Title: Spiders in the Mist: An Arachnid Love Story
Author: Maggie Honeybite
Summary: On a mission to the Valley of Dreadful Death, two giant spiders
encounter adventure, tackle moral issues and find love. Inspired by
Tehta's "Flawed and Fair." AU, humour, spider slash.
Unlight fell over the valley, coating all the spider shapes in darkness.
Its shadows made Morliant's curves and bulges look positively enchanting,
cloaking his sharp claws in mystery and casting a veil of modesty over his
fore legs, his hind legs, and all the legs in between. As their party
moved swiftly along the valley's rock-strewn floor, Helob felt his pedipalps
start to tingle and his silk glands contract in need. Oh, to pounce
on that black carapace, to spin his soft web around those hairy extremities...
He woke with a start. Rubbing three of his eyes, he attempted to bring
his surroundings into focus, but the sunlight filtering through the leaves
made everything swim in a golden-tinged haze. As his sight adjusted
to the glare, he saw their captain, Ungwe, standing over him, looking most
"My apologies for disturbing your dreams." The captain's voice was
laced with sarcasm. "And most pleasant dreams they were, judging by
all your grunting."
"Sorry." Helob could feel his skin burning with shame, and guessed
that he was probably bright grey. No doubt he was the laughing stock
of the entire spider company by now. Curse his dreams for being so vivid!
"Quit dawdling, Helob, and get your carapace over to the clearing.
Everyone else is already there."
"Yes, sir!" Helob jumped up and stood at attention. Still drowsy,
he tried to organize his thoughts into some sort of coherent pattern.
Evening was only beginning to fall; it was not yet time to go hunting.
Why was he being summoned? And what was all the commotion and noise?
"Bring the coward here! We know how to deal with him," a voice called
out, and suddenly the struggle Helob was hearing made sense. They had
caught Rantil, the deserter. There was to be an execution.
Helob set off at full speed, determined to live up to what was expected
of him. Though executions always filled him with disgust, he knew they
were necessary. It was not the Spider Warrior Code that was flawed:
it was he. He was the one who was oversensitive and not bloodthirsty
enough -- indeed, as lacking in this aspect of his nature as he was in his
strength and size.
The condemned spider was being dragged into the middle of the clearing,
shrieking and flailing his limbs. Helob moved closer, joining the soldiers
of his company on the sidelines. Some looked solemn, others were already
grunting with approval; it was clear they were looking forward to the bloodbath.
Moving away from his neighbour on the right, who was flexing his legs rather
athletically, Helob accidentally brushed against another spider's carapace.
"Watch it," a rumbling voice said.
Turning toward it, Helob found himself inches away from Morliant -- the
very spider who haunted his dreams, and who was everything he was not:
strong and large, eyes shining with confidence, pedipalps long and delectably
"Sorry," Helob whispered. Despite his best intentions, he felt himself
go weak in the knees -- a rather involved and potentially hazardous process,
considering he had six knee joints on each leg. Why was it that Morliant's
presence always affected him so?
"Hold him down!" Captain Ungwe shouted, and the condemned spider was pressed
into the ground, each of his eight legs pulled taut by the soldiers who had
captured him. Helob swallowed nervously and exhorted himself to keep
his eyes open no matter what. The last thing he wanted was to be thought
a coward himself.
"Rantil!" the Captain was saying, his voice steady and full of conviction.
"You are hereby found guilty of cowardice in the face of hardship and danger.
Stealing emergency rations and deserting like a filthy scurrying squirrel!
This sort of act goes against the very principles of the Spider Warrior Code,
and yet you broke that code, knowing full well what the consequences would
be. Have you anything to say for yourself?"
Rantil's face was being pressed into the hard ground. Trembling with
fear, he whimpered, "I was hungry..."
"You inadequate spawn of a toad! If your mother could see you right
now, she would wish she had eaten you right after you were hatched!
You should be ashamed of yourself!"
The poor specimen was by now crying openly, soaking the ground beneath him
with tears as his carapace shook with sobs. He looked more terrified
And no wonder, thought Helob. What Rantil was about to experience
was certainly not to be envied. Helob himself would not wish it on
the worst of his enemies -- though no doubt that made him soft in the eyes
of his fellows.
"Rantil!" The Captain's voice had acquired an undertone of cruelty.
It seemed he was looking forward to what was about to happen. "You are
hereby sentenced to death. You do not deserve to be called a warrior
"You do not deserve it!" echoed the eight soldiers holding down Rantil's
legs. One by one, they leaned over him and spit in his eyes.
Captain Ungwe smiled. He raised himself up on his hind legs, his pedipalps
pointing straight up into the air. The condemned spider flattened himself
against the ground and wailed in terror. The Captain shrieked his command.
"No!" Rantil's scream was heard for the last time as the eight executioners
descended upon him with fierce determination.
Helob flinched, but managed not to close his eyes, though his sucking stomach
constricted at the sight of such brutality. The eight spiders clutching
Rantil's legs yanked without mercy, pulling the twitching limbs out of their
sockets and tearing them to shreds. The poor spider's carapace followed
suit, and soon nothing was left of the deserter but bits of flesh, a crushed
outer shell and pools of blue-tinged blood slowly seeping into the ground.
"Feeding time!" yelled the Captain, voice bright with elation, and the spiders
around Helob sprinted forward to get their due. Soon the clearing rang
with the sounds of slurping, as the company sated its hunger and bloodlust.
Slightly unsteady on his legs and wishing nothing more than to withdraw
into the bushes and forget the sight he had just witnessed, Helob turned
around and nearly ran into Morliant again.
Quickly, he stepped back. "Oh, forgive me..."
"Rantil and I were on day watch duty together recently." Apparently
Morliant felt that an explanation was in order. "I don't know about
you, but I don't fancy eating someone I had a pleasant conversation with less
than a week ago." He spit among the leaves, with obvious distaste.
