire trench, Orodreth placed his ear to the soot-stained
wall, closed his eyes, and listened.
Do you really think, asked Malgalad, filling the
trench with new wood, that the dark elves will emerge here
againafter losing so many of their comrades in the flames
I have no idea.
Can you hear anything?
Shhhh! Orodreth let his mind clear and tried
to focus on the unknown world beyond the rock, searching for the
strange, hypnotic chant that he and Camthalion had heard before
the last attack.
He turned to his second-in-command. Our orders are to prevent
another massacre, he said. We do not have enough elves
to seal off the entire ridge, so we have to assume that they favour
this placeand have used it two nights runningbecause
the rocks have some special quality...
Might I make a suggestion, sir?
You could station lookouts at intervals along the foot
of the ridgehide them up in the trees. Then, if the dark
elves emerge elsewhere...
The lookouts can relay a warning to us. Good. Arrange it.
Use our least able warriors and impress on them that their task
is to watch and to raise the alarmthey are not to engage
the enemy until they are sure we have received it.
Arinna walked slowly back to the flet she shared with Camthalion
Should she pay the young stud a visit and warn him off?
No. The oaf was collecting tails. To add a whiff of danger to
this one would merely increase its bragging value. She had said
her piece, planted the seeds of doubt, and she was almost sure
that Cyllien would do the right thing.
But she would keep a discreet watch on the elleth, just to make
As the sun rose above the Divor Rocks, Orodreth gave the order
to stand down. Malgalad and his second lieutenant, a former Ranger,
fell in beside him.
The man stretched his cramped limbs. What now, sir? Shall
I dismiss the lookouts?
No, said Orodreth, rotate themI want
the entire ridge under constant watch. Meanwhile, the rest of
us will look for that tunnel the boy claimed was in the Divor
Do you intend to follow the March Warden, sir?
I will make that decision, said Orodreth, once
we have found a way in.
Cyllien opened the door. The carpenterHeral, though she
had never used his name to his face, and could seldom remember
itgave her his usual impudent smile.
Come in, she said, watching him cross the threshold.
He was talltaller than most elvesand broad, (heavy
when he lay upon her), with a strong-featured, freckled face,
deep blue eyes, and a shock of thick blond hair. Everything about
him was... manlyhe smelled of man, and he moved
as though displaying a permanent erection.
Cyllien bit her lip. Twenty-four hours ago his body had almost
driven her out of her mind. Now the sight of him made her feel
She closed the door. We need to talk, she said, Sit
But the man came up close, backing her against the door and,
placing a hand either side of her head, deliberately used his
size to intimidate her. Talk? Why waste time on talk?
Because there is something I want to say to you. Sit down.
She slipped beneath an arm and escaped to the centre of the room.
Very well. Stand. Cyllien took a deep breath. It
has been enjoyable
Ha! The man laughed. Is that the best you can
Cyllien felt a sudden shiver of fearfor, although his tone
was calm, there was something wild in his eyes, something she
had never seen in him before. At present, she said.
Then let me make sure I understand, because I am only a
stupid man, not an elf princess... He followed her into
the room, and the natural sensuality of his movements only made
him more threatening. You have decided that you
have had enough, and you want to be rid of me?
What was the point of lying? Yes.
The man shook his head. Well that doesnt work for
me. You see, I came here ready for a fuck.
Cyllien took a step backwards. Then I am sorry to disappoint
Oh no. I am not leaving disappointed. He reached
for her hair
But if there was one thing that Cyllien had learned from her
encounters with Wolfram, it was to be prepared and, before the
man could touch her, she had a knife to his groin.
Now, she said, pressing the tip through his woollen
breeches, all I have to do, is slice.
The hand thata moment beforehad been threatening
her, rose in submission.
Good, said Cyllien. Now go. Go, and do not
come back. She shuffled forwards, pushing him across the
room and through the door.
The man stumbled outside. You bitch! he cried. You
crazy bitch! You have not seen the last of me! Just watch out!
Cyllien closed the door, and barred it with a chair.
She pulled open the side-slit in her gown, and sheathed Haldirs
hunting knife in the scabbard she had strapped to her thigh.
Then she sank to the floor, and buried her face in her shaking
Some time later...
Wilawen opened her eyes and, instantly remembering
the danger that surrounded them, tried to scramble to her feet,
but a gentle hand restrained her. Dínendal?
The healer placed a finger to her lips. Try to be quiet,
he whispered. It seems to anger them less.
Where is Valandil?
He is lying beside you, still sleepingit may be some
hours before he wakes. He and the brothers were hit more times
than we were...
The crossbow bolts! Wilawen pushed herself up on her elbowsevery
part of her body seemed to acheand turned onto her side.
In the faint, bluish light, Valandil did, indeed, seem to be sleeping.
She stroked his face. I have never seen him close his eyes
before, she whispered.
It is healing sleep, said Dínendal.
But he was already unconscious before they shot usare
you sure he is all right?
As far as I can be.
Wilawen turned back to the healer. I am sorry; I did not
mean to doubt you.
You are worried about him. That is all. Dínendal
patted her shoulder, supportively.
Where are we? she asked. They were sitting in a smooth,
oval, bowl-shaped object, with a glassy floor that curved up into
low sides topped by a broad ledge. Is this a boat?
I think, said Dínendal, that it is some
sort of shell...
Shell? Wilawen leant over the side, until
the sudden crack of a whip above her head made her pull back,
but she had seen enough.
