9. Chapter Eight: Angband
There was only stunned silence after Aragorn had vanished before their very eyes.
Eol stood before the spot where Aragorn had been standing when he had disappeared, wearing an expression of smug triumph on his face. The earlier commotion had dwindled away into nothingness as all eyes were fixed upon the dark elf that had been the architect of this entire affair. He was not what they had expected for he looked very much like any other elf. If anything, he resembled in appearance, a darker version of Elrond, though no one who made that comparison would dare mention it either Elladan or Elrohir. The elf seemed unconcerned than he was surrounded by the companions of the man he might have killed for all they knew, his expression indicating that they hardly registered to him.
"What have you done?" Faramir demanded, crossing the space between himself and Eol with his sword drawn. In a space of a second, the Lord of Ithilien was holding the point of the blade against Eol’s throat but the elf did not seem at all disturbed by this fact.
"Do not kill him!" Elrohir cried out.
"Why not?" Faramir hissed back, his eyes fixed upon Eol’s and finding his anger growing by how unperturbed the elf appeared, even with a sword to his throat.
"Because you need me if you wish to get your precious King back alive," Eol said with a little smile.
"Is he still alive?" Haldir asked dubiously as he stood alongside Faramir, his bow was armed and ready to shoot. Despite the fact that Pallando and the Hunter had stopped battling momentarily, the march warden was poised and ready for the resumption of hostilities.
"That depends entirely on him," Eol replied calmly.
"I would be a little clearer with your answers elf!" Faramir jabbed the sword against Eol’s throat with a little more force. He was not afraid of breaking skin if he had to gain his answers.
Seconds ticked by and still Eol was determined to prolong their torture for as long as he was able. Gimli had managed to rouse Legolas from his limbo state while Elladan returned to the company, only to have Elrohir explain what had happened as they waited for Eol to speak. The Hunter and Pallando had reached a stalemate for the time being as both become concerned with the unfolding situation that was more pressing than their present battle. The Hunter watched its master under the threat of Faramir’s blade, debating whether or not it should intervene even though it knew its master had great power at his disposal. Still the sight of the blade against his throat gave the Hunter reason to doubt.
"I will return him if he agrees to leave Imladris without the Evenstar and never return," Eol responded.
"He will never agree to that!" Elladan declared before anyone else could speak. "She is his wife. They have been bound to each other for the last sixty years! They have a son!"
"Those are my terms," Eol repeated himself, caring little about the bonds made by the Edain. "I will not allow her to squander her immortality by being bound to a human. She is mine, I have taken her and by the right of marriage that I will soon claim her, I will also claim Imladris."
"Never," Elrohir hissed. "You will never have my father’s city."
"You did not have any difficulty abandoning it," Eol returned swiftly.
"We cannot accept your terms," Faramir spoke up for the first time, despite the blade he held against Eol’s throat. "The fate of Arwen is not ours to make. Bring Aragorn back and he can decide for himself."
"I think I will leave him where he is for the moment," Eol started to smile evilly. "Let him fully understand his situation and what he risks by not complying with my desires."
"Where is he?" Gimli demanded angrily, now that Legolas was on his feet, albeit rather shakily.
"Someplace where I am certain he will not enjoy," the elf said elusively.
"Where is he?" Pallando asked, filling this growing dread inside of him at the confidence in Eol’s manner that Aragorn would agree to anything if he were brought back.
Eol turned to him and said with a hint of satisfaction in his voice, "Angband."
"Angband no longer exists!" Elrohir exploded. "It was destroyed."
There was fear and confusion running rife through the company as they tried to comprehend how Eol could send Aragorn to a place that no longer existed. Even if it were true, to think that their friend had been sent to a place more terrible then Mordor could ever be was beyond their ability to imagine. Faramir’s blade dropped from Eol’s throat in shock for he knew perfectly well that Eol was not lying. This was the only answer that made any sense as to why Eol and the Hunter had suddenly found themselves in Middle earth, two ages since they were meant to have lived.
"You sent him to Angband," Faramir stated, the words escaped him like a strangled gasp.
"Its impossible!" Gimli cried out, refusing to believe it still. "Angband was destroyed with the rest of Beleriand."
"It was destroyed," Faramir glared at Eol’s hateful expression of amusement. "He had sent Aragorn through time. That is how he is here, how he has brought the Hunter here. He moves through time like we would move through the air."
"Bring him back!" Elladan was upon the elf in an instant, blades drawn to replace the one that Faramir had lowered. "BRING HIM BACK NOW!"
"Not until he concedes to my terms!" Eol hissed back fearlessly. "I will do nothing until it is agreed that you will take him from here with the understanding that he will never return to his realm, nor will any of you. Arwen will be mine and we will live out our immortal existence here in Imladris."
"Has she no choice in this?" Legolas demanded, unable to believe than any elf would take a woman by force.
"She is a woman," Eol turned to him coldly. "I do not require her permission in this, just her obedience."
"That woman is our sister," Elladan said in voice that might have been a low snarl. "We are not leaving without her."
"Then you will never see your King again," Eol retorted.
"Enough of this," Pallando grabbed Eol by the throat and concentrated hard. He was no mind reader but he knew how to draw what he needed from those who would not speak their secrets. It was surprisingly easy enough to find what he sought in Eol’s mind for the elf did not resist and gave up the information easily. Of course, Pallando knew the reason for that but at this moment he had no choice but to play Eol’s game. He only hoped he would be able to reach Aragorn in time.
When Pallando had from Eol what he needed, the wizard released him and stepped back, "none of you can help me in this. I must retrieve him alone."
"You can do that?" Faramir stared at the wizard.
"I can try," Pallando replied as he stepped away from them and began reciting the words that had only a short time ago been spoken by Eol.
Neither Eol nor the Hunter did anything to stop him as Pallando began reciting the spell. He hoped those he left behind would be able to cope in his absence as the task before him was his alone to fulfill, the others could not help him though he wished he had strength enough to bring them with him. However, this effort was going to drain him enough and if Aragorn was still alive in the hellish place that Eol had sent him, then Pallando would have to bring him back as well. He had to conserve all his energy to do what was needed. Aragorn had believed in him even when Pallando had doubted himself. It was not often a Maiar could feel less than he was and even rarer when there was someone who could speak the words that would make an immortal believe in himself again.
