9. The Everlasting Night
The fight was furious.
In the dark of night, foe meshed with friend, and all become shadow in the fields. Though Gimli counted himself an excellent warrior, in the black it was difficult to maintain his sights. All around was a great cacophony of battle, cries of the wounded, the slash of swords through air, the grunts of exertion, the howls of the enemy. The Dwarf struggled to stay focused, though his axe moved quick enough to slay many an Orc. His racing heart was heavy.
The blade of his axe glinted in the moonlight. The sharp edge was covered in gore. Gimli smiled in grim satisfaction. As another round of attackers approached, he let loose a fierce cry and rounded upon them. The rage of the battle pounded through his body and released himself to it, bringing power to his swinging arms and strength to his legs. He slashed downward, catching one grisly Orc across its chest. The axe cut through easily enough, leaving an enormous, bloody laceration in the monster. It shrieked, tipped, and fell. Gimli wasted not a breath, turning to another approaching Orc and dispatching with it as easily as he had the first. His axe sang through the night air, and he danced with it, raw talent and years of practice guiding his feet and hands by instinct. Each slash heartened him. Each kill redeemed him.
Aragorn was not far, the bright blade of Andúril whizzing through the air to cleave the head from the shoulders of another attacker. Gimli jogged closer to the ranger. He did not want to lose Aragorn in the fray; the men of Rohan he did not trust enough to fight solely beside them. All around him the soldiers struggled with the Orcs, slashing frantically, pushing back their assailants with heavy, dented shields, defending themselves with punches and kicks if need be. Gimli lashed out, his axe slamming into the gut of one Orc. He yanked it free, reached down quickly, and lifted the beasts weapon. Clenching the second axe in his other hand, he continued his run towards his comrade.
The ranger was being overwhelmed. Three or four Orcs clawed at him, their vicious weapons slashing like lightning towards the hapless Aragorn. Blade met blade, sending a shower of hot sparks into the air and filling ears with a horrible screech of metal scratching upon metal. Gimli thundered forward, eyes wide with concern, panic fueling his steps. He would not fail another of his friends!
With a howl he hurled the second axe forward. Though shadows made apparitions of air and hid true substance, a satisfying thud answered, and then came a wretched cry. Gimli sped closer, bearing his axe, and let loose a deep battle cry, imploring his father for luck and strength. The axe sailed as though weightless and severed the arm of another Orc. Aragorn kicked the injured attacker to the ground before stabbing another. Though he hid his relief, the Dwarf shook inside. Painful memories flooded through his mind. Legolas piercing, pained gaze looking to him at the shore of the Anduin when they had abandoned him again tormented the warrior. He shivered and forced his guilt to diminish.
He pressed up to Aragorn in the dark and felt the man sigh softly and shudder. This does not go well, the ranger murmured quietly.
For every one they felled, another four seemed to appear, snarling hungrily at the thought of carnage. Gimli glanced frantically up and down the line, clenching the shaft of his axe tighter. In the cover of night he could not see whether or not the defenders had failed. If they had, undoubtedly they would be flanked and surrounded. The Dwarf growled and looked ahead as a chorus of guttural cries pierced them. They come again! he declared.
The men met the advance courageously, but they were weakening. Overhead came another barrage of arrows. Gimli thought that perhaps over the racket he heard Haldir directing the archers. He prayed their aim was true, for it would be a sad irony to be mistaken for evil in this deep black and slain by the arrow of an ally. The shots met their marks, and Orcs fell. It was still a formidable force that clashed against the line of defense, and Gimli gritted his teeth.
They fought alongside each other, the man and the Dwarf. Their weapons were their instruments of valor and deliverance, seeking to lay upon the enemy the fury of their pain. So much they had lost. So much they suffered. Friends were gone forever, dear companions taken by the shadow that they faced. Bleeding hearts pulsed in wrath and they killed, driven by the need to survive and the want to redeem. Instinct guided Gimli, and he was swept away in a powerful river of memory and anguish. For the pain of his heart, he longed to see Legolas again! The Elf had become such a simple and caring friend. He had found a dear comrade in the most unlikely of people and during a strange time. These foul beasts had taken that treasure from him. He screamed his anger.
For a long time he did not think, moving, fighting, breathing. The battle carried him and he joined with the warriors spirit, letting it guide his mind and body. He came alive, swinging his axe like never before, his love for the lost Elf powering each mighty blow. But in the back of his mind, where his worries swirled like the dark of the night around him, he knew that the battle was turning in a foul direction. At his feet was a spread of corpses, both Orc and man, a veritable slaughter. The lines of their defense were thinning. The men of Rohan were faltering in the face of the large army of Orcs, for a force of this size they had not anticipated.
