3. Trouble Again
Aragorn was the first of the two to awake. He stretched, feeling refreshed and restored once more, and then, rubbing the slumber off his eyes, arose to a sitting position. Looking next to him, he noticed that Ceranos was sound asleep, the sea-green orbs still carrying a somewhat pained expression. He could understand that his companion was aching: after all, three broken ribs wasn't a small matter, even to an Elf.
Yet, the Man also discerned sadness and regret in his friend's eyes, something that he couldn't understand. He wished he knew what was in Ceranos's mind that would have caused such feelings… as much as he wanted to know how he managed to kick away his blanket from himself in his condition. Making sure that his companion wouldn't sense him, he replaced with much care the blanket back over the Elven form; then waited for Ceranos to wake up also, while eating some lembas.
He didn't have to wait for long. Soon his fellow traveller's eyes blinked back into focus and the powerful body stirred carefully so as not to cause more pain than necessary. Aragorn quickly went to the Elf's side and helped him sit up.
"How are you feeling?" he asked with concern.
"I am healing," groaned Ceranos, trying to sit comfortably. "Not quickly enough to my liking, but I am healing nonetheless. The pain has become bearable." He didn't let Aragorn see it, but he had noticed the blanket covering him again once more. Understanding that arguing about that wouldn't lead to anything, he decided it was best to say nothing for the present.
"That is good news," said the Man with relief, unaware of his companion's thoughts; then broke off a piece of lembas. "Here, you need to eat."
"You don't have to mother me, Strider," noted the Elf with a roll of his eyes.
"I am not mothering you," said Aragorn with a teasing smile. "I am only doing what a healer is supposed to: making sure his patient gets his strength back."
"And I have to do what a guide is supposed to do: make sure he gets both himself and his companion to safety," replied the Elf stubbornly; and with that, he pushed himself to his feet, biting his lower lip in an attempt to ignore the pain that coursed through him.
However, Aragorn grabbed his arm and made him sit down again.
"You will not guide like that, you are still in a pretty bad shape. Give your body a chance to heal some time more; it will not make a difference if we set off an hour later. Now, please, fill your stomach with something. You need the nourishment if we are to go on."
Sighing, Ceranos admitted to himself that the Man was right and accepted the waybread. To his wonder, the Elf noticed that with every bite he took he felt new strength within him until his body was humming with life again. It was still painful for him to move too much or too abruptly, but now he felt that he could go on for hours on end without the slightest feeling of tiredness. He rose again with a new vigour within him, his mood certainly much better than when he had woken up, something that pleased Aragorn and made him smile. Ceranos returned the smile, if only a bit tense due to his pain, and turned to his pack and lightening rod, picking them both up.
"Shall we start?" he asked.
"Lead the way," answered Aragorn, walking up to the door to remove Ceranos's hatchet from the door handles and then hand it back to its owner.
Nodding slightly his thanks, Ceranos passed the door, holding up his light and using his axe as an aid to his walking. Aragorn followed closely behind and soon they had taken up the main course through the mines of Moria once more.
However, their pace had significantly slowed down, since Ceranos had to stop every once and a while to catch his breath and rest his abused body. Yet it didn't seem like the Elf was willing to compromise himself to cover less distance than he intended either. He would rise again and quicken his step, despite the Ranger's objections of worry.
"You said that it would take us about three days to pass the city of Khazad-dûm," he insisted when his companion arose again after such a stop. "From what I gather, we spent only a day and a half in here. Do not exert yourself trying to get us out sooner."
"There is no need to fall back from our plan either," replied the Elf, trying to hide his panting. "I have to get us out of this section at least, while we are unnoticed. We are still in Orc territory, Strider. If any of their patrols find the dead Trolls, they will know somebody else besides them is here and they will try to find him."
Aragorn looked around in worry, finally understanding what it was that pressed Ceranos to move on. And yet, he heard his companion's laboured breathing and saw his muscles tensing from the strain they were working under. That was something that made the healer's side of him protest. The Elf was running the risk of causing more damage to himself and that was a fact.
"Is it far from the upper levels?" he asked.
"Ten hours march."
"That is too far to take in one effort alone. We will rest here till you get enough rest."