And for that, there was no distance Pallando would not cross to save the King of Gondor.
Just as suddenly as Aragorn had disappeared before them, Pallando had not done the same, leaving behind his company with Eol and the Hunter. Eol did not seemed displeased by the departure of the Istar as everything had fallen in accordance to his design. Elladan’s blade had returned to its position against the elf’s neck, the prince of Imladris was more than willing to kill the dark elf now that his bluff was called. Haldir, Legolas, Gimli and Elrohir had surrounded the Hunter, for the beast was most likely to lash out to save its master.
"Now what terms do you give us?" Elladan hissed.
"Stupid, arrogant elf," Eol turned a sharp eye upon him. "Do you think for one instant that you were ever a threat to me?
Without saying another word, Eol exerted his powers and sent Elladan flying through the air in much the same manner as he had done to Legolas in order to reach Aragorn earlier.
"Elladan!" Elrohir cried out momentarily distracted by his brother’s predicament.
Elladan made his landing upon the ground at the base of a tree, his body slamming hard against the wood as he uttered a cry of pain. Faramir moved in quickly to attack only to be met with Eol’s blade, the same weapon that the elf had taken from his wife after almost killing her.
"I do not know which offend me more," Eol retorted as he struck Anglachel against Faramir’s sword. "Your stupidity or your presumption."
Suddenly Faramir felt an invisible swept the legs from under him and he came down upon the ground hard, landing on his back with enough force to ensure the loss of his weapon from his grip. He scrambled to get to his feet but did not manage any more than sitting upright before his neck met the point of Eol’s sword. The dark elf looked down upon him with open contempt and replied, icily.
"If I had not already promised my servant that he could do with you as he wished, I would kill you now Edain but as it is, I have my lady to attend. Thus I shall leave you with a little gesture of farewell, no more fitting than what you gave me earlier," he touched the small spot of blood on his neck where Faramir had broken skin. Pressing the tip of Anglachel against Faramir’s cheek, Eol pulled back and was rewarded by a hiss of pain from the Lord of Ithilien as blood spilled from his torn skin.
"Farewell Prince of Ithilien," Eol said as he stepped away from Faramir and turned to the Hunter that had been waiting only his word to act, despite the warriors that surrounded it. Eol’s eyes met the beasts but briefly before he turned on his heels, his cloak trailing behind him as if he were some dark vengeful, not needing to see the faces around him as he uttered his final order.
"Kill them all."
Today was a day of firsts for Aragorn Elessar, King of the Reunified Kingdom.
He had screamed possibly for the first time in his life today and now he was trapped in a strange, terrifying place with no idea what to do or where to go. This lost, rudderless sensation was alien to a man whose life had followed a certain destiny despite all his efforts to be true to his own desires and not be shaped too much by prophecy. Aragorn had never known a day when he was so utterly and completely lost. Even when Arwen had been stolen from the palace and he had been disheartened by the lack of trail to follow, he had not been faced with this sheer obstruction of unknowing that confronted him now.
From his vantagepoint which a little crag of rock jutting from the walls of a three peaked volcanic mountain, he could see the molten rivers of lava running through the gaps between the fortress that was built within it. The structures were carved out of the dried lava, dark, ugly things with sharp edges that protected by its formidable and fearsome appearance, the underground armory that would be known throughout history as the Iron Prison. It was from these pits that all the dark things of the world were created - the orcs, the trolls, the Balrogs, the drakes and fouler things than Aragorn could ever remember. The Hunter was spawned here as his eyes moved along the surface of this obscene land, he saw the carved entrance of the prison against the far edge of the volcanic wall.
It was carved out of black volcanic ash and rocks, adorned with the bones of creatures he could not name but surely did not call natural. He saw the great steps that led through it dark doors and the through them, entered the legions of orc troops that were scattered across the top of the fortress. The orcs were not alone for as Aragorn watched in mesmerized horror, he saw a world bathed in the amber flame of the lava while the cool of the stars seemed far away. Angband was destroyed in the First Age of the Sun. in the War of the Wrath. As Aragorn looked at the sky above him, he saw no moon and in its absence felt a sliver of terror running through him at the realization that he had been brought into world before his race had even emerged at Hildorien. Melkor still ruled and Sauron existed here as his most loyal disciple.
The enormity of his situation was enough to terrify even the bravest of men but Aragorn knew he had to leave this place, he had escape somehow and find aid in Beleriand. His people did not exist but the elves, thank Elbereth, the elves had been born with the stars. They could help him although he feared that they would be confused by what he was. Unfortunately, he had little choice but to seek their aid. He could not remain here for it would not be too long before the creatures below discovered his presence and Aragorn had no wish to see the inside of the Iron Prison or meet Sauron face to face.
He stepped away from the rocky ledge assessing his situation and how he might leave this place behind him. The crag of rock upon which he stood, followed the mighty wall of the volcano but the way narrow in places and some of it disappeared into the mountain itself. With no idea what may lay waiting inside those caverns, Aragorn had no desire to go wandering beneath Angband but he had little choice. He could not believe that there was no way to escape the volcano and however treacherous the path might be, he had to find it somehow. Arwen was waiting for him in their own time to save her from Eol’s insane obsession of her.
Wasting no more time, Aragorn began his descent down the narrow pathway, keeping Anduril firmly in his hand and forcing himself to swallow the swell of fear that was rising from the pit of his stomach each time his eyes shifted towards the fortress below him. He tried not to shudder at the sight of the orcs or the trolls, tried to ignore the dragons that were feasting on dead carcasses upon the rocks, their hot breath burning to cinder what flesh their teeth did not rend. Aragorn could hear the howling of wolves and knew that they were nothing like the kind that he knew back in his own time.
The darkness kept him concealed as he moved quietly down the path, his feet making little sound as his boots crunched against the hard ground. The silence disturbed him greatly and he could hear the endless screaming of tortured voices emanating from the cracks of the fortress. Since the appearance of the Hunter, Aragorn had been told the story of how Melkor had abducted some of the elves who rose from Cuiviénen, the Water of Awakening and had tortured them until they were turned into orcs. As he heard those screams reaching out from the darkness of the pit, he wondered how many were there now, suffering torment he was in no position to deliver them from.