Though the noisy chaos of the fight disturbed the tranquility of the starless night, a great silence clenched the heart of Gimli, despair and panic swelling within him. He glanced up at Aragorn. Even in the shadow, he saw the mans fear glisten in his eyes. Surely the ranger knew it as well. Guards were failing. Men were dying by the hundreds. Their forces were waning. Soon they would be flanked, and that would inevitably seal their fates. This was a battle they could not win.
Yet this attack they again repelled, and the remaining Orcs retreated to reform. The Dwarf was breathing loudly, struggling to catch again his wind. Aragorn dropped down to a crouch and scrubbed a hand through his hair in distress. A loud thunder of hooves approached. Gimli smacked a dead Orc away from his knees, sending it hurtling down to the sea of bodies. The Dwarf turned and looked upward.
Hold your positions! came Théodens order from atop Shadowfax. The massive beast reared, pawing the air angrily. The king lifted his sword to the moon, trying obviously to rally the beaten men. Stand tall and face them! Hold!
Aragorn saw it first, but in hindsight Gimli supposed he too knew that what was to come was simply a matter of time. Upon the tall horse, even in the shroud of night, the King of the Mark was a clear target. His blade shone like a spike of silver in the moonlight and his mail glowed. The ranger opened his mouth, undoubtedly wishing to usher the king down from his perch. But it was for naught, for at incredible speeds came forth the shot of an enemy archer. The arrow sunk deep into the back of Théodens neck. It broke through to the other side with a spray of dark blood, the tip protruding from his throat hideously.
It was quiet for an endless eternity. Gimli watched thunderstruck, paralyzed by his shock, as the king sat motionlessly atop Shadowfax. The eyes of army were lifelessly observing in horror and alarm as their king teetered. Then Shadowfax whinnied and reared once more, and the limp body was spilled from his back. The horse then ran away in a wild gallop, disappearing into the night.
Gimli could not think to speak or move, unbelieving. He watched numbly as Aragorn stumbled forward, racing from the wall of Hornburg. Only when Éomers terrified cry of despair filled the night did his stupor shatter, and his stout legs moved quickly.
At Théodens side he watched Aragorn drop to his knees. Gimli kicked away irritating Orc corpses, a tempest of fear and anger driving him forward. Éomer approached, upon his steed, his garb bloody. The Rider leapt from the horse, hitting the ground loudly, but he did not stumble. His fear was clear on his white face. Together Éomer and Gimli reached the growing crowd about the fallen king.
Looking down, Gimli beheld a gruesome sight. Théodens white hair was stained a dark red now, and his once strong face was slack. The expression was one of denial and shock, frozen into his countenance forever by death. Unseeing eyes looked to the dark sky above. There was blood everywhere.
Aragorn withdrew his hands from the kings neck. He is dead, the ranger stated sadly. Gimli wondered why the man bothered; it was painfully obvious.
Éomer fell to his knees beside his still liege. Tears wet the Riders dirty cheeks. Yet the prince did not speak, numbly gazing upon Théoden. Aragorn glanced to him. The army had become silent in fear and loss. A great king murdered by the darkness! Death to all that should speak in the face of such a disservice to Middle Earth!
The Orcs were laughing from the other end of the field, and it was an ugly sound.
Gimli bowed his head as Aragorn gently closed the eyelids of Théoden, relieving all of the painful sight of those soulless eyes desperately searching the heavens for absolution. The Dwarf sighed slowly, his soul shaking. He cared not for men in general, as was the mindset of his race. The plight of Gondor and Rohan and their citizens was a trivial concern for the Dwarves, for it was borne of their own greed and stupidity, and much of Middle Earth had suffered for the weakness of men. Since he had become one of the Fellowship, this old prejudice had faded. He had grown to have a deep respect for Aragorn. This he had held for Boromir as well, until the wretched weakling had betrayed them. His fists tightened in his anger. To see another slain over the One Ring enraged him! As a Dwarf, he could not ignore the honor of dying bravely in battle. Théoden had been slain in a cowardly show of disrespect, murdered by a snipers arrow, and this Gimli would not forgive! The passing of a great man disheartened him.
Time pressed upon them again. Aragorn stood, clenching Andúril. The rangers face was stone. Éomer, he said quietly. Lead your kings men.
The prince did not look up, weeping quietly for their plight. For a long moment, no one had the strength to speak, the air tense and heavy with dreary fear and pain. Then Aragorn snapped, Éomer, son of Eomund! Do your king honor and command his forces now, before destruction come to it!
As if fate sought to forsake them, then came again the howl of the enemy and the thunder of their approaching feet. Another charge! Every man grew stiff in fear. Death surely awaited them now!
Wiping his face, Éomer stood stiffly. What can we do now? he asked softly, his eyes flaring at Aragorns sharp tones. We have lost here!
Quickly, then, replied Aragorn, glancing about, we must move into Hornburg! The fort will protect us!
And leave us cornered? Éomer hissed angrily.
Gimli felt the strength leave him and he frowned. This night would crush them. There would be no escape. He felt ready to resign himself to that fate.