"The Spider Warrior Code is harsh, I know," Helob said, touched by the fact
that Morliant hadn't given into the mob's barbarity. "But Rantil's crime
was clear. He stole the food rations--"
"He hadn't eaten in days."
"That is true." Helob looked at the ground, suddenly painfully conscious
of how empty his sucking stomach was. "But neither have most of us."
Not for the first time that week it occurred to him that their situation
truly was dire. Initially, things had looked good: only a few
days into their mission they had captured a party of orcs, which they left
alive for freshness and neatly wrapped for easy transportation. But
the orcs had been slaughtered while the company was exploring in the woods
-- simply out of spite, it seemed, for they presented no danger to anyone
in their web-encased condition. There wasn't much else to eat in this
light-infested valley, try as the spiders might to maximize every hunting
If things didn't improve soon, they would be forced to either starve or
drag themselves back to their settlement with nothing. And then their
community leaders would have no choice but to institute a ban on couples
having more than thirty spiderlings per mating season, to discourage the
shameful practice of laying hundreds of eggs only to eat the barely hatched
"Are you very hungry, Helob?" Morliant's voice was gentle. He
was looking at Helob with concern.
"No more than you or anyone else."
Morliant grunted and scratched at the ground with one of his claws, thinking.
"I saw some tracks in the forest earlier. I think I'll go investigate."
The forest was not a safe place, even in the dark. Especially with
the orc-killers who had deprived many a spiderling of his future dinner out
there, loose and ready to strike again.
"I'll call for the hunting party." Turning in the direction of the
clearing Morliant shrieked authoritatively, and soon a handful of the company's
best hunters had gathered around him, ready to set out as soon as he gave
Morliant waited for the stragglers to wipe the blue-tinged blood off their
fangs, and then scampered off, eyes scanning the path for potential dangers,
legs flexing and extending with consummate grace and strength. Helob
couldn't help but admire the way his black carapace shone in the moonlight
and his legs made a musical "tap-tap-tap" as he trotted at the head of the
spider column, every inch a leader.
As soon as the hunting party had disappeared into the woods, Helob climbed
one of the taller trees surrounding the clearing. It was time to focus
on his duty: he was the company's navigator, after all, and had better
make himself useful.
He settled in the tree's crown and used all his eight eyes to scrutinize
the valley spread out below him. He looked for anything that moved:
potential prey, so desperately needed in this time of hunger, or even the
dangerous orc-killers that had foiled the spiders' plans -- maybe they were
edible, too; one never knew. But, sharp as his eyes were, he saw nothing.
All living creatures seemed to have been wiped out as if by an invisible plague,
and the orc-killers had either left or were depraved enough to go about in
broad daylight, not during the night as was proper.
At last, a clump of bushes shifted in the distance, and Helob was treated
to the sight of Morliant leading the spider party over open ground.
Not surprisingly, his heart thudded and his pedipalps tingled with embarrassing
urgency, and, for the hundredth time since their mission began, he found himself
asking why. Why did Morliant make his blood pump so fast?
On reflection, his reaction wasn't all *that* shocking. After all,
he could not recall ever wanting to mate with a female spider. Indeed,
the presence of females, instead of exciting him, filled him with deep misgiving
and unease. This might have had something to do with the fact that one of
his sixty-three brothers had been unceremoniously devoured by his prospective
mate during their whirlwind courtship, and Helob had never quite forgotten
the horror of finding his brother dead, his carcass sucked dry, his legs curled
up under him in the ultimate gesture of helplessness.
But being a confirmed bachelor was one thing, and being consumed by carnal
desire for a fellow warrior, quite another. Helob had never before experienced
anything quite like it. Sometimes he cursed Morliant for casting him
into this tempest of emotions -- so dishonourable in a solider spider, who
was supposed to feel nothing save battle-lust and anger.
Sighing, Helob carefully climbed down over the tree's rough bark.
It was pointless to dwell on the matter, really. There wasn't a chance
in blinding daylight that Morliant -- a spider so manly, so muscled, so hirsute
-- would ever look at Helob with anything approximating the longing he himself
harboured. The only thing to do was to focus on his work, and stop spinning
fanciful webs of dreams over something he would never have.
Morliant's party didn't return until the late afternoon of the following
day, exhausted and grim: even after such a long hunt, all their catch
amounted to was one meagre deer. Still, food was food, and all the soldiers
eagerly interrupted their daily rest to ease their hunger pains.
They took turns feeding on the carcass, the larger spiders held in check
by the loud hisses of their captain. If not for him, the scene would
soon have degenerated into a free-for-all, and Helob was glad that their situation
had not reached the point where authority no longer mattered.
As the one who had actually made the kill, Morliant was among the first
to eat. Efficiently he sank his fangs into the deer flesh before him,
sucking the nutrients without slurping, his sparse movements betraying his
good manners -- an unusual characteristic among the soldiers whose company
Helob had grown used to. Helob felt his skin grow warmer, and realized
he was staring. Just at that moment Morliant looked up, his eyes --
all eight of them -- focusing on Helob's own with a querying expression.
Then he straightened up, pushed the spider next to him away brusquely, and
motioned for Helob to approach.
Helob moved closer, legs unsteady.
"Hungry?" Morliant grunted, two of his eyes narrowing suspiciously, the
other six slowly blinking. The effect, though probably unintentional,
was so seductive that Helob barely managed an answer.
"Come, eat." Morliant moved aside and offered Helob a juicy deer flank.
Helob ate, but could not stop his thoughts from straying. He suddenly
felt very conscious of the proximity of Morliant's pedipalps to his own.
Oh, darkness! Why, three of their legs were practically touching!
As his knees buckled and he tried very hard not to topple over, he cursed
himself for behaving like a silly spiderling and almost giving himself away.