So far his presence had gone about unnoticed as he skimmed the edge of the wall, frightened beyond belief but forcing himself to remember who he was and if nothing else, to be true to himself even if he was die here without ever seeing Arwen again. He did not know how long he could remain anonymous as his path took him further into the mouth of the volcano. Aragorn knew what he was basing a great deal upon the hope that this path led into a cavern that might led him out of the pit instead of deeper into it. Unfortunately, he had had little choice but to follow it.
The air was fell and reminded Aragorn of the odor that lingered about Mordor during the siege at the Black Gates. He did not know how long he walked down the path unnoticed but after a time, the path emptied into a cavern and Aragorn took a deep breath as he found himself standing at the mouth of it. The air within smelled rancid and his instincts told him that he should not enter but he had little choice in the matter since the path allowed him to go no other way. Taking a deep breath, he stepped within, wishing that he could make a torch of some kind so that he could see within its darkness. Unfortunately there was no wood he could use for if there had been anything like a tree growing in this place, it would have been destroyed long ago.
Stepping into the darkness, his hand immediately clasped at the wall of the cavern, using it to move through the pitch-black confines. His heart was pounding loudly as he moved through this overwhelming darkness, his eyes searching for any light any finding none. Aragorn’s hand clutched Anduril tight, if he could see he would have noticed that his knuckles were white from fear. Beads of sweat formed upon his brow, their salt trickling in a slow roll down his cheek. He tried his best to slow his breathing for he worried that in this darkness, he might not be alone and what traverse this cavern might be better able to see him then he could see them.
He crawled along the wall, ignoring the slimy feel of the rock against the surface as he moved across the ground, occasionally having to side step a boulder or some protrusion of rock that he happened upon. He did not know how long he traveled through the darkness before he heard a sound that was not consistent with his footsteps. He froze in his steps, trying not to make a sound until he knew what was in the cavern with him. He did not even know when one cavern had begun or where another had ended. All he could think to do was hold his ground and prayed that whatever had moved had not seen him or would pass by. Aragorn despised his helplessness but this was a realm and a time in which Balrogs had roamed the world freely and in the open, in great armies of darkness that mortal man was never meant to face. Aragorn often wondered how the elves had survived at all.
Hello little one.
The voice was not a spoken word but he heard it inside his head. The words were slurred and strange, almost like Black Speech but not quite spoken in the tongue of the Orcs. He supposed even in the culture of such beasts, language evolved through the ages and this speak he was hearing was most likely archaic by the standards of orcs in his time. Aragorn did not answer, he dared not give whatever had spoken evidence of his presence.
I see you little one.
Little one, Aragorn swallowed thickly, recalling how Boromir had called the hobbits that and felt a shudder of fear at thinking that whatever was speaking considered him ‘little’. He brandished his sword in a stance of attack even though he could hear nothing, not even the breathing of whatever had spoken to him in this wordless method he could hear inside his mind but not in his ears.
I do not think your blade will be able to help you much. This is my domain.
Aragorn started to retreat the way he came, thinking of no other course left to him. His ability to breath shallow had all but vanished and he knew he was panting hard as he moved back along the wall, his back facing the stone he tried to see in vain what was speaking to him. His sword was held out before him and he forced himself to calm down before his panic at his near blindness cost him his life. Slowly, his panting lessened as he groped the stone in his retreat. His eyes searching wildly for some semblance of shape or form that would allow him to defend himself.
What are you little one?
There was genuine curiosity in its voice even if it was strange to hear. Once again, Aragorn wondered what it was that was speaking to him. It did not sound like the speech of Orcs of any description. Aragorn shook his head of the question because the last thing he needed to be at this moment was curious. Suddenly, he felt a hard obstruction against his foot and before he could stop himself, he went tumbling to the dirt in a clumsy heap.
Be careful little one, you are in enough peril without hurting yourself in a fall.
Aragorn swore under his breath, still gripping Anduril in his hand as he forced himself to his feet again when suddenly he heard movement. Something like footsteps but it was fast and rapid, like the drumming of fingers against the dirt. The unfamiliarity of it made him place his hand against the wall and start running, for he could think of no other way to hasten his departure when he had no idea what it was that was following him.
A chase, little one? You do spoil me.
Aragorn felt his heart pounding as he moved awkwardly, his foot periodically kicking rock in his race to escape the cavern, giving him warning enough to avoid the jutting rocks that had dwindled his hope for a rapid exit. He paused at times to hear how far it was behind him but there was no sound other than the drumming against the dirt he could no identify but struck terror into his heart each time he heard it. It was pursuing him no doubt but how far it was, or what it was for that matter was something that the darkness around him would not allow Aragorn to answer.
You are spirited, that is for certain but you still do not answer my question.
What question? Aragorn thought involuntarily in his mind when he heard it speak again.
What are you? You are not Eldar. You do not have the lustre of Varda upon you and you are too big to be one of Aule’s spawn.
Aragorn did not respond and tried not to think of a response either since it was apparent that whatever it was that was pursuing him was also a mind reader of sorts. Aragorn did not wish to allow this creature to have any more power over him than it already did. He kept his eyes fixed ahead on the path he could not see, his hand pressed against the wall so that he would not lose himself from the only thing that was capable of guiding him out of this cavern. Death was drawing so close that he could feel its breath against his spine.
You are capable of speaking, I heard you curse. You must be Quendi.
Quendi, Aragorn thought quickly. The elves believed had believed in their first emergence that they were the only ones who could speak. It was said that they tauhgt the other races this speech but in the early days of their existence, when they still dwelt at Cuivienen, they called themselves Quendi being ‘those who speak with voices'.
I do not think I should kill you, I think I should bring you to my lord. I sense that he will want to know what you are.
Aragorn did not think this was a reprieve in any case. He had no wish to be brought before Melkor or possibly Sauron, he was not certain who commanded Angband at this time. However, a surge of hope filled him upon seeing the amber light from the outside world peering through the mouth of the cavern in which he had entered. Relief forced him to move faster and the dawning illumination allowed him to see something of the path ahead of him.