There is no choice! announced Aragorn.
Then the prince met the eyes of the ranger. An unspoken understanding grew between them from which Gimli was excluded. The Dwarf watched them, bewildered at their calm stares as the arrows of the enemy poured down around them. Then the endless moment left. Éomer raised his voice to the men. Into the fort! Make haste to grab the injured! Into the fort!
The men, or what remained of them, did not need to be told twice. Posts were abandoned, positions left empty, as they ran panicked to the rotting protection of Hornburg. The wounded were carried or coaxed to their feet. The troops raced inside, thundering up the stairs to make room for those behind.
Aragorn sheathed his sword. He grabbed the shoulders of the fallen Théoden. No words were spoken, but none were needed. Éomer lifted his lieges lifeless legs, and together the two men bore the weight of their fallen commander.
Gimli loathed retreating, but there was no other option. They had lost. He raced after the others, glancing as the walls of raging Orcs gained ground upon them. He charged into the old entrance of the fort. Soldiers on either side struggled with heavy doors, pushing upon their old surfaces with grunts of strain. Gimli scrambled to one side and threw his weight into it, his strong arms shaking with exertion as he fought to close the portal. Finally, as the last of the men stumbled inside, the heavy doors slammed shut, sending them all into darkness.
Pain and heat.
Agony. Horrible anguish and torturous torment.
This will be your existence now. Never again will you know joy. Never again will you feel the coolness of a morning breeze as you run through your forests, or taste the warmth of the sun on your skin. A wretch such as you is fit for darkness!
The words hurt like new as they filled his mind, the memory piercing. No, he moaned through clenched teeth.
Why do you resist this? You cannot contend with the will of Sauron. He will triumph, and you will die. This you cannot fight or prevent it. You are a fool to think you can keep the Rings location hidden from him!
I will not give up. There was the sound of his voice, but in the haze of delirium he was not sure whether or not he spoke his thought. The tone sounded beaten and deflated. Alien.
Infant! You are but a child. You may have come of age, but you are blind and naïve and vainly hopeful. Do you hope to escape? You will not! Do you hope to die? This freedom I will not avail you! You cannot possibly hope to fight me! Foolish Elf child.
Rage stroked fire into his mind. I am not a child!
A thousand taunts. Painful jeers. This was his world, and he could ignore it no more than he could the weight of the burning secret he held within. Your future, my dear Legolas. Chained to the night. You will not find solace in the sun, for she will never again welcome you into her arms. Your pitiful trees will abandon you, for you will not be fit to sing to them any longer! The black shadow of corruption will cling to you always! A child of the leaves, shunned and despised! Even now you wilt.
He opened his eyes. For a long time, he did nothing but breathe, each loud rush of air echoing between the black walls of his cell. The air was musty and stank of sweat and blood, but he sucked it in desperately. He clawed at his composure, trying to slow the racing of his erratic heart, fighting to will his mind and body into some sort of calm. Despair welled up inside him, threatening his tenuous strength, and tears stung his eyes. Do not cry, came the vehement order of his mind. Do not! Do not give in!
He teetered between utter desolation and fleeting tranquility for a moment or so, struggling to ward away the distress. Finally, the vigor of his heart triumphed, and the overwhelming crush of his depression abated. The vile voice, a memory of so many vicious mocks, insults, and threats from the twisted mouth of Saruman, fled into the shadow. Undoubtedly it would assail him if he stupidly should sleep again. He would have to be stronger. The last beating left him too worn and hurt to fight against them, much less the demands of his battered body, and the last memory to flit across his numb mind was the laughter of the Orcs as one slammed him to the floor. He had mercifully lapsed into shadows as his head cracked against the black stone.
The pain came unbidden. Again he felt the blow, his skull wracking in hot agony. He hissed and closed his eyes at the spinning shadows, fighting against the dizziness that clenched his stomach painfully. In the minutes that followed he had to concentrate on breathing, fiery pain lacing his body in great, debilitating shocks. An eternity of hurt languished him, the rush of blood between his ears loud enough to deafen. All he could do was ride it out, struggling simply to survive in its wake as wave after wave battered him.
Then this too passed. He gasped, sweat rolling down his flushed, bloodied face, as the sharp grasp of agony released him. Darkness tempted him, but he would not oblige the call of sleep this time. It was a false security by which he could not afford to be enticed. Surely Saruman was watching his dreams and nightmares, probing into his weakened, unconscious mind for the Rings whereabouts. Although the thought frightened him, prickling his gooseflesh, he could not rightfully disregard the possibility. He could withstand the pain of the torture, but he could not protect his vulnerable mind. He would rather face the wrath of the Orcs whips and lusts than subject his mind to Sarumans torment.