"Strider, listen to me…"
"No, my friend, you listen to me. I realise that you feel responsible for us both, but now, like it or not, I am responsible for your health. I did not want to do this, yet you are not giving me any other choice." And with that, he sat cross-legged and folded his arms.
"What are you doing?" asked Ceranos incredulously, his eyes opening wide in surprise.
"I am not moving another inch. You cannot leave without me, so you will have to stay too – and get your rest."
The jade eyes locked onto Aragorn, the Man's form seeming to pout like a spoilt child and his depths proving the earnestness of his words. This seemed so ridiculous to Ceranos that he actually started laughing hard and, though he quickly doubled over to hold himself protectively, his chest not able to handle such a thing, the laughter didn't cease for a second. Aragorn had in a moment sprang up to his friend's side.
"Are you all right?" asked the Ranger in worry.
"Made you move," declared the Firstborn amid his laughter. "Ach! That hurts!" he exclaimed, holding himself even more closely.
"Do you actually think I can?!"
The Man stared at his comrade, clearly at a loss as to what to do next. In the end, he just held him close, hoping that he was easing him, unable to restrain a smile himself.
It wasn't long before Ceranos's mirth subsided. Brushing with the back of his gloved hand his teary eyes and breathing heavily, despite his aching ribs, he regained his composure; then arose carefully leaning on his axe for support.
"How are you?" asked Aragorn, eyeing his companion.
"Aching more than ever, but rested just like you intended," answered Ceranos with a grin. "We ought to get going through. We have stayed long enough."
The Man agreed with a nod. They were just about to start walking again, when they heard voices.
"Oh, no," hissed Aragorn under his breath. He had a pretty good idea what was approaching in their direction.
"We have to hide!" exclaimed Ceranos with urgency. He quickly checked his surroundings and his cat-like eyes found immediately what they were looking for.
"In here!" he said, pulling his Human companion to the room on their left. The door was already slightly open, but when he tried to push it open further, it wouldn't budge but a few inches: years of humidity and lack of use had rusted the door in place.
"This is not working," noted Aragorn nervously.
But Ceranos wasn't prepared to give up so easily on their only means of hiding. Removing his pack and lightening rod, he managed to slide through the opening and into the room. Without losing any time, he beckoned to the Man to hand him their belongings, the lights and the weapons. In a few moments, everything had been passed to the Elf's side, and now only Aragorn remained. But just when the Man was about to slide through, he heard the Orcs too close for his comfort and he realised that, if he had to hide, he would have to do it now, without losing any time trying to squeeze through such a tight opening. He quickly moved away from the door.
"Strider, no!" hissed the Elf, watching from the crack his comrade's retreat. "Have you gone mad?"
He didn't get any answer; and what was worse, Aragorn was nowhere to be seen anymore. Cursing slightly, Ceranos was ready to get out and drag the foolish man with him, but then the Orcs came into the hall.
"Halt!" commanded the big brute of an Orc that was leading the patrol. "Did you hear that noise, lads?"
A guttural growl was all that he needed for an answer.
"The intruder is close! Start searching."
Letting out many a shrill cry of excitement all the Orcs started looking throughout the hall, none of them noticing a pair of grey eyes watching them from above some beams.
Aragorn's heart was thundering against his chest so hard that he felt it would burst out at any minute. Closing his eyes, he forced his every muscle to freeze in the hopes that no one would look up. He was grateful that the beams that were used to keep the walls of the room in place provided a ledge where he could stay protected in the shadows; he was also grateful for his life among the Elves: the Firstborn were by nature agile climbers, able to reach at the top of every tree and mountain no matter how steep the climb was and the Man himself learned fast enough how to keep up with them in such an ability. So he was able to hide there without the fear of bringing the beams crashing down like any other mortal would have done in his stead.
Still, he knew he shouldn't feel safe just yet: the Orcs were still searching meticulously in every corner of the place, growling and snarling. He had to admit that Ceranos was right after all: the foul beasts had most probably discovered the dead monsters and now they were looking for the person (or persons) who dared to enter into the Mines. He opened his eyes again to see what the Orcs were up to, and whether they had any intention of giving up their search.
Unfortunately, this wasn't meant to be. Several of them had approached dangerously close to the door behind which Ceranos was hiding and, to make matters worse, they even seemed eager to enter into that room as well. Aragorn held his breath, watching every move that they made, until there was no doubt left that the evil creatures were going for the room: three of them had already extended their hands to push the door open. The Ranger knew that he couldn't hope that the door would stay in place under the force that the Orcs would put to it. His hands clenched into fists, his feelings of frustration almost choking him now. Ceranos would be discovered and he could do nothing to prevent it. Or could he?