Aragorn did not even bother to consider those words and their terrible implications as he broke through the entrance of the cavern and took a hungry breath of air. It did not smell remotely like fresh air but it was better than the foul stench he had been breathing ever since he had entered the cavern. He was uncertain of what to do now and hurried up the path against the volcano wall that he had descended to enter that cave. He studied the outcrop he had been standing upon and supposed that he might try climbing the wall behind it, though it would not be easy to scale its height. However, anything had to be better then where he had been.
The sound of that drumming against the gravel forced Aragorn to turn around and when he did, his eyes widened in horror as he stumbled backwards and found his head raising upwards to meet the gaze of two ruby colored eyes the size of his skull each. Mandibles flexed in anticipation of a meal, a thin line of saliva clinging to remain attached to the widening jaws. Its black skin gleamed in amber light as its numerous legs supported its round abdomen smaller thorax and even smaller head. However, despite this decrease, the beast still stood over his head. In his time, there was only one of these creatures in its terrible purity still in existence and that beast had met its end at the hands of Samwise Gamgee in Cirith Ungol. Until now, Aragorn had not appreciated how incredible that feat was to have been managed by a small hobbit, not when he was faced with one himself.
The spider looked at him with its blood red compound eyes and though it was not capable of producing such an expression, Aragorn was certain it was smiling when it spoke to him.
Talk for me Quendi. Tell me what you are. I wish to know upon what I feast.
Completely unaware of what her husband was enduring at this moment, even though he was ages in the past, Arwen Evenstar was still nonetheless a bundle of anxious nerves as she waited for news of the Estel’s encounter with Eol. She knew when the dark elf had left her father’s house because the Hunter had brought to his attention the presence of intruders approaching the barrier that Eol had surrounded Imlardis. She would have tried to escape the moment he left if not for the painful realisation that she had not the strength to penetrate the enchantment he kept in place to ensure no one left Imladris without his permission. Thus she was forced to linger and wait for his return or Estel’s if her beloved defeated the sorcerer whose captive she was.
Waiting inside the suite of rooms that used to be hers when she still lived in Imladris, Arwen felt her impatience grow with each second that passed. As her gaze swept across her old room her frustration reached new heights when it appeared that that the rooms were made to look as if she had had never left it. Arwen wondered if this was for the purpose of maintaining the illusion that she was still a maid that had yet to be presented to a husband. She wondered what insanity had possessed Eol that he was so determined to believe that she could forget Aragorn and Eldarion simply because he wished it so. It further convinced her that he was indeed mad as she suspected for a sane man could not be as obsessed as he was about her.
Finally she could bear the waiting no longer and she ventured forth from her room, determined to learn the fate of her people who were similarly trapped as she. Arwen refused to entertain the notion that Eol might have killed them all because she could not bring herself to believe that any member of the Eldar, even one as insane as Eol could do anything so terrible as murder so many of his own race. They had to be somewhere, she told herself as she walked down the empty corridors of her father’s house. However, as she was faced with its emptiness, Arwen started to realize that there was a very strong argument for the possibility that Eol had done the unthinkable.
Pausing at the balcony that looked upon the splendor of Imladris, all Arwen saw was a city shrouded in silence and emptiness. The quiet streets and the prevailing silence that Arwen found herself observing with growing alarm made Imladris appear haunted and sinister, hardly the atmosphere of peace and light this place was meant to represent. She wondered where her people were and her fears from them grew almost to the point where she was able to forget her own miserable situation as Eol’s captive. Did he intend them to live here alone, with only each other for company, taken care of by Morfiniel and guarded by the Hunter? The thought made her shudder in fear and rekindled her desire to find her mother’s old friend.
Fortunately, she did not have to search too far for Morfiniel as the lady appeared on the balcony soon after the thought had crossed her mind, seeking Arwen instead. Morfiniel appeared clearly unhappy to find Arwen where she did for her face was filled with apprehension as she hurried to the Evenstar.
"My lady, you should not here out of your room," Morfiniel replied, looking about anxiously as if she were terrified that Eol might return unexpectedly.
"I cannot escape Imladris as it is Morfiniel," Arwen said sourly. "I refuse to be imprisoned in a room as well."
"But the Master will be angry," Morfiniel spoke softly, her eyes darting about like a frightened animal. Seeing her in such a state of anxiety deepened Arwen’s hatred of the dark elf.
"He is not your master," Arwen snapped. "He has already taken our home and freedom, do not let him break your spirit as well."
"But he will be angry and he will hurt you," Morfiniel warned, meeting Arwen’s gaze and showing the Evenstar that she worried not so much for herself but for her old friend’s cherished daughter.
"He would not hurt me," Arwen replied, taking the woman’s hands in her own, her voice bitter as she spoke. "I am his prized possession. I doubt he would do anything to jeopardize the beauty of his bride."
"Oh my lady," Morfiniel’s eyes filled with emotion, "I am so sorry that he has done this to you. Did he harm anyone in your abduction?"
"He hurt my friends," Arwen explained sadly, glad that she could speak to someone else for a change. It seemed like forever since she last spoke to anyone other then Eol. "I hope they still live because the beasts’ attack upon them was brutal."
"And the babe?" Morfiniel inquired again, almost afraid to ask the question. Morfiniel knew that the Evenstar had been with child and supposed that the child would have been born by know.
"He did not harm Eldarion," Arwen allowed her a little smile of gratitude at that revelation before her anger tainted that as well, "only because he had no use for a half breed whelp as he called it."
"Better for the child then," Morfiniel turned away. "To be free at least and spared our fate."
"Our fate?" Arwen exclaimed in shock at Morfiniel’s defeatist words. She did not remember the lady being so disheartened before. "Morfiniel, Estel will come for us. He will not allow this elf to keep up prisoner in this manner."
Morfiniel faced Arwen again, her eyes were sad and shamed. "You do not understand my lady, he is too powerful to be stopped. I saw what he did to our people….."
"Are they dead?" Arwen asked, her voice became a pitched demand. She had not wanted to believe that Eol was capable of murdering the people of Imladris but the pained expression in Morfiniel’s eyes made her think the worst.
"No," Morfiniel answered after what seemed an eternity of unknowing. "They are not dead."
"Then where are they?" Arwen demanded.
"They are here," the lady answered hesitantly.