Legolas licked dry lips and struggled now to sit up, ignoring the wail of his injuries. After a few moments of exertion, he managed to right himself. The effort had worn him, and tiredly he leaned back into the cold, dry wall of his cell, closing his eyes as once again the abyss of black and stone around him swirled and spun. Once his nausea subsided, he took stock of his wounds, new and old. Bruises and bleeding welts covered his once fair and ivory skin. His broken ribs had not healed, constantly aggravated by the abuse, leaving a massive blue and red mark on his lower chest. His back was numb. It frightened and disgusted him to picture what the skin must look like, crossed and ripped by the sharp snap of whips, torn, inflamed, and bloody. The wounds were serious enough to be comforted by the cool rock they touched, and for the numbing effects of the chilly air Legolas was glad. He could hardly stand to move the fingers of his left hand. In the meager light that streamed through the wrought iron bars of the cage door, he could see how swollen the digits had become. As a punishment for trying to escape days before, Saruman had ordered the bones of his wrist shattered. The limb lay uselessly in his lap, distended and enlarged. The clasp of the manacles tightly binding his hands together before him did little to reduce the agony, the metal digging into the wound and crushing torn muscles and broken bones. It was a cruel fact; he could not make much use even of his good hand, for to do so he would have to move them together, and his left was far too pained. It throbbed excruciatingly in time with his agonized heart.
The Elf prince blinked a few times. This nightmarish cell, devoid of life and light, was suffocating him. Still everything seemed horridly blurry. Despite the pain, he raised his right hand to the side of his head and felt for the extent of the injury. There was slick wetness matted in his thick hair and he winced as his inquisitive and light fingertips probed the extent of the gash. It was quite deep, but the bone had not been harmed. Still it bled profusely and he felt lightheaded. This was the worse yet to come to him.
Breathing slowly was the only way to keep the panic at bay, even though it pained him to concentrate on the swell of his chest. He was so thirsty and hungry; they gave him only enough water to survive. He was too exhausted and disoriented to be still, so he simply let himself shake and shiver in the cold and agony. Low temperatures rarely affected Elves, but he had no doubt that the trauma of his battered body only heightened the discomfort of his naked skin. His leggings were in tatters, torn by the snap of whips and the grasp of restraining claws. His hair, once bright and beautiful, was dark with dirt and his own blood and snarled. The braids he had customarily worn as a symbol of his race and pride had been ripped apart. Sadly he touched his breast. The blood and dirt seemed ingrained into him, tarnishing flawless, smooth skin. Saruman decreed that their prisoner was to have no dignity. He was neither prince nor Elf, but a lowly creature of the shadow. Though the Orcs happily obliged their masters demoralization of their toy, Legolas ignored Sarumans cruel words. He would remain an Elf always, regardless of what they did to him. And as such, he would endure. He would not lose hope, and he would not surrender. He would not betray the others. Saruman could defile and disfigure him, but the wizard could not alter the blood that hotly pulsed through his veins. He was his fathers son, and his father was a powerful and wise Elf king. He was kin to the strength of his siblings. He was a confidant and affectionate companion of Arwen. He was friend to Gimli, protector to Frodo, and brother to Aragorn. This the wizard could not change!
As the days had dragged on and the pain grew worse, worry and fear gnawed at this resolution. Legolas swallowed heavily, his face wound tightly into a grimace, as he tipped his head upward. His own weakness made him sick. Death he would have faced, though it greatly terrified him. However, the unsettling prospect of forever remaining a slave to Sarumans cruelty now frightened him more, and he feared the depraved Istar would never allow him to die. Something vicious and sadistic crawled into Sarumans cold, calm, and beady gaze whenever he descended to witness his monsters beat their captive. The cruel glint laughed and danced in the wizards eyes when the Orcs soiled Legolas with their filthy touches and broke his skin with their evil weapons, spilling blood and tears. Saruman reveled in his screams. Such a base and malicious twist of good and reason! Though it riled Legolas to consider it, he found he could not disregard it. That wicked little grin, that horrible and hungry leer troubled him greatly, for he knew it well. He understood now the way the wicked Ring exerted its evil. This was its sick power, its wretched desire for suffering, its insane lust. The very same look had distorted Boromirs nobility. It had harbored in his eyes when he had ordered the Uruk-hai to beat Legolas. It had glowed in the moonlight when he had murdered the Orc leader. It had sickly sung of its domination when he had savagely ripped apart the Elfs clothes in search of the lost Ring. So many days back, yet the evil would never cease its torment! Would this be his ultimate torture, to spend the rest of his eternal days watching Saruman gleefully take pleasure in his pain?
