Disclaimer: I don’t own Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, the Hobbit, or anything owned by the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; that all belongs to his heirs. I’m going to be using the book’s timeline for the “LotR” sections of this story, but as I’m coming to like the movie version of The Hobbit more than the book, that’s the one I’m going to be using for the relevant sections there. This, as you might have suspected from the summary, is an AU. As well, this story marks my first serious foray into the Lord of the Rings fandom.
My first humorous foray was some time ago. ;)
All the roads to walk
When he returned to the Enemy’s fastness of Dol Gūldor, leading Saruman and Radagast into the deep places of the fortress, Gandalf could not help the worry that he felt. He had seen Aulėndil in this place before; seen his fellow Istar chained at hand and neck in the lowest dungeons of the ruined tower, and while he had no desire to see such a thing again, he was determined that none of their own would be left in such a place. Particularly not within the very stronghold of one of the Enemy’s most powerful servants.
Not in the citadel of the Witch-king, even abandoned as it had been for so long.
The three of them moved quickly through the corridors of the ruined fortress, and Gandalf allowed the sense that he had developed of Aulėndil and where he was to guide his movements. He found, however, that while he could sense his younger-looking friend down in one of the lower dungeons, he could also sense – if a great deal more weakly – another place where Aulėndil might have been. It was merely a shadow, an echo, of his friend’s presence.
Clearly, it was something created by the Witch-king; made to confound anyone who had come to this place with the intent to bring Aulėndil out of it.
Dismissing the echo of Aulėndil’s presence, Gandalf continued on his way deeper into the dungeons of Dol Gūldor.
Soon, he had found Aulėndil himself. The form of his student was not restrained in any fashion this time, but given Aulėndil’s condition when Gandalf had discovered that his presence in Dol Gūldor was not in fact because he had chosen to side with the Enemy – heavily emaciated, lips cracking from dryness, his golden-yellow eyes already beginning to develop a milky film – Gandalf found that he was not surprised to find him in such a state.
As he knelt down beside Aulėndil’s crumpled form, pulling back the ragged sheet that had been carelessly thrown over it, Gandalf gently brushed his long, matted hair away from his face.
No… I have said this before, Witch-king: I will not serve you and your Master! No matter what you do to me.
I am very glad to hear that, Aulėndil, he said, gently stroking the upturned left side of his student’s face. I am sorry, though, for what you have suffered here.
…Olórin? Aulėndil moved fitfully; Gandalf’s eyes narrowed, as he caught sight of the small pool of blood beneath the right side of his friend’s head. …No. No; I am still dreaming. I will not yield to you, Morgoth! Do you hear me?! …I will not…
Take what rest you need, Aulėndil, he said, continuing to stroke his friend’s face for another moment, before gently rolling his student over on his back.
The right side of Aulėndil’s face was smeared with blood – both old and new – and as Saruman and Radagast both settled down on either side of him, Gandalf gently wiped his student’s face as clean as he could manage with the sheet that had been so carelessly thrown over him. What he found there, under the blood and the matted hair that had been stuck to it, made him feel a deep swell of sorrow and pity.
And rage also, but that was all directed at the Enemy and his servants.
“Eru, have mercy on the boy; he tries so hard to be of service,” Radagast said, gently stroking the right side of Aulėndil’s face; the side that was almost entirely covered in old, dried blood.
That side was beginning to become covered with fresh blood, as it dripped sluggishly from the empty socket that had once held Aulėndil’s right eye.
…Aiwendil? Curumo? … I am not dreaming?
“No, Aulėndil, you are not,” Saruman said, firmly but kindly all the same. “Come,” Saruman continued, directing his attention toward himself and Radagast, then. “We should see to it that the youngest of our Order is removed from this place as swiftly as possible.”
As Saruman gathered Aulėndil into his arms, as gently as was possible considering their need for haste, Gandalf turned his attention back to the shadow of his friend’s presence that he had previously sensed.
“You have sensed it as well, haven’t you, Gandalf?” Saruman said, nodding once to him. “There is something else in this place; go and find it, Radagast and I will attend to Aulėndil.”
“Yes,” he said, bowing slightly.
The sense of Aulėndil’s presence, that echo that he had sensed when the three of them had first come into this horrid place, lead Gandalf deeper into the abandoned fortress. As he felt Saruman and Radagast leaving Dol Gūldor with Aulėndil, Gandalf breathed more easily; not only would his student be safe from whatever terrors remained within this – the Enemy’s own stronghold – but he would also be able to track the echo of his student’s presence more easily.
Following the echo as quickly as he could, Gandalf found himself making his way into the deeper parts of Dol Gūldor; deeper even than the dungeon that he had found Aulėndil in, deep into the pits under the fortress. There, he began to hear the sounds of a creature in despair, as well as the light steps of a wolf. It was the wolf, oddly enough, that carried the echo of Aulėndil’s presence. He knew well that his student favored wolves above most other animals, but this animal felt… tainted in some way.