Morliant finished eating and carefully wiped the remainder of the blood
from his fangs. He did not move away from the circle, however, and
Helob realized, both with awe and intimidation, that Morliant was staying
put for his sake: to allow him to eat his fill without being jostled by those
bigger than he was. He tried to hurry.
"You know, if you slurp any faster, you're likely to choke."
There was a trace of humour in Morliant's voice, and so Helob looked up
without fear. "I don't want to be a pest and delay you; you must be
exhausted after your hunt," he said. "You practically caught that deer
single-handed, and on such rough terrain..."
Morliant shrugged. "Nothing to it. Haven't you ever caught one?"
The violent coughing fit that seized Helob did little to disguise his embarrassment.
He shook his head. "No. I'm not as big and strong as you, see,
"Nonsense. Those long legs of yours are probably faster than mine.
I've watched you; you have quick reflexes. You just need to learn to
leap on your prey from the right angle." He paused. "It's a lot
like battle, actually."
"I'm not much good at that either."
"I could give you a few pointers, if you like."
The deer carcass lay at Helob's feet, forgotten. "You would do that?"
Morliant, obviously given more to action than words, did not waste his time
replying to silly questions. He moved away from the increasingly rowdy
spider party and pointed ahead to a private glade between the trees.
"Come on," he said.
Knees shaking, Helob followed.
"The trick is simple; keep your eyes on your prey at all times, and don't
get distracted. If the ground is rocky or uneven, keep it in your peripheral
vision. When you're ready to leap, aim with your fore legs and spring
with your hind ones."
"Now let's see your stance."
Helob raised his fore legs just as he had been told, feeling rather too
self-conscious about his body to make a proper effort. He looked straight
Morliant moved closer. "You'd think you were a dancer, with such slim,
graceful limbs. Your talents are wasted on the likes of us." He
ran one of his pedipalps along Helob's raised leg, appraising, caressing.
Helob stumbled, his first right-fore leg inadvertently hooking over his
second left-hind one. Most inelegantly, he fumbled to regain his balance,
feeling like an awkward, gangly teenager all over again.
Morliant laughed. "That won't do at all." His eyes flashed with
mischief. "I think we'll have to do that again, just to make sure you've
got the position right."
Helob prayed he wouldn't spin a pile of silk under himself from the intensity
of the feelings rushing through him. "Are you sure--"
A shriek coming from the direction of the spider company made them both
jump three feet into the air. Captain Ungwe was not one to raise an
unnecessary alarm: something important must have happened.
Morliant was already halfway across the clearing; his fighting reflexes
really were a thing of beauty. Helob followed, heart pumping, claws
"The orc-killers!" The captain was shouting. "The orc-killers
are out in the valley!"
"And they look edible!" added another spider, clearly not satisfied with
his light deer snack.
"Attack formation, on the double! Company, form ranks! With
any luck, we'll feast on real meat by sundown!"
Well trained, and exhilarated by the prospect of a satisfying meal, the
spider company heeded the captain's words almost instantly. Within
moments, they were running over the valley's rough ground, each step taking
them closer to their goal.
Unlike Morliant, who was out in front as usual, Helob did not get a good
look at the creatures they were attacking until the battle had actually begun.
Against the din of shouts, screeches, and the blunt sounds of heavy objects
connecting with flesh, he managed to note that the orc-killers numbered four,
and that one of them sat astride another large animal -- no doubt in an effort
to compensate for his inadequate number of legs: he had only two.
Helob would have looked more closely, but just then a metallic sound whizzed
perilously near to his head, and he was forced to put his warrior training
It didn't take him long to realize that the fight was an uneven one, even
though the spiders far outnumbered their two-legged opponents. The strange
creatures fought well, despite the fact that they had no claws or fangs,
and needed to use sharp implements to make up for this lack. Helob
would have admired their ferocity and skill were he not too preoccupied with
trying to avoid having his legs hacked off. He was successful, and
managed to dodge all the deadly and maiming blows. Unfortunately, the
same could not be said of his fighting companions.
The first spider casualties fell almost immediately, shrieking in agony
and tumbling to the ground in a mess of limbs. Others soon followed
suit, and Helob was witness to far too many legs twitching and eyes glazing
over than he would have liked. Still, he held on to the contents of
his sucking stomach and fought on bravely, even landing a blow or two.
The heat of battle was starting to make his blood run fast -- he was even
enjoying it to an extent -- when he heard the one sound he most dreaded hearing:
Morliant crying out in pain. He turned in the direction of the cry,
Morliant stood among a pile of his fellow spiders' hewed-down bodies, swaying,
half-conscious. Two of his right-fore legs -- his beautiful, muscled,
warrior's legs -- had been cut off and lay beside him like broken, dead tree
branches. A trickle of bluish blood seeped from his wounds, soaking
the ground beneath him.
"Morliant!" Helob pushed his way through the crowd. Morliant
was too dazed to even acknowledge his presence. It was easy to see that,
left to his own devices, he would soon lose every single drop of blood and
die. Helob looked around. Though the fight still raged on, it
was obvious by now that it could not be won. Their captain was running
frantically along the perimeter of the battlefield, urging on those spiders
that were still standing.
Everything seemed to slow down, as if in a dream. Helob moved toward
Morliant. Captain Ungwe caught his gaze and held it for a moment, his
Helob was not hatched yesterday. He knew the Spider Warrior Code like
the back of his pedipalp; he did not need to be told that leaving a field
of battle to help an injured comrade was a clear display of cowardice and
carried the penalty of death. If the injured spider managed to survive
the ordeal, that was one thing: he would be hailed as a tough specimen.
The fate of the one who helped him, however, would not nearly be as pleasant.
Helob needed only to think back to Rantil's last minutes to know what was
at stake. And yet one look at Morliant told him that he had little choice;
he could not let him die. In desperation, he threw one of his fore
legs around Morliant's waist and pulled him along, guiding him away from
the swarming mass of fighting bodies. Once they were out of immediate
danger he stopped and wove a tight silk dressing around Morliant's leg stumps.