"In the city?" Arwen’s brow furrowed in confusion, her gaze shifting to Imladris below her and taking note of its haunting emptiness before facing Morfiniel again. "Why do they remain hidden? Are they afraid of the Hunter? Did he harm them?" She asked softly, almost afraid of the answer.
To think that elven blood had been spilled in Imladris was more than she could stomach. A part of her wanted to remain in the bliss of ignorance but in the absence of her brothers and her father, the people of Imladris were her responsibility and that concern overrode her fears for herself.
"I cannot answer your question but to show you," Morfiniel finally confessed. "And I fear doing so for the consequences to both of us."
"You must show me Morfiniel," Arwen gripped her shoulders so that the woman understood how serious she was about this. "If we are to help our people, I must know what has happened to them."
Morfiniel nodded slowly despite the fear in her eyes at what would be the consequences should Imladris’ new master discover them but when the Evenstar commanded, Morfiniel could do nothing but obey. After all, Arwen was very much her father’s daughter and secretly, Morfiniel prayed that she had Elrond’s strength for never had Imladris needed it more.
"I will take you my lady," she said after a moment. "Whatever the consequences, I will show you what has happened to our people."
The words hung in the air for but a split second before the Hunter uttered a growl of relish that echoed through the woods about them. For so long it had been restrained by duty to the elf, a creature it would have once considered too beneath it to be commanded by. Yet this elf had revealed a streak of darkness that convinced the Hunter that the one of Varda’s stars that shone upon the race at their creation was a dark star indeed for Eol was the personification of its essence. There was evil in him that the Hunter could respect and it was better to serve a master who was lesser than the one it had known in a previous life then to have none at all.
The enemy rallied against it were a curious collection of Eldar, Aule’s little people and the new race, the Edain as he had come to learn since being brought into this realm. They were united in their cause, doomed together by their assumption that it could be killed by the likes of them. The Hunter wanted to laugh, wanted to show them how wrong they were before it tore them from limb to limb but oh so slowly for such pleasures should never be rushed. They spread out after the Master had departed, arrogant in their belief that his words were spoken in boast, not realizing how much it had been waiting for that order. The memory of its defeat in Edoras lingered upon its mind and though it was the Maiar that it would have preferred to pit itself against, it could be satisfied with the morsel his master had tossed in its direction.
"I thought I would never hear those words," the Hunter smiled at its prey, more than prepared to shatter the illusion of control they thought they had over the situation.
The elves had surrounded the Hunter, Faramir noted after Eol had gone and he had recovered enough wits to retrieve his sword and join the battle. Considering their history with this particular creature, Faramir was somewhat impressed by how bravely they faced an enemy that frightened them on such a primitive level. The Hunter had been the first non-elven creature the race had encountered, even before their discovery by Orome of the Valar. The Hunter and the beast known as the Dark Rider, a creature almost as elusive as the Hunter itself and of whom almost nothing was known, had taken the new race to Melkor who tortured and mutilated them into Orcs over centuries of torment and breeding.
"Do you think you can defeat me?" The Hunter rumbled arrogantly at them as he raised his mighty sword. "Your kind has always been weak. Children of the Stars indeed! They did not know you existed until my master paid attention. Do you think you were apart of some grand design? Some plan? Your priceless arrogance should be a comedy written for the ages, a reminder to stupidity in its grandest form."
"How we came to be is our concern," Legolas declared, unaffected by the cruel words because he had heard worse in his time and had seen greater things to tear the soul asunder then the taunting of a sadist whose pleasure came from inflicting pain. "You judge us by those you faced in the First Age, when our race was new and innocent. We have come a long way since then and thanks to your Master and his servants, we have been hardened like steel in fire."
"The pretty one thinks he’s hardened like steel?" The Hunter began to laugh and giving Legolas no warning whatsoever, swung his mighty blade at the Lord of Eden Ardhon. Legolas saw the sword coming at him that had taken Orophin’s life and immediately leapt out of the way.
The minute the beast had swung, Haldir whose bow was poised and ready, shot an arrow straight for the Hunter’s throat. The arrow lodged deeply into the Hunter’s neck and tore the creatures attention away from Legolas who was soon on his feet and aiming his own bow and arrow at the enemy. The Hunter’s eyes narrowed in hatred as he bellowed at Haldir and tore the arrow from his neck, flinching as he did so. Clutching the bloody stalk in his hand, he surged forward, preparing to spear the march warden with the projectile when another arrow caught him in the back. This one came from the bow of Legolas and the archer immediately shot again, impaling the Hunter with as many arrows as he could before the beast turned at his direction.
"The pretty one is swift indeed," the Hunter growled and flung his sword as Legolas. Legolas found himself having to dive out of the way as the large weapon flew past him. If it had struck, it would have ripped his body apart without wavering slightly in its course. However, the Hunter was not done with him yet. The beast strode forward towards the archer, his massive body moving far swifter than anything that large should be capable of doing.
"Legolas run!" Gimli cried out as he threw his axe at the Hunter. The weapon spun through the air in a circular motion, creating a whoosh of sound as it cut a path towards the enemy. The axe slammed into the Hunter’s shoulder, with sufficient force to ensure that arrows might be an evil he could shirt off but the blade of a dwarf axe was another thing entirely. The Hunter paused long enough to roar in pain as the weapon sunk into his flesh, surprised by the pain and also somewhat shocked that it could be hurt to such an extent. Glaring at the dwarf, he flung the arrow at Gimli previously intended for Haldir, which it still clutched in its bloody hand.
The arrow flew at Gimli as if it had been shot from a bow. The dwarf dropped to the ground, allowing it to fly over his head, to dig harmlessly into the ground. As the Hunter panted hard, examining the wound at his side, he was once again assailed on all fronts by the company. Haldir had resumed shooting arrows at the beast, each point that pierced the Hunter’s flesh was revenge against all the things that Orophin would never see because his life had been savagely cut short. All his brother had ever wanted to do was see what the world had to offer and because of this abomination from Melkor’s pit, Orophin would never even see Valinor. There would never be enough arrows or pain Haldir could inflict upon this beast to make up for that.
Suddenly, the beast vanished before their eyes but they knew that he had not fled from the battle.
"Remain still!" Legolas ordered for the benefit of those without elven senses. There was too much commotion to discern where the Hunter walked in the shadow world and everyone fell still, trying to draw out the creature’s whereabouts.