It did not sound like any kind of Warg that he had ever heard, but for all that it did not feel akin to one of the wolves that his student was so fond of.
Moving farther, deeper under the fortress that the Witch-king of Angband had erected in service to his Dark and terrible master, Gandalf found himself coming down to the largest of the pits underneath the fortress. There, he found an old Dwarf – clearly tortured and seemingly mad – and a snarling wolf pacing around him. The wolf snarling and circling the Dwarf bore far more than merely a passing resemblance to the form Aulėndil wore when he traveled as a wolf, and as Gandalf moved closer to the pitiful form of the Dwarf, he saw that this new wolf was just gathering itself to leap.
Grabbing the wolf by the scruff of its neck, just as it had completed the apex of its leap, Gandalf watched the creature writhe and twist in his grip. It seemed as if the wolf was more interested in the Dwarf than anything else, and when he looked toward the pitiful form of the Dwarf in the largest pit, he found that he bore the marks of a wolf’s cruel teeth.
“Be still, fell creature!” he commanded, roughly shaking the writhing wolf he held by the scruff of the neck.
“You… you are not one of his,” the Dwarf said, looking at him with eyes that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Aulėndil’s during the time he had first discovered his student chained and starving in the dungeons of this place.
“No; no, I am not,” he paused for a moment, feeling a great swell of pity for the Dwarf down in the pit before him. He didn’t allow such a thing to show on his face, of course; Dwarves were a proud people, and even one in such a state as this would not appreciate a show of pity. “Do you think you can stand, Master Dwarf?”
“No… no, I do not think I will be leaving this place, old wizard,” the ragged, haggard Dwarf said, turning a look of furious distain on the wolf still weakly struggling in his grasp. “I would ask a favor of you, before I leave for the Halls of Mahan.”
“Ask, and if it is within my power, I will do it, Master Dwarf,” he said; it was the last thing that he could do for this unfortunate Dwarf.
“Thank you, Master Tharkūn,” the haggard Dwarf said, reaching into the old robes that he wore. “I would have you deliver this map, and the key I have here, to my son.”
“Could I have his name, then, Master Dwarf?”
“I am afraid that I cannot recall that, Master Tharkūn,” the haggard Dwarf said, looking for a handful of moments utterly defeated. “I find that I can not even recall my own name, after so much time in such a place.”
“I am truly sorry that you have come to this end, Master Dwarf,” he said, taking the map and the key as the bundle was handed over to him.
“My lot has been better than some others of my people, but yes; in the end, I would have preferred to have a long life with my kin.”
“So would we all,” he said softly, as the haggard Dwarf sagged back to the bottom of the pit.
That only left him to deal with the wolf still dangling in his grip. And deal with the creature he would. He had clearly seen marks of a wolf’s teeth on the old Dwarf’s face and hands; he would not have been honestly surprised to discover them on Aulėndil, as well.
It would have been just like Morgoth, to threaten someone with a thing that was so intrinsic to them as Aulėndil’s love of wolves was to him.
“Now, beast, it comes to you,” he said, wishing for a moment that he had Radagast’s skill for speaking with beasts, or even Aulėndil’s own talent for understanding the minds of wolves.
There was also the matter of the presence he felt: the echo of his student that this wolf carried even now.
It was as strong now as it had ever been, and had he not been fully aware that his student was even now being taken from this horrid place by two of his fellow Istari – one of them the leader of the White Council – Gandalf would have thought that Aulėndil was still somewhere close.
As the wolf continued to twist in his grip, even as he dragged the beast away from the pit where the haggard Dwarf sat with his remaining time dwindling away, Gandalf noticed for the first time that – in spite of how the creature twisted in his grip, pulling its lips back to display sharp, white teeth – the wolf had not made the slightest sound. Not a snarl, nor growl, nor even the rasp of breath that every living creature had.
Turning the wolf’s head so that he could get a closer look at it, Gandalf saw to his surprise that this wolf had merely a pair of red stones in place of eyes. True, he had often heard his student’s eyes compared to fire opals, but to see a pair of red stones shoved into the eye-sockets of a living wolf… it was plain that this poor beast had been driven just as mad as any of the prisoners in this place.
Truly, Morgoth’s capacity for cruelty knew no bounds.
However, when he attempted to calm the animal down, so that it would not injure either him or itself in its mad thrashing, Gandalf noticed a line of crude stitches extending down the wolf’s belly. When the wolf attempted to bite him once more, Gandalf hurled the creature against the far wall. He had merely intended to stun it, giving himself the time to at least attempt to calm the animal before he made to remove it from this fell place, but the impact caused the pair of stitches at the base of the creature’s neck to burst.