Then he half-coaxed and half-dragged Morliant into the nearby woods.
The rays of the late-afternoon sun seemed to pulse around them, searing
Helob's dry outer skin and reminding him that the situation was indeed desperate,
for they had nothing to eat and no water. The birds' carefree song drifting
in the trees above seemed to lend the scene a surreal, macabre feel.
Resolving not to lose hope, Helob leaned over his companion.
Morliant wasn't doing well at all. Despite the silk bandages, he did
not seem to be improving. Though he was no longer bleeding, the fluids
he had lost in their escape through the woods had drained him. He was
pale and listless, and his black carapace had lost its shine. His legs
were already beginning to curl inwards; soon he would not be able to straighten
them at all. Helob trembled at the thought that Morliant might be dying.
"You need to drink something to replenish your fluids." He leaned
Two of Morliant's eyes stared at Helob hopelessly, the rest had glazed over
already. "There is no food around for miles, no creatures alive in this
valley. Leave me, Helob. There is nothing you can do."
"There must be something. I'll find something!"
Frantically, Helob looked about him. He would not lose Morliant --
not now, when the immediate danger had passed. Suddenly an idea surfaced
in his mind.
It may have been true that there was no prey to feed on in these woods,
but Morliant was certainly not alone. Helob moved closer to his companion's
prone form and carefully leaned over him. He raised his fore legs and
exposed his soft underbelly.
"There is me, Morliant. Feed on me; let me help you. I can hunt
for something later. Now we have no time."
Morliant's eyes stared at Helob in bewilderment. Well, two of them
did; the other six stared at him with a blank expression. "I can't do
that, Helob. It would weaken you--"
"Please!" Helob lowered his abdomen closer to Morliant's fangs. His
pedipalps brushed Morliant's skin, wiping away beads of perspiration.
He felt vulnerable and ridiculous, but did not care. He had never exposed
himself to anyone in such an intimate manner; already he could feel the grey
flush spreading across his skin. Their closeness would have been unbearably
erotic were Morliant's breath not becoming increasingly laboured.
"Please, Morliant," Helob repeated softly, five of his eyes filling with
tears. "I care not if you leave me weaker, but please, in the name of all
that is dark and creeps in tight spaces, do not leave me. Without you,
I could not bear to go on."
There, it had been said. In a moment of desperation he had given himself
away. Morliant might reject him, might spit in his eyes and ridicule
him once he was better, he might even try to attack him and eat him -- rightful
punishment for the shameful feelings inhabiting Helob's heart. But,
for now, all that mattered was that Morliant survive to see another sunset.
The rest could be dealt with later.
Morliant did not answer, though two of his glazed-over eyes slowly blinked
and began to shine anew with consciousness. Then he raised himself up,
struggling, and carefully punctured Helob's belly with his fangs. He
drank, gaze focused on Helob, as if looking for signs that he was hurting
him too much. As soon as his initial thirst had been quenched, he stopped
and delicately extracted himself from Helob's flesh. He fell back against
the leaves, exhausted.
"Are you all right?" Helob asked and saw Morliant blink "yes" in response.
"Shall I go hunt us something to feed on?"
"No," said Morliant. "Stay with me while I sleep. I am strong
enough for now, and you are no doubt in pain. You can hunt once darkness
has fallen, it will be safer."
Helob nodded. Quickly he spun a makeshift bandage and wrapped it around
his puncture wounds. Then, ignoring the ache in his own belly, he settled
beside Morliant and watched as his six remaining legs began to relax.
Once Morliant's breathing had grown regular, Helob scooted closer and started
to rub comforting circles across Morliant's abdomen with his pedipalps.
Gradually, the heat of the afternoon began to dissipate and evening settled
over the forest.
The moon was already setting before Morliant stirred again. Helob
immediately hurried to help him rise, then reproached himself for his eagerness.
Morliant was proud and would not take well to being treated like an invalid,
even in his injured condition. Helob picked up the two crows he had
managed to trap during the night, and placed them within Morliant's reach.
He blinked encouragingly. "It isn't much, but it will keep your strength
"Thank you," Morliant said, and Helob felt gratitude flood through him.
'Thank you' was not a phrase one heard often in the company of warrior spiders.
It was a sign of weakness -- and weakness was the greatest crime of all.
Helob could still remember Captain Ungwe scolding some of the younger members
of their party, spitting on them and calling them "spineless weaklings."
He had felt tempted then to bring up the fact that, technically, as spiders
none of them actually *had* a spine, but felt he would be overstepping his
bounds. Besides, accurate or not, the metaphor was an effective one.
The younger spiders had fallen into line.
Helob settled down to watch Morliant eat, at a respectful distance.
After a few moments, he politely inquired, "Do you think you'll be able to
walk a bit once you've rested? We'll need to put some more distance
between us and the battle. I don't think it's safe to stay here; those
two-legged creatures might still be about."
Morliant dropped the crow he had been eating, the dry carcass flopping on
the ground beside him. "I can walk for a bit," he said. "But I
still think you should have left me when you had the chance. I am no
good to anyone anymore. What kind of warrior will I make with two of
my legs missing?"
"Only until your next moult. Then they'll grow back, I'm sure."
"You can't be certain. I've already reached my full adult size.
I do not know that there will *be* a next moult. I am not a female,
after all. I will not continue moulting indefinitely--"
"But surely a warrior of your abilities and talent hasn't stopped growing
yet. You will moult again, I know it!"
Helob was vaguely aware that his arguments, though filled with much enthusiasm,
were lacking in logic. His tone must have sounded slightly hysterical,
for Morliant didn't respond, but looked at Helob with an indulgent smile.