"I sense it," Elladan spoke in almost a whisper, his eyes narrowing in hatred that had been growing inside him, ever since he had watched Orophin murdered in front of his shocked eyes. The horror of that was branded into his memory with such fierce intensity that he could tell no one of it, certainly not Haldir who tormented enough by his brother’s death. "The beast is still here."
Suddenly, Gimli went flying through the air. The dwarf let out an indignant cry as his stocky body was flung aside like a rag doll. Legolas’ eyes widened in horror as he watched his friend land hard against the ground unmoving. Without thinking, the Prince formerly of Mirkwood and presently of Eden Ardhon dashed to his friend’s side. He skidded across the dried leaves that covered the ground next to Gimli who had rolled onto his back, his head lolled to his side.
The others spread out around the clearing, hearing footsteps crushing foliage underfoot as the beast ran unseen towards Legolas. Haldir had begun shooting his arrows again but he was unable to know for certain if he was shooting in the correct direction. As the Hunter drew close to Legolas, Haldir had to stop shooting all together for fear of striking either the elf or his dwarf companion. Faramir brandished his sword and chose a more direct method of attack, if only to distract the Hunter and give the others something to aim their arrows and blades at. He managed to place himself between his two friends and slashed wildly at the air before him, hoping that his random slices would yield results. When he heard a growl of pain, he knew he had struck flesh and his blade suddenly became black with blood.
Unfortunately, his triumph was short lived when he heard Elrohir shout frantically, "Faramir, step back!"
Faramir had less than a split second of time to withdraw to avoid Orophin’s fate under the Hunter’s invisible blade. Elven senses could not see the sword but knew when extreme danger was coming. However, it was discovered, the timely warning was not to be ignored even though he could not escape entirely unscathed. His tunic was ripped open as he felt a gust of air before him and then there was pain as a red slash appeared across his chest. He uttered a small cry of pain as the blood flowed from the open wound and heard the Hunter’s sinister laugh.
"Monster!" Elrohir shouted angrily and rammed his sword into the beast’s body, his senses telling him where the creature was at that moment. He buried the blade to the hilt, feeling its sink into unseen flesh and feeling muscle tense around its steel.
A thundered howl filled the air before Elorhir felt a powerful fist slam into the side of his head. The power behind the blow lifted him off his feet, blacking out the world from his mind in a wave of uncontrollable disorientation. He did not even grasp that he was flying through the air in much the same way that Gimli had been thrown before. All he felt was the side of his face was burning with heat and pain and that he could feel blood filling up his mouth. His shoulder met the earth first and Elrohir heard the sickening crunch of bone, followed by another surge of stabbing pain.
Haldir saw Elrohir fall and tossed away his bow for he had no more arrows left to fire. He saw the leaves rustle and a great weight crushing them as the Hunter ran towards him. He could not see the beast but he could see its heavy steps approaching. Haldir pulled out his sword and threw it like a javelin, watching the blade streak through the air like a spear. It struck something in mid air and another rumble of pain followed as he was treated to the odd sight of the sword imbedded in the creature’s invisible flesh suspended in mid air. Another swoosh of sound was heard and he could hear the rush of air against something above his head. He dove out of the way, his body dragging across the dirt and dead leaves as the Hunter’s blade left its indent in the soil at the place where he had been standing.
"Come here little elf," the Hunter hissed. "Come here and share your brother’s fate!"
Haldir saw the rotting foliage rustling and soil being unearthed around the indent where the beast’s blade had sunk. It did not take Haldir long to realize that the Hunter was retrieving his sword and was about to swing again. Scrambling to his feet, he looked around for a weapon and saw Faramir’s blade lying against the dirt. Haldir made a dash for it and was about to put his hand upon the hilt when suddenly, the long blade snapped in half. The blade split like kindling and Haldir could see the sword he had put into the Hunter’s belly still hanging in the air above his head.
"Perhaps you would like your sword back," the Hunter taunted, regarding the blade impaled upon his body. "Maybe I should return it to you in the same manner."
"Maybe, you should withdraw while you can," Elladan’s voice spoke over that of the beast.
The Hunter never had the opportunity to respond to Elladan’s taunt as an arrow bathed in flame flew from his bow. The arrow struck deep into the Hunter’s flesh above the place where Haldir’s sword was imbedded. Elladan had held back, preparing his own attack as his companions fought the Hunter bravely and gave him the precious time needed to finish this battle. He did not know if he could kill the beast in this manner but before he was done, the Hunter would know pain, of that Elladan was determined. As soon as the first had flown, Elladan was preparing another to fly and soon he was shooting arrow after flaming arrow at the beast with such speed that the creature could do nothing but scream in outrage. The Hunter began running towards Elladan, preparing to deliver a deathblow but could not complete the journey because he was soon engulfed in fire. The beast let out a terrible shriek of fear and defeat as its body ignited.
As the oil covered arrows burned and spread their flame across the beast’s body the Hunter became an amber wraith within the clearing, struggling against the fire. In a howl of what could only be despair and agony, the beast surged past them, its arms flailing as it ran out of their sight, no doubt to douse its fiery state in the river. Whatever its fate, Elladan did not care because his thoughts were of his friends and his brother’s who had fought the beast valiantly and deserved the interlude this brutal immolation had given them.
Elladan did not realize that he was holding his breath until he heard Elrohir groan and then it escaped him like a gust of wind. His legs began moving and he ran towards his brother who was trying to push himself to his hands and knees. As he hurried to his brother, he saw that the others had not fared as well. Legolas was contending with both Faramir and Gimli as Haldir picked himself off the ground. Faramir’s injury had drawn blood but judging by the manner in which the Lord of Ithilien as examining the gash across his chest, it was not as grievous as it appeared.
"Elrohir, are you all right?" Elladan took his brother’s arm and helped him to his feet. Elrohir’s shoulder was slumped to one side and he winced as he rose. There was blood running down the corner of his mouth and the side of his face was turning a deep shade of purple.
"Yes," Elrohir nodded, still a little dazed but seemed more focus when he raised his head and fixed his eye upon his brother and stated, "you saved us."
"I did nothing but give that beast something to think about," Elladan replied. "It will be back, I am sure of it."