He diverted his thoughts. Anger clenched his heart. By Elbereth, he wanted a long, hot bath! The aroma of a good meal and wine amongst his family tortured his senses! He long to see the sun! He missed Mirkwood more with each long hour spent in silent captivity. He wished to see his fathers knowing, proud smile, and listen to his brothers spar and argue. To race among the trees, to defend their borders beside Vardaithils ancient strength, to sing a sweet lyric of summer with Aratadarion, even to debate with Astaldogald his heart wept for this. The familiar smells and sounds of his home ached in his bones. Terribly he wished to banter with Gimli. Despite himself he found himself worried for his Dwarf friend. So gruff and proud, the little creature held such a great heart. Never would Legolas forgive himself if Gimli were to fall in battle! Ruefully a tiny grin tugged at his cracked, bloody lips. The silence was heavy, and he longed to hear the entertaining and heartening stupidity of Merry and Pippin. He prayed that Sam and Frodo were well. So great was the yearning to see them that it shook him. Aragorns friendly smile invaded his mind, and there it lingered. He desperately pined for days past, when things were simpler, when hearts were unburdened. Legolas dreamed again that he was in Rivendell, sparring with Aragorn lightly, listening to Arwen laugh at their silly games, dining with Lord Elrond and his family, singing to the stars afterwards atop the lofty branches of the great trees, sleeping in the embrace of peace. These memories brought tears to his eyes. Would he ever again see Aragorn? Would he once more return to Rivendell and sit with Arwen in companionable silence under the moon? Would he find his way home to his forests, to his brothers, to his father?
An angry cry of frustrated despair fled his lips, and he balled his right hand into a fist tight enough to draw blood from his palm. Curse you, Boromir! I pray your guilt torments your heart as my rage does mine! Tears threatened again, but he was too furious and frightened to cry.
After a moment, he regained himself. His ire gave him strength, but he would not pity himself. He had chosen this fate willingly. And though his memories, wishes, and dreams hurt him, they drove him to have hope. If Saruman took away that, he truly would be reduced to heartless, helpless, pitiful shadow. Only then would he no longer be a prince and an Elf.
So he sang. At first his voice was weak and raspy, its tone marred by screaming and dryness. His heart wavered uncertainly, afraid that, upon hearing his song, the beasts would return and hit him anew for his impudence. But as the moments passed, he gained confidence, and lifted his voice to the shadows above. He sang and sang, letting the anguish of his heart escape in melody. Idly he wondered if the sun and trees could hear him. Though he knew not, thinking as such brought him courage.
Time passed, and he thought of many things. He thought of the Fellowship. He thought of Mirkwood and Rivendell. He thought of Aragorn and Arwen. Of Men and Elves and the strange twists of fate that united and divided. He thought of Sam and the Ring. Such a small creature, changing the course of history. He wished he could have done more. He wondered if the chance was not yet lost.
There came talk down the hall. He stilled his voice and strained his ears. For a mortal, the words would have been undetectable, much less discernible. But he detected them easily enough. A mans voice came first, the tone meek and nasal, his words lined with desperation. My Lord, you must understand, I meant no disrespect!
You disgust me, Wormtongue. A deep voice, livid with cold anger. Saruman. The weaklings of Rohan pose no threat to me. To suggest my Uruk-hai would fail is blasphemous! Do you seek to judge the will of Sauron?
Nay, oh Lord, but I speak out of duty! Surely you must see that! If the men of the Mark march to Isengard, you will be cornered!
You have failed me, Wormtongue, and now you doubt my wisdom. For this, I shall kill you. The words were cold and evil.
A terrified shriek. Please, Lord, stay your anger! There was naught I could do! A strange man came and took Théodens ear! My advice was shunned!
Silence a moment. Legolas brow furrowed in confusion. A strange man? Of what sort? Saruman questioned slowly, his tone slithering through the air.
Wormtongues response was quick, the words nearly slurring. A ranger. I knew not of his face, but the name was notorious. The Elfstone and heir of Isildur, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Legolas heart stopped. For a moment, he could not think or breathe. Aragorn is alive! He spoke cleverly and convinced Théoden to move against you. I tried to talk him out of such foolery, but the king would not have it! He spurned me and placed his weak niece upon the throne!
Neither Saruman nor Legolas listened to the traitors rambling. Did the man have halflings in his company?! the Istar snapped loudly. The Elf felt the blood drain from his face. He found he could do nothing in his worry and fear but listen. Answer, you fool!
I know not surely, for I am unaware of the race! He had four or five Dwarves with him, I reckon, Wormtongue declared, his tone distant, as though in thought.
There was but one Dwarf. The smaller folk were halflings. How many did you see? Saruman explained icily.
Wormtongue hesitated. Legolas mind was reeling. Three or four, oh Lord.
Well, which was it? Three or four?!
Another yelp. I cannot remember, Lord! I did not think it of importance!
Saruman growled. Then there was the thunder of footsteps slapping against the stone tunnel. Legolas closed his eyes briefly, knowing what was coming and dreading it. There was angry shouting, yelling in Dark Speech, and a squeal. Then the door to his cell slammed open.