Or maybe he was still sucking on the last of the crow juice, one couldn't
"You give me too much credit, Helob," Morliant said, picking up the other
crow. He was about to sink his fangs into it, but stopped. "Have
*you* eaten anything?"
Helob had never been a good liar; Morliant saw right through the deception.
"Come," he said. "How will you grow to your full size if you don't eat?
Share this crow with me."
"I think this *is* my full size," Helob admitted, embarrassed. "I
haven't moulted in a long while. I don't think I'll ever be as impressively
big as you."
He found himself turning grey again, both at the embarrassment of admitting
such a thing to Morliant and at the memory of his last moult. Moulting
was not an easy experience for any spider. It left one temporarily vulnerable
to attack, sometimes even by others of one's clan. And then there was
Helob still recalled the feeling of lying there, naked and weak, with the
circle of mocking girl spiders tightening around him. His pedipalps
had not yet reached their full size, and were covered with the soft down proper
to boyhood rather than the fully sprouted hair that was the mark of mature
males. Mortified, Helob had tried to hide them, turning this way and
that, feeling his skin burn with shame, but it was no use; the circle of
pointing spiders drew ever closer, and, oh, how they laughed... Three
of his brothers had finally chased the females away, else they might have
done Helob some real harm.
"Helob?" Morliant's voice sounded concerned. "Are you well?"
Helob shook off the shadow of unpleasant memories and opened his eyes.
Morliant was slowly walking toward him, his six legs unsteady, the half-eaten
crow forgotten among the pine needles on the forest floor.
"Please, Morliant, you'll waste your strength." He met Morliant halfway
and carefully lowered him to the forest floor. When their eyes locked,
the power of Morliant's eight-pupiled gaze was nearly enough to knock the
wind out of Helob's book lungs.
"Did you mean what you said last night?" Morliant asked.
"What I said last night?"
"That you did not wish for me to leave you."
Helob fixed his eyes on the ground. Morliant had not forgotten those
shameful words; now Helob would feel the full extent of his spider-wrath.
"I never meant to offend," he said. You probably think me terribly weak,
and if you wish to punish me, hurt me -- well, it is your right, and--"
"Quiet!" Morliant cut him off suddenly, and tilted his head, listening.
Helob listened, too, and after a moment thought he could make out a muffled
sound in the distance.
"Do you hear it?" Morliant asked, his eyes darting to and fro.
The noises drew closer, and Helob realized why he had not immediately jumped
in alarm: the sound was familiar. The regular tapping rhythms, the rustling
in the leaves, the occasional hiss -- these were the martial harmonies of
their spider company. And they were coming closer.
The hair stood up on all of Helob's eight legs. "They are coming this
way," he said, then thought, they will collect Morliant and honour him for
his bravery. Then Morliant will renounce me and I will be killed.
He briefly considered running for his life, but gave the idea up as soon
as it entered his brain. His intent had always been to save Morliant;
he would not betray that desire now. He would see that Morliant was
safe among his peers, and then would face his fate with all the honour he
knew he possessed, even if others did not see it.
He turned to Morliant and smiled, his carapace trembling despite his best
efforts to keep still. "Our warriors are almost here," he said. "Soon
you will be safe. Do not worry about me, I am no coward. I will
not run from whatever treatment I am given. You should go to them, meet
"Shh!" Morliant jumped forward and placed his pedipalp squarely against
Helob's mouth, silencing him.
Helob nearly spun a pile of silk thread underneath himself, both from the
shock and from the intimate nature of Morliant's touch. He struggled
"Keep quiet, Helob. I don't think they've heard us yet." Morliant
let go of Helob's mouth.
"Quiet? But I thought--"
"I am not about to turn you in and condemn you to certain death merely for
giving into a few decent impulses on the field of battle."
"But you will not get the assistance you need if you do not turn to them."
"If my health is to be bought at the price of your death, then I care not
for the bargain. Come, we must get away at once. We still have
a chance to hide."
They ran along the forest floor as swiftly as their legs could carry them
-- Helob's slim eight limbs and Morliant's muscled, if weakened, six.
Morliant limped and clenched his jaws in pain, and Helob shouldered his weight
as much as he was able. Finally, when Morliant could not manage one
more hobbled step, they halted.
Morliant looked up, sizing up a tall oak tree. Its branches were thick
with leaves and let very little light filter down to the forest floor.
"We can hide here." He looked at Helob. "You must spin us a hammock
in the tree's crown. Then we will climb up and be still. If we
are lucky, the others will pass us by."
"Helob, there is no time. Climb."
Helob climbed. Spurred on by rapidly approaching danger and buoyed
by the love he bore for the spider standing at the tree's roots, he climbed
as high as he could, then began to spin a deep hammock between two branches.
As soon as his silk glands sprung into action and the thin, strong thread
descended from his spinnerets, he remembered just how exhilarating spinning
could feel -- and just how good he was at it. If fighting had always
come hard, this had come easy. He felt like a dancer and sculptor all
in one, running back and forth between the thin branches, letting beauty and
strength spill forth from his body.
As soon as the hammock was thick enough to hold the weight of two, he ran
back down to fetch Morliant. This was harder; Morliant was weak and
his balance was off. It took them three attempts to get up the trunk
to its lowest branches, and the rest of the climb was accompanied by much
straining and grunting. After what seemed an eternity, they lay down
in the hammock, cradled by the soft silk threads, close and hidden from prying
eyes from below.
They had gotten there in the nick of time. As soon as they settled
and ceased moving, the column of spiders marched under the tree. Helob
dared not look down, but he could tell from the sound alone that the company
had been decimated in its recent fighting. They must be not only battle
weary, but quite angry. Truly, if they were to catch him now, he would
get no mercy at their claws.
He did not realize he was trembling until one of Morliant's healthy legs
embraced him about the waist and steadied him. The comfort of that hairy
limb was enough to calm Helob's rattled nerves. By the time the last
of the spiders had passed under the tree, he was no longer shaking.