"That was well met nonetheless," Haldir, added his own comment as he approached the twins. "If it were not for you, I would be dead by now. Thank you."
Elladan added softly, "I could not let it kill you as it did Orophin. I owe your brother that at least."
"You owe my brother nothing," Haldir replied, aware that Orophin’s death had its own effect upon the prince, "you did not kill him, that accursed beast did that."
Elladan nodded and turned to Faramir who was dabbing the wound across his chest with a shred of his tunic; wincing each time he made contact with the flesh.
"Faramir, how badly are you hurt?
"The cut stings," Faramir looked up with a frown, "but its is not deep. Your warning was timely Elrohir."
"I wish it would have saved you the injury though," Elrohir grunted through his swollen mouth.
"I am alive," Faramir reminded. "That is good enough."
"What about the Master Dwarf?" Haldir called out to Legolas who was attempting to revive Gimli. The dwarf had landed hard but appeared to be slowly coming out of his unconscious state.
"I do not see any great injury," Legolas retorted. "I think he is merely dazed. It would take more than the Hunter to crack his tough head," the elf joked, if only to make himself feel better.
Gimli snorted suddenly, his eyes flew open and he sat up suddenly, "where is he?" Gimli demanded.
"It is gone for now," Legolas said quickly, calming the spirited dwarf. "Elladan chased it away."
"And just in time as well," Faramir added, "Our losses were starting to mount."
"He will be back," Elladan declared firmly. "We must be ready for him."
"We will be," Haldir said with a determined voice. "We can hurt him now and it knows it. It will not be as confident to face us all as it was before. It has learnt we are not as helpless as we were when it hunted our kind in the First Age."
"I think we should proceed to Imladris," Faramir replied as he stood up shakily and sought out the horses. His own had stopped struggling and returned to the clearing following the spell that Eol had cast upon it and like any well prepared Ranger, he had stocked some supplies for the treatment of minor injuries.
"I agree," Haldir responded, brushing himself off. "We should strike while the beast is weakened."
"We are not exactly in the best shape ourselves," Elladan pointed out, his desire for vengeance was not as important as his brother’s welfare. "Some of you need to rest and recover."
"I’ll be damned if I let that monster get away because of a bump on the head," Gimli declared haughtily as he stood up on his feet to prove how fit he was to fit. "I say we hunt the blasted thing down and finish it once and for all!"
"You cannot fault him for spirit," Legolas remarked with a little smile at his friend’s spirited declaration, garnering a look from Gimli.
"Then let us take a moment to tend our injuries and be off," Elladan declared, unprepared to go anywhere until they had looked at Elrohir’s arm which did not appear as good a condition as his brother would have them believe.
"Come along then pretty one," Gimli retorted as he started after Faramir and the horses.
"Very funny," Legolas growled under his breath as he followed the dwarf.
The spider did not move.
It remained motionless before Aragorn, its red eyes gleaming under the fiery light emanating form the rivers of lava that ran throughout the pits of Angband. Aragorn debated what to do as he stood before the beast, with Anduril held in his grasp in readiness to defend himself when the spider finally attacked. So far, the creature was contented to let him make the opening move and Aragorn wondered if the sensible course would be to run although there was nowhere he could go really. The beast barred the path before him and the dark cavern where he had discovered it. However there was no salvation behind him either for there was only that outcropping of rock and a treacherous length of wall he would have to climb to escape the pit. Aragorn was certain that no matter how fast he managed to scale the distance to rim of the volcano, the great spider would be faster.
Will you not run?
The creature asked of him as he came to the possibly insane conclusion that he would hold his ground and fight because whether it was here or a few feet away, the outcome would still be the same. In the end, he would have to face the spider. It made little difference where he chose to fight that battle. The beast was waiting for him to make the first move and instinctively, Aragorn knew that it was female for spiders often seemed their most fearsome when they were of the gender generally perceived by men to be the weakest. Aragorn supposed that it was Iluvatar’s sense of irony at work that saw to it this was not always so.
"I do not run," he spoke in Black Speech because Westron was as unknown to the beast as what manner of life he was.
The Eldar would run.
"I am not the Eldar," Aragorn said firmly. "If you wish to feed, come at me and let us begin this dance. Do not waste my time if you are undecided regarding what you about. I have other places to be if you have not the stomach for a meal."
The spider was incapable of making any sound that could be considered a bellow of rage. It could speak but only in soft hoarse tones as if it was an effort to form words, unless it was spoken in the mind. However, Aragorn saw its bloated back abdomen heave in anger and the spindly legs seemed to thrum impatiently into movement. He saw its mandibles extending, preparing to snap at him when it reached his body. Aragorn held his ground for as long as he dared because on this narrow ledge there was no way to run unless he wished to be pursued and his best course was to attack the creature from the rear.
A lesser man would not have remained and Aragorn could not deny that when he saw the dark body and the razor sharp mandibles coming at him, he had thought of fleeing himself but he knew that he had to hold firm. The creature was irked by its audacity, no doubt accustomed to seeing its prey run at the first sight of it. Its anger made it careless and as it came at Aragorn in all its bestial horror, Aragorn broke into a run and surprised the creature by advancing instead of retreating. At the last minute, before those terrible jaws were upon him, Aragorn lunged forward, his body propelled by speed across the gravel covered ground and he scrambled beneath the dark body before the spider could guess what he was up to.
As the creature moved past him, Aragorn leapt to his feet, seeing the back of its torso and knowing that his chance was to strike before it could turned to face him again. With more courage than he thought himself capable of possessing, Aragorn jumped on top of the black body and somehow managed to remain on top as he drove Anduril deep into the dark flesh. The spider convulsed in pain, its think legs shaking in agony as the blade was thrust deep into its flesh. As the pain overtook it, the creature began to rock about furiously, attempting to throw him of its back.
The sound it produced in its agony was like the shriek of a wraith but sharper somehow, as if crying out to the world in its despair. Blood began to ooze out of the wound as Aragorn clutched the sword that somehow anchored him upon the spider’s back, giving him the support he needed to remain on top. However, the wound had only enraged the beast not kill it. Aragorn retracted Anduril, thrusting his hand deep into the fissure of ruptured flesh, trying not to recoil in disgust at what he was using as a hand hold as he slammed Anduril into another unbroken patch of skin.