There was a small puff of… straw? Straw? From a wound? Moving closer, pinning the struggling wolf to the cold stone of the floor with his staff so that he could examine the creature more closely, Gandalf saw that the stitches extended over the wolf’s entire belly, down to the base of its tail. This level of cruelty was beyond even what he had come to expect from Morgoth; to say nothing of his servants.
Kneeling down beside the wolf as it continued to writhe on the floor, Gandalf examined the stitching down the wolf’s belly. What he saw beneath the two stitches that had burst open was indeed straw; he did not know just how that was possible, but he was determined to find out. Still, no matter how he tried to calm the creature, to at least ease some of the pain that the creature was clearly feeling, Gandalf found that all of his efforts seemed to be in vain.
When the maddened wolf attempted once more to bite him, Gandalf was forced to slam the creature into the stone floor to stun it. Three more of the stitches burst open from the impact, and Gandalf was finally able to see just how true his first impression of the creature was. The wolf that he had encountered in this accursed place was no true creature at all: its body was filled with straw and fell herbs, and as he concentrated more of his attention on it, Gandalf found that the creature that he had taken to be a maddened wolf was only a construct with the barest semblance of life.
So, now it becomes clear, he reflected, slamming his staff into the false wolf’s belly, and causing fully half of the remaining stitches to burst open. Straw spilled like a mockery of blood from the damage that he had inflicted on the mockery of the form Aulėndil wore when he traveled as a great hound. One last strike from his staff burst the remaining stitches holding the Witch-king’s fell, filthy mockery of not only Aulėndil’s favored form for traveling swiftly about his errands, but every one of the hounds who his student had gathered about him.
Flinging the wolfskin, emptied now of the straw and fell herbs that had channeled the mockery of life that the horrifying construct had been imbued with, against the far wall of the room hard enough to burst its remaining stitches and fling the red stones from its eyes across the floor. The remaining mockery of life that this construct of the Witch-king had been imbued with ebbed away, and Gandalf gathered himself to deal with the remains of it. It was a foul thing – something that should have never existed in the first place – and the sooner he could rid the world of another of the Witch-king’s fell works, the better off everyone would be.
When his fingers brushed the inside of the wolfskin, however, Gandalf was nearly overwhelmed with a sense of pain the feeling of cutting, tearing- he pulled his hand away, staring down at the emptied wolfskin with new understanding. It made sense now, how maddened the false wolf had acted; if this was the pain that had been necessary to imbue the Witch-king’s fell construct with even the semblance of life that it had been given when he had first encountered it – and likely as not while it had been tormenting the Dwarf whose name he did not know – Gandalf could fully understand what it was that he had been facing.
And he was made even more certain that it had to be destroyed.
Steeling himself to what he would feel when he laid his hand atop the wolfskin, Gandalf reached down to take it from the floor. When he did, he saw – as if in a waking dream – the wolf that the skin he was now holding had been torn from. He nearly recoiled in disgusted horror, even as steeled as he had been for what he might have seen. Even as depraved as Morgoth and all of his servants, and even knowing that the Witch-king of Angband had chosen to give himself over to the Enemy willingly, he had not been prepared for this level of sheer depravity.
He could see Aulėndil in his long-legged hound form – perfect for crossing long distances when he would run errands or carry messages, or even when he simply desired to be alone with his thoughts – on his back, splayed out across a heavy table made of fire-blackened stone. The Witch-king and Morgoth’s own Nazgūl stood with him, arrayed around the table and staring down at the supine form writhing on the table. The Witch-king raised a blackened, razor-sharp knife, and drove it into the throat of Aulėndil’s hound form.
The Nazgūl to the Witch-king’s left and right held Aulėndil’s head still, so that his desperate thrashing – restrained as it was by the leather thongs binding his legs to the legs of the table he had been forced down upon – would not end up tearing out his own throat. The Witch-king drew his fire-blackened knife down Aulėndil’s neck and across his belly, and down to the base of his madly thrashing tail. When the fell, cruel Man began to peel Aulėndil’s flesh away from his struggling form- Gandalf forced his mind away from the horrors that had been revealed to him through the lingering remains of Aulėndil’s presence that had remained even through the… abomination that had been created using them.
Mastering himself after a few moments of deep, seething rage at what he had witnessed – even second-hand as it was – Gandalf gathered up the wolfskin and shook the remaining straw and herbs free from it. I am truly sorry you were forced to suffer through that, Aulėndil. I will see to it that you are given the best care while you recover, Gandalf vowed silently. He would burn the wolfskin once he was finally out of this fell place and away from everything even remotely associated with the Enemy and his servants.
He was not about to leave even one part of his student’s – his friend’s – mortal body behind where any servants of the Enemy’s could do as they pleased with it; even destroyed, there was too much of a chance that the Witch-king could cause Aulėndil harm or pain with even the ashes. He would not allow that to happen, not after everything that he knew his student had been forced to endure.
Not after seeing what he already had.