The groaning noise of the door snapped him into action. Without second thought, he had jumped among the Orcs, wielding his sword and slaying the ones closest to him. The rest shrieked, startled at the attack, but they quickly recovered and rushed to the Human that dared to challenge them. Aragorn fought bravely, killing several of the foul beasts before they could lay their hands on him. Nevertheless, he was still one against a whole patrol, so it wasn't long before he was overcome. One of them had already unsheathed his knife and was ready to slit the Man's throat when the leader of the Orcs intervened. Growling threateningly, he placed himself against his enraged soldiers and the captive, silencing everyone. With that done, he turned to face the Human.
"You killed some of my finest men, men that took me years to train," he hissed angrily at him. "Under other circumstances I would have acknowledged your bravery, tark.* But considering how many of us are here, I think you're only a fool. Did you actually think you could kill all of us?"
Aragorn didn't even bother to answer, but just looked down to the floor. If the great Orc had any intention of killing him, he preferred he did it swiftly instead of having to endure his inhuman speech.
"Not talking, eh? Fear cut your tongue?" asked the Orc mockingly.
When he didn't receive any answer again, the foul beast forced Aragorn to face him, allowing himself the luxury of studying the eyes of the prize before finally deciding to kill it. And yet the expression that was held by the one before him had him thinking. The tark was afraid, there was no doubt about that, but there was another emotion to be discerned as well: defiance. It was then that he felt that things didn't make much sense. He had seen from where the Man had jumped down among them. He admitted to himself that that was a perfectly good hideout and he handed it to the tark for actually thinking about it: but why would he come out of it? He knew that tarks could be foolish at times, but foolish enough to attack when there was a good chance of escape? Unless… he recalled in his mind's eye that the tark attacked them when some of his men had approached the door behind him. He looked at the half-opened door too… and then his piercing beady eyes shone with realisation. Yes, tarks were foolish enough to attack when they wished to protect something – or somebody. Drawing his knife, he held it against the captive's neck.
"Call to your companion."
"What?" said Aragorn, feigning surprise; but his heart was drumming loudly in his ears.
"You might be a fool, but don't even dare think I'm one as well!" hissed the Orc; "Call to your companion! Now!"
"There is no one else here…" started Aragorn, but a fist falling on his cheek cut him off.
"You're not making this easier for yourself, are you? But I won't give you the satisfaction," said the great brute, showing his fangs in anger. "You two!" he commanded, turning at the two Orcs closest to him. "Go inside and see what the tark was trying to defend."
"No!" exclaimed Aragorn, trying to pull himself away from the claws that gripped his shoulders tightly, holding him on the ground on his knees. But the leader just laughed at the Man.
"So there is somebody in there! Thank you for helping me make sure of this," he mocked. "Go!" he growled at his inferiors.
Aragorn watched the two beasts walk toward the room, sheer horror coursing through his veins. Ceranos wouldn't be able to fight against the Orcs in his state. And there was another thing that sent chills to his heart. There was great loathing between Elves and Orcs. If Ceranos was caught, the foul creatures would torture him beyond measure, venting off all their hate by taking it out on the Firstborn; while he himself would most likely be spared eventually and finished off once they got tired of him. As soon as the Orcs pushed open the groaning door, he let his head fall forward, not so much because of a nauseating reek that emanated from there, but because of defeat. He heard the foul creatures crying out, but it wasn't a cry of excitement on their discovery, it was more of surprise and disbelief. He quickly looked up at the room that was revealed before him.
It was empty. Empty from living things that is, for the place was filled with scorched bodies of unfortunate Dwarves who hadn't managed to escape the terror of Durin's Bane. Some of them were still lying on the ground where they had fallen, their mutilated faces contorted with anguish and pain; others still clinging to their weapons as they had fought a last desperate battle against the devilry that was set loose upon them; and a few others could be seen dead as they crawled to the well in the centre of the room, obviously attempting to escape from the threat through there.
The leader of the Orcs snarled in dismay and turned to the Man, ready to hurt him for tricking him. However, he saw the surprise in the captive's face too and so he understood that at least somebody was supposed to be there.