White robes contrasted powerfully against the black of the prison, but the demon that bore them matched the shadows well. Legolas looked up to Saruman, searching for strength. If Aragorn was alive, there was yet hope for them all! He must not now submit! It seems that your companions have reappeared, the wizard sneered, gripping his staff tightly. Legolas said nothing, fury glinting in his eyes, as he stared at the wizard. He ground his teeth. A long silent moment passed, wrought with tension and rage. Wormtongue watched the display numbly, shying backwards to the Orcs that had entered. The glares between Elf and the Istar crackled with lightning. Then Saruman howled in anger and ripped his staff upward.
Legolas could not struggle as an incredible force grabbed him. Weightlessly he was flung backwards, and the second of flight seemed to last forever. Then he struck the wall hard, and his wounded back flared in wrenching agony. His world shattered, and he screamed.
As the Elf sunk to the floor in a breathless daze of hurt, leaving a sick trail of blood down the wall, the wizards eyes burned in anger. Speak, you fool! he demanded. Then he ripped the staff around.
Again the intangible weight struck the poor Elf, sending him crashing into the far wall of the room. This time Legolas could not cry out, his lungs burning for air, his heart pumping pain all around his body. The force held him pressed to the wall, binding him to the surface with invisible ties, and he could not find the strength to even cry.
Like a demon of the deep, Saruman stepped closer. Legolas writhed helplessly as he was squeezed and pulled. Through blurry, teary eyes, he watched the Istar advance upon his body. You returned the Ring to the Fellowship, Saruman hissed, narrowing his fiery eyes, to the Halfling who carried it. The air around his wounded chest constricted, grinding bone into bone, and Legolas gasped. Blackness was sucking him down deep, and he was drowning in it. Tell me, Legolas, or I will break every bone in your body!
He choked, tears running down his bloody face. No, he grunted through clenched teeth. Terror and hatred drove him. I did not!
One of his ribs snapped and he howled. You lie, Elfling. Do not test me! Another sickeningly cracked.
Legolas was slipping away from life. Bright, thick blood dripped to the floor. Please, he moaned weakly, terrified of the darkness all around him, desperate to stop the pain.
Saruman looked amused. With a small grunt of satisfaction, he neared the hapless Elf prince. His long, white hand came to cup Legolas quivering chin. This secret you hold burns you, he said quietly. The elegant thumb wiped a tear coursing its way down Legolas pale cheek. I know your pain. You are alone here. No one will save you. No one will help you. Your misery is great, and you doubt that it will in the end avail you.
Legolas felt a sob well up in his throat. Every part of his body was screaming in intense agony. The words were soft, almost comforting, a balm to his brutalized soul. He wanted to relent then, to let go this painful choice, and find release. He almost did give into the want of his weary heart and worn body. Only the familiar sadistic glint of Sarumans eyes kept him attached to reason. The wizard would never care for his plight or free him from his hurt!
Yet the strength to defy was fading into the swallowing blackness. Saruman smiled. It was a sick sight. Tell me where the Ring is, Legolas. Your needless suffering wears you. I will release you from it, if you only say what I want. Legolas whimpered, tears flooding his eyes. The grip upon his jaw turned harsh, the long white nails stabbing into young flesh. Tell me!
I will not! the Elf cried loudly, squeezing his eyes shut. His defiance was immediately rewarded. The undetectable ties that bound him to the wall suddenly repulsed him, sending him hurtling forward at frightening speeds. With a bone-jarring crunch, his struck the opposite wall once more. Intense agony burst through him and he slumped to the floor. The ache stabbed him. He tried to lean up, but he was torn and broken inside. He tasted something warm and bitter. For a moment he could make no sense of it, his mind as jumbled as his body. Then panic pulsed through him. All he could do to stop from choking on his own blood was weakly turn over, the red gore spilling from his mouth as he painfully coughed and retched.
A long time seemed to pass. For the Elf, it was an eternity of grief and terror, of pain and exhaustion, and his body shook in its defeat. He collapsed in a pool of his blood. Then, over the ringing in his ears, a conversation came again. Pitiful creature. His loyalty will destroy him. Had Legolas been aware enough to make sense of what he heard, he would have bristled at the wizards mocking tones.
What are we to do now, oh Lord? one of the Orcs that had entered asked.
I doubt what remains of the Fellowship has the Ring. If it did, it makes no sense for their leader to involve them in this pointless fray allied with Rohan. A quiet moment. Legolas concentrated on breathing. He could not find the strength to move. He felt detached from his body, the pain a numb and foreign experience. His limbs were limp and would not heed to his commands. His eyes were slipping shut no matter how he sought to fight it. The Ring continues to elude the Eye, and the Elf grows weaker.
Wormtongue spoke again. What of Rohans army?
They are but insignificant insects. Let them valiantly face my Uruk-hai. They will fall.
And if they do not? countered Wormtongue. Respectfully, my Lord, they would surround Isengard. You would be trapped.
What would you suggest? Saruman asked after a quiet moment.