Dínendal had been right, they were sitting in an enormous
shelllike one half of a vast freshwater musselborne
on the back of a creature that resembled a giant slugWilawen
gagged at the memory of its slime-covered body rippling
along beneath her. And she had briefly glimpsed at least three
others, all driven by whip-wielding drow, and several lizard-mounted
She crawled back to Valandils side.
Wilawen lay on her back, staring up at the roof.
The slugs soft body dampened all sense of movement, so
it seemed as though the tunnel itself were slowly streaming past
her. She had no idea how long she had been awake, nor how much
time had passed since they had been ambushed in the starlit cave,
but she was certain that they must be nearing the end of their
journey, for the blue light was gradually growing brighter and
The roof had stopped moving.
Cautiously, Wilawen shuffled to the rim of the shell and, keeping
her head well inside, peered out.
Gods! she murmured. Dínendal, look at
this... It must be their homeland.
The caravan had paused at the edge of a massive cavernperhaps
two miles across at its widest point, with a great, arched roof
that soared hundreds of feet above its sloping floor. To her left,
Wilawen could see a dense forest of tree-sized mushrooms and,
beyond that, the very tip of what looked like a lake and, to the
right of the lake, carved from the living rock, a citya
Dínendal came up beside her, and she heard him gasp.
The cave was filled with natural rock formations, with spikes
and spiresstalagmites, she had heard her father call themand
hanging spines, and curtains and pillars, and every one of these
forms, it seemed, had been worked uponhollowed out to form
a city of castles, with fluted walls and crenulated battlements,
slender towers and spiralling turrets, every surface carved with
exquisite spider-web patterns, and softly outlined in blue and
mauve and red light.
Spiders, whispered Dínendal. They venerate
spiders as we venerate Nature.
But why have they brought us here? said Wilawen.
Of what use can we possibly be to them?
The boy, Arador, said Dínendal quietly, told
us that their goddess demands living sacrifices. He turned
his back to the city. He thought that surface dwellers might
be considered a special giftparticularly surface elves,
for whom the drow have a deep hatred
They flinched at the sound of the drivers whip, but the
lashes were not directed at them. Slowly, the slug-creature moved
off, silently hauling its cargo down the steeply sloping causeway
that led into the City of Spiders.
After the eerie silence of the rest of The Underdark, the sudden
din of a market place took Wilawen by surprise. Dínendal...
The healer, who was making one of his regular examinations of
the sleeping elves, placed Rumils hand back on his chest
and crept up beside her. Do you have any ideas? she
They heard the driver shout, and turned to see him gesturing
to someone on the ground. Moments later a ladder appeared, and
whoever was holding it tried, unsuccessfully, to hook it over
the rim of the shell.
Dínendal took hold of Wilawens hand. I
cannot leave my patients, he said softly, and... And
I would advise you not to try to run. Not yet.
Wilawen squeezed his fingers. Do not worry...
There were more shouts; the driver gesticulated, then he rose
up, climbed over the back of his seat, walked nimbly along the
shells edge and guided the hooks into position.
Immediately, two dark elves swarmed up the ladder. One drew a
long, slender blade and, hooking it under Dínendals
chin, forced him away from Wilawen. The other grabbed her by the
arms. You come, he said, in heavily accented, broken
Westron, or we kill. He gestured towards Dínendal,
and his cohort grabbed the elf by the hair.
No! said Wilawen. I will come with you.
The drow shoved her towards the ladder.
Take careand look after Valandil for me, she
said to Dínendal. Then she added in a whisper, Goodbye
With difficulty she climbed onto the rim of the shell and swung
herself onto the first rung. The ladder curved over the slugs
body, and, for the first part of the climb, she lay horizontal,
her face just inches from its spotted, slimy skin. Closing her
eyes, she worked her way downwards until she felt someone seize
her by the waist, and let him lift her the rest of the way.
Not until her feet were firmly on the ground did she open her
eyes, and her first impression was of chaosmarket stalls,
some built from stone, some from bone and hide, stretching as
far as she could see (in the dim light), packed with familiar
and unfamiliar waresthe narrow spaces between them seething
with creatures of every size and shape and smell that Wilawen
The newcomer grasped her arm and held it tightly.
She risked a glance at him.
He was a male drow, taller than Drizzt, but thina scholar,
perhaps, or, judging by his exquisitely embroidered cloak and
his elaborately dressed hair, a courtierat any rate, not
The drow who had threatened Dínendal came down the ladder
and padded into one of the tent-like stalls. The courtierquite
gentlypushed Wilawen inside and, holding her at arms
length, scrutinised her, turning her head this way and that, checking
her eyes, her ears, grasping her chin and opening her mouth so
that he could examine her tongue and her teeth, holding her hands
up to the light to inspect her fingernails, and, finally, grasping
her skirt and lifting it
Wilawen slapped his face.
The trader snatched up his whip, but the courtier merely laughed
and waved the other drow away.
There was a brief interchange of wordsand Wilawen realised
that the pair were haggling over herthen the courtier handed
the trader a pouch of money and said, in perfectly pronounced
Westron, Leave us.
The trader held up his hand, fingers spread.
Then I shall be quick, said the courtier. Go.
He turned to Wilawen.
Wilawen backed away.
You have nothing to fear, he said, not as yet.
He reached inside his cloak, drew out a small object and, holding
it towards her, moved his free hand, weaving his fingers in a
strange pattern, whilst reciting some sort of chant. When he came
to the end, he smiled, and bowed as if expecting applause, and
Wilawen realised that, try as she might, she could not move her
Come, said the drow, at the very least we must
bathe you, and time is short.
Then he gestured towards the street, and Wilawen had no choice
but to step out into the crowd.