They lay still for a while longer, unmoving. Finally, Helob looked
at Morliant. "Why did you do that?" he asked.
"I could not let them hurt you. Not after all you've done for me."
"But I deserve death."
"No, you do not."
Morliant's confident bass vibrated through Helob's carapace, making it difficult
for him to think. His entire body seemed to be thrumming with Morliant's
nearness. He was both unnerved and immensely aroused.
"My debt to you outweighs my allegiance to them," Morliant said. "As
far as I'm concerned, they can go get caught in someone's badly spun web,
the lot of them. I will not allow you to be mistreated."
"But you cannot sacrifice your pride and reputation as a warrior merely
Morliant bristled. "I am sacrificing nothing. I once thought
it was both my duty and my honour to fight among my fellow warriors.
But there is little honour in what they would do to you if they ever found
you." He grimaced with distaste, then spit among the leaves. "I
no longer consider it my duty."
Helob stared at his companion dumbly, mouth open, fangs aimlessly pointing
at the ground. "What will you do?"
Morliant shrugged. "I don't know. I suppose that all depends
on how soon I moult. I daresay I can get work here and there; I've always
fancied myself a mercenary. All I know is I cannot go back now.
You and I are partners, Helob. We must stick together."
Morliant's words sounded wonderful to Helob, but his joy was tinged with
guilt. It had never been his intention to hold Morliant back from his
military career. Even Helob's mad, selfless act in the midst of battle
had been meant as a temporary panacea. Still, the fact remained that
Morliant needed assistance in his present condition.
Helob nodded. "Yes, we must."
And I know what I must do, he added silently. I will stay with Morliant
until he recovers, and then I'll leave. I will not burden him with my
Dinner that night was a simple affair, but after a week of near-starvation
rations neither spider thought to complain. Helob had spun a series
of well-placed webs and caught a few disoriented bats, then managed to kill
a sizeable and juicy mole. Morliant praised his skill and ate with relish,
and Helob was thrilled to see his companion's black carapace grow shinier
and healthier-looking by the minute.
They reclined among the leaves for a while, then climbed the tree again
when Morliant's eyes began closing of their own accord. He was still
recovering and tired easily, and they would be much safer in their little
hammock than on the ground below. As they settled down for the night
in close proximity to each other, Helob arranged his limbs carefully to make
sure Morliant had enough room.
"You know, Helob, if you move any closer to the edge of that hammock, you'll
plummet to the ground. It's a long way down; you wouldn't want those
long legs of yours to get bruised. Why don't you move closer?"
Morliant cocked four of his eyebrows. "I won't bite."
Helob felt his face flush, but did as Morliant suggested. Soon they
were lying side by side, Helob's right-fore legs brushing against Morliant's
Suddenly Morliant, who had been half-crouched on his stomach, rolled over
onto his back. His eyes narrowed.
"Will you stroke my abdomen the way you did the other night?" he asked,
his voice so low as to be almost a purr.
The question was so unexpected, and its implications so humiliating, that
Helob nearly choked. He gaped at Morliant, all eight eyes wide open,
sensing that he probably looked just about as idiotic as he felt.
"The other night, after I was injured. You--"
"But you were asleep! I mean, your eyes were closed and your breathing
"I may have looked asleep, but I was quite awake, Helob, I assure you.
I remember everything you did. I even--"
Helob didn't hear Morliant's last words -- in part because his heart was
pounding, in part because he was already halfway down the tree. He had
thought he knew the meaning of humiliation. He had been wrong.
Nothing -- nothing! -- could possibly compare to the overwhelming shame that
now flooded his senses. He had been found out: Morliant had seen him!
Oh, by eternal darkness, he must get away!
He scampered down the tree's rough bark, knees shaking. Once he reached
the ground he ran, not caring where his legs took him. Morliant's cries
of "Helob!" receded in the distance. Soon the woods grew quiet.
When he was too tired to go on, he sank down by a large clump of oaks, and
gave into despair.
Though overemotional by any spider's reckoning, Helob had nevertheless taken
care to maintain some standards of decorum. He had not cried since shortly
after being hatched; indeed, had regarded the shedding of tears as a useless
waste of moisture -- as any decent spider should. And so it was testament
to how low he had fallen that he now wept until the moss beneath him grew
Tears muddy vision, sobs muffle hearing; Helob, curled up into a ball and
crying like a child, was as defenceless as a snail without its shell.
He did not hear the strange neighing noises or the sounds of the brush being
trampled. The ripe animal scent escaped his notice, too. It wasn't
until the clatter of hooves was deafening that he sat up and looked about
him -- and by then it was too late.
He felt the impact of the first kick, and cried out in pain. Then
he knew no more.
When he woke the world was oddly dark, as if his eyes had been draped with
a thick curtain. He moved, disoriented, and, feeling his entire body
throb with a persistent ache, whimpered.
"Shh, don't move now," a familiar voice said from somewhere close behind
him. It was warm and rumbling, and Helob wished it would keep speaking.
"Three of your legs are broken and five of your eyes have swelled shut.
That, and your carapace is battered, and cracked in places. You know..."
The voice paused, and Helob felt something tug at his leg. "I daresay
you're in worse shape than I am. A fine pair that makes us, now."
Helob twisted his bruised body and looked behind him. Morliant was
sitting on a patch of heather, spinning a thick line of silk and using it
to fasten a splint to Helob's left-hind leg. He was smiling.
"Don't even think of trying to run away now; I've put far too much effort
into putting you back together to have you lose various bits along the way.
You shall just have to suffer my company until we are both better. Or
until some large predator kills us." He shrugged. "But that remains
to be seen."
Helob was in too much pain for his previous embarrassment to hold much sting,
but he was not too far gone to take Morliant's actions for granted.