Move, sir. Travel to Minas Morgul and then to Barad-Dûr. There the mortals dare not tread, and Saurons forces will protect you.
Barad-Dûr Vaguely, where his mind was not succumbed with pain, Legolas was afraid. Saurons stronghold. If they should take him there, there would be no escape! His soul quaked in pain as his eyes unwittingly closed.
Saruman seemed to contemplate. Finally he spoke. You have now proved your worth, Wormtongue. Though I grow anxious at the thought of nearing Saurons power, your suggestion holds much merit. If indeed the Elf somehow managed to return the Ring to one of the halflings, surely it now travels through Mordor. The Hobbit certainly will seek to continue where the others have fallen. From thence, I will undoubtedly find it.
Deep inside, Legolas screamed.
We travel immediately. Make all the necessary preparations. There was a stampede of leaving feet.
What of the Elf?
With us he will come. Sick emptiness. Saruman said harshly, He will tell us which of the halflings has what we seek. I will break him.
Then an eerie silence came, long and steady. The black sea of suffering held the young archer prisoner, squeezing his light, choking his heart. He could not struggle. Falling footsteps, swishing robes. A quiet breath against the stillness. Dimly he felt a hand touch his face. Never again will you know joy, Legolas, Saruman quietly repeated. Never again will you shine. The shadows will have a beautiful prisoner in you.
The cold, hard grasp left. With a shrill whine, the door to the cell slammed shut.
The Elf faded away in his pain. The cell, once filled with both song and scream, grew silent.
Helms Deep had become eerily quiet, but it did not comfort Aragorn. Nor did it relieve him, for, though the Orcs had stayed their assault momentarily, he knew beyond any doubt that they were still outside, most likely regrouping for another charge. The king held his breath and listened, closing his weary eyes. Hornburg was silent. It was tightly packed, men squeezed against each other. Down below, in the belly of the fort, the air hung hot and oppressive. The wounded were laid out, many caught between life and death, shuddering in a final fight with mortality, their skin clammy and white. A shroud of depression came over them all. Even upon the wall, where Aragorn now sat, looking upon the moon, melancholy invaded.
Long hours had passed. The very beginnings of dawn were coming to the land, the eastern skies turning orange and red as the sun wearily rose. Aragorn watched it blearily, feeling exhaustion pummel his dry eyes and battered body. How lethargic it was! Would this night never end?
He turned to Gimli, who sat beside him. The Dwarfs back was pressed to the wall for support, his head bowed low. He might have been sleeping, though Aragorn could not tell. Not far from him slumbered Merry and Pippin, each wrapped in a green blanket for warmth. They seemed content enough, their faces placid, and Aragorn could not help but envy them for their peace. His heart was far too heavy to lapse into dream. Only Haldir seemed alert. The Elf sat cross-legged beside him. Nimble fingers worked with wooden shafts and a white dagger, trying to repair arrows. He did not speak, his long face as calm as ever. His pale hair glowed in the waning night still like silver. Every so often he would raise his head, as if at a distant sound, and his eyes would narrow. This gesture attracted Aragorns attention, but the Elf would always turn quickly back to his work before the ranger could detect what disturbed him. Aragorn grew a bit frustrated at this; he was so accustomed to Legolas intuitions that Haldirs aloof actions baffled him. He supposed the Lórien archer would long be in his company now, so he would eventually learn.
The solemnity of the men of Rohan seemed unbreakable. The army had begun deeply mourning their lost king. Aragorn was worried at their despondent expressions. They had clearly already accepted their defeat, and that was unnerving. Théoden had once been a great man, even if he had recently lost his way in wine and wealth. Aragorn regretted that now he would never come to appreciate the wisdom of the old king. To see a noble leader fall in battle had been tragic, yet this he would not allow to conquer him. They still must fight.
Yet now he wondered what to do. They had suffered heavy losses at the hands of the unexpectedly large army. Their forces had been more than halved, many of the men laying dead in the fields below, some still crying for rescue. He knew not how many of the enemy they had destroyed but doubted that they had the advantage of greater size. The Orcs had surely surrounded Hornburg, cutting off their escape. Although he knew at the time that fleeing into the fort was the only option, now he wondered if there might not have been a better alternative. Retreating to Edoras would have only led the Orcs to plunder the city. Even now the decision he had implored Éomer to make aggravated him. If it later turned into wicked error, it would be his fault that their army was obliterated at the hands of Saruman.
And so there was little else to do than wait. They dared not leave the security of Hornburg. The Orcs were content to cruelly taunt them. Aragorn knew eventually they would attack. If the endless blanket of night would ever lift, they might have a chance to defend themselves! The dawn seemed a distant and hopeless dream. He dared not sleep, not with such an ominous threat pacing the perimeter of their haven. The anticipation drove him mad, tickling his skin and his senses. He could not find patience, the calm elusive and teasing. Frustrated, he closed his eyes and licked his lips. He tried vehemently not to drive himself insane with his incessant thinking.