The spider screeched in pain again, its spasms even more violent as it slammed its body against the wall at the side of the ledge, attempting to dislodge Aragorn from its body and inflicting more mortal wounds upon it. Aragorn refused to be thrown off, aware that death only awaited him if his feet touched the ground. The beast was far stronger and faster than he, Aragorn knew that he was outmatched if they faced each other, eye to compound eye. He stabbed Anduril through the spider’s back once again, becoming from frenzied with each wound delivered. The spider reacted in kind, its screams echoing through the pit with such shrill agony that Aragorn knew that if he survived this encounter, he would be faced with the hosts of Angband who would aware of his presence by the commotion.
Let me live and I will see you safely out of here!
Aragorn heard the plea inside his mind but he could also sense the malice behind it. There was no way this creature would allow him to leave Angband alive if he were to let it live. Its rage at being bested was like a malignancy that would grow unless it knew vengeance.
"Somehow, I do not believe you!" Aragorn hissed, no longer afraid to let it hear his voice and prepared to strike his last blow because he could not linger any more. Even as he struggled to remain perched upon the creature’s back, he could see the orcs and the trolls moving across the pit, their eyes facing this ledge and the battle unfolding upon it.
With Anduril gleaming with blood upon its blade like black tar, Aragorn released his hold of the wound and used both hands to impale the spider through its skull. The beast uttered a final scream of pain as the sword tore through what passed for flesh and bone on such a creature before its entire body shook violently in a spasm of death. The legs that had been holding its body trembled briefly before going slack, dropping the heavy abdomen to the ground where it moved no more. Repulsed beyond reason, his stomach ready to heave, Aragorn remained frozen before he pulled out his sword and almost retched at sound it made upon release. His hands were covered in the creature’s blood and he did not know for how many seconds, he remained where he was to ensure it was dead.
He was panting when he finally climbed off the spider’s body and was further reassured when he saw those gleaming red eyes diminish like the dying embers of a fire in the morning. He took a deep breath and started walking away from the dead carcass when suddenly, he heard that sound again, that terrible drumming against the dirt of too many fingers. He turned around slowly and saw that it was not orcs that he had to worry about but the spawn of the demon he had just killed, spilling out of the cavern. He saw them coming at him, more than he could count, alerted by the cries of its dying kindred and knew that he was seeing his doom in a sea of black, round bodies.
He stood his ground, strangely numb as he understood he came to the conclusion that he was going to die and had yet to decide in which manner should he accept the inevitable, fighting or submissive as they tore him from limb to limb. Aragorn sucked in his breath, feeling his heart ache with sorrow at realizing that he would never see his beloved Undomiel again and praying that wherever they were, his wife and child would forgive him for failing them so utterly.
"Aragorn!" A voice called out to him from up high and Aragorn was torn out of his grief with the shock at realizing the voice was one he knew. Gazing up at the sky, he saw a mighty eagle circling above his head and preparing to make its descent. This was no eagle the likes of which Aragorn had ever seen because the size of it made the eagles he knew, Gwaihir and Landroval, seemed dwarfish in comparison.
"Jump Aragorn!" The voice instructed from high above and though Aragorn could not see him, the king of Gondor recognized it as belonging to the wizard Pallando who through some magic he had yet to understand, was here to save him.
His shock evaporated at the sight of the spiders coming towards him, preparing to deliver to him a terrible death as payment for murdering of one of their own. Aragorn saw the swarm coming towards him, their black legs moving fast as they closed the distance between them and decided that this was one occasion when he would be glad to run.
With Anduril firmly in his grip, Aragorn raced up the path once more, running faster than he had ever ran in his entire life. The spiders behind him were soon in pursuit as he neared the outcrop of rock he had found himself upon when he had first appeared in Angband. His heart was pounding with fear but it was also filled with hope and an unshakeable faith in the wizard who had crossed time to save his life. Letting out a guttural cry to brace himself for what had to be done, Aragorn leapt off the edge and placed himself in the hands of Iluvutar.
He did not fall far and when he landed, he felt himself against the soft feathers of the great eagle that was soaring into the air, gaining altitude and distancing them from the pits of Angband. Aragorn was thanking Iluvutar and all of the Ainur for this deliverance, so much so that for a moment, he forgot that Pallando was on the eagle’s back with him. Thorondor the greatest of the Eagles, said nothing as his mighty wings soared into the sky, leaving Angband behind him like a distant memory.
"Not a moment too soon I think," Pallando laughed as he patted Aragorn’s back and offered the king a friendly smile against his shock.
"How?" Aragorn managed to gasp. He was still too overcome by the fact that he had been rescued from certain death to be able to say anything more intelligible then that.
"Eol is not the only one who knows how to manipulate time," Pallando replied. "The spell was difficult but I learnt where he sent you and returned myself. I enlisted the aid of Thorondor, the greatest of all eagles to bring me here with all speed."
"A curious race this Edain," Thorondor spoke and his voice was like the wind given speech. "Your courage is boundless though your lack of sense begs concern. Confronting Ungoliant’s spawn is never wise."
"It was a risk I had to take," Aragorn answered mutely, astonished that he was speaking to one of the greatest heroes of the First Age.
"I think I will like these Edain when they are born, servant of Orome." The great bird replied as they soared over the lands of Middle earth towards Beleriand.
"Pallando," Aragorn stared at the wizard. "Can you bring us back?"
"Yes," Pallando nodded, "once Thorondor takes us to a place of safety, we will return home."
The king did not answer as he exhaled deeply while he rested his head against the soft feathers of Thorondor’s back to recover from his ordeal in Angband. Aragorn’s eyes gazed upon the expanse of lands that were no more in his time. Angband and Beleriand were long beneath the sea when he was born. From such lofty heights, the mark of Melkor and the pits of Angband did not appear so terrible. There was an awesome beauty about it that had to be respected, even if it was to be feared. Aragorn wished Arwen could share this experience with him, to see the world upon the back of this majestic creature but felt his heart ache at realizing how far away she was from him at this moment.
"Not home," Aragorn said softly, thinking of all he had to do when he returned to his own time and his jaw set in fury that radiated from him like a flame that both Pallando and Thorondor could feel. "It will not be home until Arwen and Imladris are freed."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.