"Well, don't just stand there looking at me!" he barked at his subordinates, who were at a loss as well. "Start searching!"
Clearly hesitating, the two Orcs started looking around, starting from the well and then to all the dark corners of the room. However, neither of them would touch the dead Dwarves. And no one else that was sent in would either.
"You know what did this to them," retorted one of the Orcs when their leader threatened to have all their heads for disobeying. "I'm not touching any of his kills! None of us is and shout all you like!"
"I for one, have heard strange sounds whenever everything is quiet!" said another, his nervousness quite obvious. "Mournful cries echoing throughout these halls. I bet it's their ghosts haunting this room!"
At this, everybody stirred uncomfortably, backing away from the bodies.
The leader of the Orcs was beside himself now and was screaming at his men's foolishness and superstition, but Aragorn paid no attention, his mind running in circles as he tried to figure what happened to Ceranos. He was certain that the Elf had heard the commotion outside and so probably took cover. The question was, where? His eyes scanned the room, trying to identify anything that belonged to his friend and so spot him. But he couldn't see anything. He seemed to have disappeared without a trace.
"And I'm telling you that he didn't just fly out of here!" shouted the leader in answer to his men's protests, not admitting his defeat. Hitting his scimitar against himself in anger and frustration, he finally made his decision.
"Burn the place down!"
Aragorn breathed in sharply. Burn it? Ceranos would never escape that!
"Ceranos! Lachathar i chammath!"** he quickly shouted at the top of his lungs, hoping the Elf would hear – and understand - his warning. The minute these words fled his lips, the Orcs were onto him, beating him to silence. Soon Aragorn was flat on the ground, his mouth and nose bleeding, three of the foul beasts pinning him down while the rest lit up more torches to throw inside, setting the room to flames. In a few moments, the only thing that the Ranger was able to see was the fire, eating voraciously anything its red tongues could reach and all the Orcs standing outside and cheering. He averted his eyes from the sight to hide the tears that spilled down his cheeks. Just then, powerful claws turned him round and he was face to face with a grinning leader of the Orcs.
"Don't worry, tark! I'll give more than enough reasons for you to weep!" he said malevolently. Then he turned to his subordinates again. "Some of you stay here and wait till the fire dies down to make sure the Elf is dead!"
"The Elf?" exclaimed an Orc startled.
"Yes, the Elf! Didn't you hear the language our prize spoke? Now do as I say and keep your eyes peeled! You know where to find us once your work here is done!"
With that said, the leader signalled the command for moving back to their lair. And Aragorn got dragged along with them, none of the foul beasts caring for the worried look that the Ranger cast behind him. He did manage to pull himself free and hurried toward the room once. But he was caught immediately; by tying the Man's limbs with tight bonds, the great Orc made sure that their captive wouldn't attempt such a thing again. And so it was that Aragorn was taken away, his heart mourning for his companion.
Aragorn looked around the place that he was brought to. He knew that he wasn't in any of the halls now, not even in the city in fact. He understood by the Orcs' talk that they had carried him to the western section of Moria, bringing him to the mines. The entire territory was filled with holes, ladders and rails, remnants of the previous occupants' existence. As he expected, centuries of dust covered everything; yet it seemed that nothing had been removed or misplaced. He could even see some of the wagons half-filled with mithril, the precious metal that was so highly prized among Dwarfs – and all the free people – of Middle-earth. Yes, whatever it was Aulë's creations had awoken, it struck them with such swiftness and force that they obviously fled without thinking of carrying anything with them. He still remembered the bodies in that fateful room and shuddered. And something else saddened him even more: now there was a possibility that Ceranos was dead too. His only hope now lay in the fact that he hadn't seen his friend anywhere when the Orcs searched the place, meaning that he could have escaped before the room was set into flames.
He watched the Orcs that were some distance from him, talking and gesturing wildly. He couldn't hear what it was said, but he could easily guess that it was about what came to pass the last few hours and about him. And by the sidelong glances that they cast at him he understood that they weren't discussing anything pleasant.
The sound of footsteps made him turn. He saw the crouching shadow of the approaching Orcs at the feeble light that the foul creatures' torches cast on the place and he felt his heart beating fast. He feared greatly what he would possibly see, but he didn't look away. He needed to know if they carried the body of his companion.