"You came after me," he said. "At a danger to yourself, you sought me,
and--" His words were cut off by a fit of coughing.
"Now you just be quiet." Morliant moved closer, his expression as
determined as his words. "Before either one of us does anything foolish
-- and darkness knows we've already acted like complete fools -- I have something
to say. And you had better listen."
There was a reason why Morliant was a natural leader; when he spoke, spiders
paid attention. Helob fell silent. In spite of his body's aching,
he felt a titillating shiver at Morliant's decisiveness.
"There is something you need to know, Helob." Morliant's bass sounded
rather less confident than before. "A confession, if you will.
I know I will bungle it up rather badly. I... I am not good with words."
He hesitated. "Here it is: if you were to die, I could not bear
to go on. I know that isn't very original as far as declarations go,
but I am no poet. It is you who are all poetry, with your dancer's legs
and smoky eyes. Forgive me if I don't know enough beautiful words with
which to court you."
If Helob were not already safely settled on the mossy ground, he would no
doubt have tumbled onto it from some great height, and broken a few more limbs.
He gaped at Morliant, utterly stunned. He could feel the forest start
to spin around him: a dappled green mass whirling around himself and
Morliant, who were its centre.
Morliant looked even more embarrassed than before, but he pressed on.
"I care for you, Helob. And I don't give two rotten flies if the feeling
is shameful; I want you for my own." He took a deep breath, his
book lungs rattling. "There. Now we can resume our mission of
survival, with no misunderstandings getting in our way."
Helob was no stranger to strong emotion. Being an anomaly among his
kind, he had often been moved by the beauty of a crimson sunset against a
flawless sky or the silver drops of early-morning dew glittering on a finely
spun web. But nothing had prepared him for the elation that now swept
through his quivering body. He looked at his friend. "Morliant..."
"Shh, Helob. Silly spider." Morliant's eight eyes were unnaturally
bright, and there was a definite grey tinge to his colouring. "Don't
move now; you're injured, and far too weak to be wasting your strength."
"But I want to--"
"I know." Morliant gave a crooked smile, and lightly touched his pedipalp
to Helob's. "So do I... But I really think we should wait until
we both feel better. I may not be able to hold back my enthusiasm if
I get too close to you. And I wouldn't want to hurt you, Helob, not
Helob lowered his eyes to the ground -- the three eyes that had not swelled
shut, that is -- and grunted his agreement, surprised that the thought of
Morliant not being able to rein in his strength should make his blood run
so fast. Prudently he focused on the pine needles at his feet, lest
his wounds open up again and he lose more precious moisture.
"There is a cave nearby," Morliant was saying. "I passed it on my
way here. It's small, but well hidden. I think we may live there
safely for a while -- while our injuries heal, at least."
"Then..." Morliant grinned. "Then we can go anywhere you want, Helob.
The world will be our web."
The perfect blackness of night slowly dissolved into a greyish, hazy mist
as the owl's hooting gave way to the chirping of early-morning birds.
Helob solicitously leaned over Morliant.
"Is the pain gone?"
Morliant opened his eyes and stretched his limbs with gusto. He grinned.
"Yes, I feel wonderful. Good as new."
"Darkness be praised."
The previous day and night had been trying. After spending two long
weeks in the cave they had found, resting and recovering, Morliant finally
moulted. Helob held vigil by him for many hours, watching for predators
and ready to take on whole armies should the need arise. Fortunately
it never did.
"Well, how do they feel? Strong as the others?" Helob asked.
Morliant made a show of extending his two new hairy, healthy legs.
His eyes shone with delight. "Like I said, good as new. Now we're
both fully mobile and able to fight. We can start our journey any time
They had talked over in detail their plans to ford the river and leave the
valley behind, and had even scouted out a place where they might cross in
relative safety and not be swept away by the current. Though uncomfortable
around water, Helob was eager to get as far away from the place that had caused
them so much trouble and sorrow.
"We can start right now if you wish," he said.
Morliant grunted in amusement. "Eager, aren't you? But the day
is barely dawning: surely you don't want to set out before night has
fallen." He looked at Helob. There was an odd glint in his eyes.
"Now that we have both recovered, wouldn't you rather... spend some time in
this cave? Alone?"
He inched toward Helob on the pallet of leaves they shared for a bed.
There was a quality to his movements that signalled this was not the usual
pre-dawn shifting and stretching of legs. His body did not jerk, but
slid toward Helob slowly, the very gentleness of its progress betraying its
Helob's heart sped up, and the hair on his legs bristled in joy -- and a
bit in intimidation. At last, Morliant would touch him! It was
about to happen! Any second now Morliant's legs would wind around Helob's...
The intensity of the feelings thundering through his slender body was almost
too much to handle. He froze and stared at Morliant, a little bit in
worship, a little in terror.
"Breathe, my shiny, black-carapaced one," Morliant whispered. "You
don't want to collapse a book lung, you know."
Helob felt himself flush. "Morliant, I..."
"We'll go slow. I've never done this either -- not with another male
spider, at least. But I'm sure we'll manage." A greyish hue blossomed
on Morliant's cheeks. He moved closer.
Within a few moments Helob was wondering how he could possibly have worried
they would bungle things: the sensation of their bodies touching felt
so right. A few moments more, and he had almost ceased thinking altogether,
so powerful was the effect of Morliant's pheromones on his senses.
Morliant was big, and Helob had always been aware of the difference in their
size and strength. But he had never suspected he would rejoice in it
so, or revel in being manhandled as if he were a mere fly. Now he felt
the blood rushing through his body as his head swam and his legs shivered
in delight. Good thing Morliant was holding him tight. If he had
to stand up on his own, no doubt he would fall.
Morliant had wrapped two of his fore-legs around Helob's waist and lifted
him off the ground. He held him close, squeezing and rubbing their bodies
together. His fangs nipped lightly at Helob's carapace, teasing, and
Helob fluttered his eyes in wonder at the incredible sensations he had hitherto
not even known existed. Why hadn't someone told him about this?