Éomer approached after a bit on light footfalls. Tentatively the Rider looked over the wall, peering into the shadows of the early sunrise. Before Hornburg was a misty field of blood, wreckage, and disaster. Aragorn opened his eyes as he felt Éomer shudder. We have failed, Éomer moaned softly, and it was my foolish judgment that drove my Lord forth in this reckless decision.
Aragorn felt his own guilt rise. He as well had convinced Théoden to make a defense of Helms Deep. How many lives had been lost because of it? We did not know, he rationalized after a moment. How could we have?
Éomer swallowed and sank to his knees quietly. Haldir looked up from his arrows momentarily. Rohan without her king. Dark times are these! Who now shall lead us? the prince wondered quietly. Aragorn had no answer, glancing towards Haldir. The Elf said naught, his knife moving along the thin shafts in his lap. Éomer rubbed his forehead tiredly. We will perish here. The sun does not scare these Orcs, these monsters bred of Sarumans corruption. Nothing can save us!
Have faith, Aragorn implored, unable to stand to hear Éomers depression. Have faith, he thought bitterly. Where am I to find it?
Éomer did not speak, but it was clear his musings were the same. He looked young and lost, as if a child torn from his parent. Aragorn supposed that in a way he was. Then they fell silent, giving in to dismal contemplation, and the scrape of Haldirs knife grew loud.
Not long after the Elf perked up again. For a moment he sat stiffly, lifting his head to the sky. Then he stood, abandoning his task, and stepped to the wall. Aragorn watched him intently, and then rose himself, ignoring the stiff complaints of his weary muscles.
As the light of dawn slowly crept from the east, a grisly nightmare was unveiled. The Orc army, though reduced in size, crowded close to Hornburg. They clawed at the stone like ants desperate to climb and penetrate the inside. This alarmed Aragorn, but it was not what had alerted Haldir. The ranger gazed upon the Elf fixedly, watching his keen eyes scan what was before him.
Éomer seemed baffled. What does the Elf sense? he asked.
Haldirs hand came down, stopping the flow of conversation. All were silent, holding breath and heart. Then Aragorn heard it. It was a deep bellow of a horn, faint at first, but growing steadily louder. It was blown again and again, as if announcing a presence, as if proclaiming hope. Haldirs face broke. The horn of Gondor!
The announcement stirred them. Both Gimli and the Hobbits jolted to their senses. Aragorns stomach leapt to his throat, and he looked to the west. There, amongst the trees! The low rumble of the horn, noble and melodic, shook Helms Deep. Came thence was an army of men. Battered but resolute, they broke into a run with a proud battle cry, streaming across the field with weapons raised.
Éomer numbly shouted, Lord Erkenbrand! Aragorn turned to speak, but the prince was already sprinting down the stairs. Rise, my friends, and see the dawn! We are saved! We are saved! Draw your weapons and face the enemy, for the Lords of Rohan ride into battle valiantly!
A great clamor rose through Hornburg, and the tight tension snapped. Men were roused, pulling again swords from their sheaths. An elated call went through the troops, and they courageously resumed their hopes. Outside they launched as the battalion of Erkenbrand met them, surrounding the enemy. Trapped and surprised, the Orc army screamed and shrieked. They scattered, some trying to scale the wall, others fleeing haphazardly. With a great fervor, the battle again began. This time, though, the Orcs were the faction caught off their guard, and in a matter of minutes, the army of Rohan had nearly triumphed.
Aragorn narrowed his eyes as he saw a man dressed in leather with sandy brown hair and beard run in front of the men, his blade raised to strike. Rage boiled inside the ranger. He clenched a fist upon the wall of the fort as the archers of Rohan and Haldir let loose a fresh volley of arrows upon the Orcs below. His anger burned him.
Gimli spoke beside him, Why do you hesitate, Aragorn? Let us join them! He was about to run down the stairs and brandish his great axe, but his curiosity seemed to stay him. The blood rushed to the Dwarfs bearded face when he traveled the rangers line of sight.
There, leading the charge of Rohan. Boromir.
Wrath snapped inside Aragorn. In blind fury he drew Andúril from its sheath. The sword sang of his rage and he turned, racing down the stairs. Outside men cheered and shouted at the retreating Orcs, exacting their revenge in a flurry of stabs and arrows. The throng of battle was thick, but it did not slow Aragorn. The world had closed in around him, and all he could do was run, pushing through Orc and man alike with an unrelenting drive.
He found what he sought. His restraint fled him in a brief moment of hot, uncontrollable anger, and he swung.
A cry of warning came from another soldier, alerting his victim of his move, and Boromir reacted with lightning reflexes, dropping the white horn he had held to this lips from his hand and twirling.
Andúril smacked against the blade of Gondor, and lightning seared between the two men.
All became still.
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.