Finally, the foul beasts appeared; but they were empty-handed. Aragorn's eyes opened wide with surprise. Could that mean…? He didn't dare to think that such a joyous possibility was true, but his hopes were still renewed.
"Well? Where's the body?" the leader asked the newly arrived.
The Orcs looked at each other nervously.
"Out with it!" snarled the leader, making them jump.
"We didn't find it," they mumbled apprehensively.
"And you came back here because?" asked the great brute, glaring at them.
"No creature would survive that fire!" retorted one of the rebuked beasts defensively.
"That's some fine reasoning! Perhaps I should throw you in there next time, to see how true it is!"
"If he had survived, he would give some signs by now," said the other. "He would try to save his companion, surely?"
"The day is not over… Everybody keep a lookout for anything unusual!" he commanded at the rest of the Orcs. "And as for you three…" he started, when he noticed something that cut him short.
The two Orcs looked back, puzzled.
"He was with us when we searched the room."
"I didn't ask where he was!" growled the leader. "How couldn't you see that he's missing?"
"He said he wanted to look at the room one last time and then he would catch up with us later…" started the first Orc, but his voice soon trailed off as he realised what might have happened. The leader eyed him angrily.
"No creature would survive that fire, eh?" he said. "Nice going! Fortunately all might not be lost yet. Get to your posts, fools! I'll have to deal with something."
As the two Orcs hurried away, the leader walked up to Aragorn and, after tearing open the Ranger's shirt, he unfastened from his belt a great whip, its three tails ending in small razors.
"You can be happy, it seems that the Elf lives for the present. And you can be assured that he'll come to save you as the fine companion that he is. So I think we should give him a warning to what will happen to him should he try that!" Screaming the last words, he started cracking his whip against the defenceless Man.
Aragorn tried to protect himself with his arms, but it was no use. The razors ripped at his flesh, leaving such a stinging pain that only after a few cracks he was screaming at the top of his lungs. However the Orc had no intention of lessening his torture. He cracked his whip again and again mercilessly, taking pleasure in the cries of agony. Soon Aragorn's back was filled with cuts that streamed out blood, while the Man's voice had become hoarse from his cries and he felt his strength flowing away from him.
No more… he whimpered in his mind at the verge of losing his conscience, biting his lips at every crack that landed on his back. Valar, take me now, please…
It was then that a great rumbling sound echoed throughout the place. All the Orcs froze, trying to make out what was causing it, and then they heard it again.
"It's him!" one of the beasts cried out. "That's his roar!"
"It can't be!" shouted the leader, joining his men, Aragorn forgotten. "He's too far away from his own haunts!"
They were still trying to understand what was happening, when all of a sudden a barrage of fire-spheres started falling around them, bursting into great explosions as soon as they landed, slaying the foul creatures that happened to be closest at the time and covering everything in darkness. All the monsters started shrieking in panic and headed for the doors, but inches before they had reached them, they snapped closed all by themselves as it would seem. The Orcs stood where they were in numbing confusion. Even the leader himself didn't know what to do next: he was looking everywhere waiting fearfully for what was to come next.
He didn't have to wait long. At that moment a great battle cry was heard behind them, mingled with the terror-stricken cries of two Orcs falling dead.
"Khazâd ai-mênu!"*** shouted a tall form out of the shadows; then it charged against the rest of the foul beasts, its seemingly claws of iron hewing and slashing with an unprecedented frenzy. The Orcs unsheathed their swords to fight, but how could anybody stand up against such a fury that seemed to be everywhere around them? Some of them that tried to hit their attacker only managed to slay each other, while the rest became too frightened to fight. So it was that soon all the Orcs ended up dead, the leader of the Orcs being the last slain: he was hewn in two.
Aragorn watched the scene unfolding before him through half-open eyes in wonder, understanding perfectly well who was attacking. Truly enough, out of the shadows stepped out Ceranos, slightly limping, his hatchets and his fair face dripping with Orc blood. And that was the last thing the Man saw, for then darkness engulfed him.
*tark: Man (Black Speech)
**Ceranos! Lachathar i chammath!: Ceranos! They will burn the chambers! (Sindarin)
***Khazâd ai-mênu!: The Dwarves are upon you! (Khuzdul)
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.