How could something so amazing have remained a secret for so long?
"Your waist is as narrow as... the cave tunnel I got stuck in as a boy,"
Morliant was saying in a husky voice. "As narrow as the branch that
broke under me during my first warrior training. So slim, so fine...
Ah..." he broke off, out of breath, and Helob felt something moist and
warm slide along his face. Was Morliant kissing him? Oh, darkness!
Morliant was kissing him!
The cave began to spin. Morliant was rubbing his pedipalps along Helob's
own, first lightly, then with more insistence. He had twined three of
his legs together with Helob's, holding Helob tight, lifting him, spreading
him wide. One of his claws was lightly scratching along Helob's abdomen.
Oh, bliss! Then, just as Helob thought he would explode from all the
rapture, Morliant caught Helob's pedipalps between his and squeezed.
"Oh..." Helob was trembling and could see lights flashing before all
of his eight eyes -- though surely it was not yet day.
"Oh, my Helob..." Morliant's bass made the ground tremble. "I
used to watch you run and climb, and every movement of your body would twist
my abdomen in pangs of want." His hold on Helob tightened. "I
used to wish you'd be mine, then." Another of Morliant's legs wrapped
around Helob's waist. "And now you are."
Morliant's pedipalps squeezed tighter around Helob's as their abdomens rubbed
together with a delicious friction. Morliant's kisses caressed Helob's
skin, and his breath warmed and cooled all at once. Helob closed his
eyes -- well, seven of them; the eighth he kept open to see Morliant's grey-flushed
swaying form. This was all too much, it felt too good. Surely
if he enjoyed another minute of this he would die from happiness.
"Do you like what I'm doing, Helob?" Morliant asked, and three of
Helob's eyes shot open. Morliant's voice dropped to a throaty whisper.
"Do you want more?"
Helob's limbs twitched, and he managed a weak "yes." He could no longer
tell up from down.
"Tell me how much you like it." Morliant's voice was a growl.
"I want to hear you, Helob. Oh, my beautiful specimen of a spider, let
me hear you..." One of Morliant's legs slid along Helob's abdomen and
teased his spinnerets, circling around the sensitive glands, probing...
And that was it. Helob could take no more. He arched his back,
pressed his abdomen to Morliant's and let out a loud, piercing shriek.
His spinnerets pulsed against the leg that was caressing them, and in an instant
strands of silk were pouring out of Helob and pooling around Morliant's feet.
In the moments that followed, the silence in the cave rang with the echoes
of Helob's high-pitched scream and Morliant's answering roar.
They slid to the ground, the silk both had spun cushioning their descent.
Morliant's legs were still intertwined with Helob's, and neither spider made
an effort to move away. They clung to each other happily, carapaces
rubbing together in comfort.
Outside a grey mist was rising up from the humid earth. Strands of
light were puncturing the silky fog; the day was beginning.
Morliant turned to Helob. "What do you say we begin our adventure
Helob smiled. "All right. As soon as the sun has set and we've
gotten some sleep before the journey."
Morliant lifted his right-fore leg and wiped beads of sweat off Helob's
forehead. He cocked three eyebrows, suddenly looking concerned.
"You're not worried about what we'll find on the other side of the river?"
Helob glanced at the entrance to the cave and thought about the weeks they
had spent in each other's company: the killings, the horror, the hunger, the
companionship, and, finally, their growing love. Playfully, he sank
the tip of his fang into Morliant's flesh. "Not as long as we're together,"
1) This insane little fic actually began as a Live Journal meme, and was
wholly inspired by Tehta's lovely and hilarious Ecthelion/Glorfindel story,
"Flawed and Fair." As such, "Spiders in the Mist" likes to think of
itself as a sister fic to F&F, although it's probably more of a distant
This is the excerpt that got the spider plot bunny biting:
"The rest of the battle was a blur. Ecthelion wandered around, sword in
hand, cutting at shapes as they became increasingly visible, and hence increasingly
disgusting. Dawn came, every bit as welcome as his occasional glimpses of
Glorfindel -- still fighting, still alive. The new light revealed that most
of the remaining spiders were in far worse shape. He wondered briefly if any
of them had experienced an unnatural desire for another spider, or for an
orc perhaps, but he walked around stabbing them anyway."
(Chapter Five of F&F, "The Incident"). The entire story can be
found at: http://www.henneth-annun.net/stories/chapter.cfm?STID=3062.
If you haven't read it yet, you're missing out!
2) You might have noticed that Helob and Morliant bear little resemblance
to Tolkien's giant spiders. Here is a description of Shelob from "Shelob's
Lair" in "The Two Towers": "Most like a spider she was, but huger than
the great hunting beasts, and more terrible than they because of the evil
purpose in her remorseless eyes. [...] Great horns she had, and
behind her short stalk-like neck was her huge swollen body, a vast bloated
bag, swaying and sagging between her legs; its great bulk was black, blotched
with livid marks, but the belly underneath was pale and luminous and gave
forth a stench." I prefer to portray my Helob and Morliant as more attractive:
more like actual spiders, only bigger. Hey, this is an AU: I'm
3) If you're curious about spider anatomy and mating habits, the Internet
is *full* of interesting tidbits, believe me. Suffice it to say that
spiders generally have eight legs, eight eyes and two pedipalps, which look
like little arms but are actually sexual organs. When they mate, the
male uses his pedipalps to insert sperm into the female's reproductive opening.
As for two boy spiders getting it on, well... I got creative. The love
scene in this story is certainly not based on scientific fact.
4) Yes, Captain Ungwe is named after a tengwa. The one that, aptly,
translates as "spider's web."
5) As usual, I owe a debt of gratitude to my wonderful beta, Tehta, without
whom I would no doubt be mired in plot holes and excess adjectives.