3. 3. A Knife in the Dark
°°°°° Chapter 3: A knife in the dark°°°°
Aragorn's heart hammered in his chest as he charged up the steep path. He could hear the unsheathing of weapons and the sound of heavy boots on the hard ground. The Black Riders had reached the top. As he had passed the campsite, he had found the Hobbits gone, and that meant that they had gone to the top.
He panted, slipped on the gravel and caught his balance only a second later. There was not time to slip and fall now, the Halflings needed his help. Middle Earth needed his help! Gripping his sword tighter, he ran as fast as he could.
He was only a little ways from the ruins, when he heard the frantic screams of one of the Hobbits, presumably Sam, but Aragorn was not sure. He quickened his steps even more. I am coming, he thought, hold on, I am coming!
What he saw when he reached the top would forever be burned inside his memory. Merry, Pippin and Sam were lying on the stones, unhurt as it seemed but too afraid to move. Four Nazgul stood near them, but none of them attacked.
And Frodo, Frodo was nowhere to be seen. But the fives Nazgul, a tall figure with a long sword at his side and a sharp looking knife in the other hand stood at the edge of the ruins. His hand was outstretched, so as if he wanted to grab for something. And suddenly Aragorn knew!
Frodo must have used the ring to escape, but the Nazgul had found him, as they could see through the ring's magic. Frodo had tried to escape and was not trapped in the shadow world of his enemy.
Without thinking, Aragorn screamed and jumped in front of the black clad Ringwraith. "Elendil!"
Whether it was his sudden appearance, or the name of one of his forefathers, Aragorn did not know, but the Nazgul took a step back and gave him therewith the time he needed. Swinging the burning branch that he had brought with him from their abandoned campsite, he advanced on the Nazgul, forcing the figure away from Frodo.
He knew that his sword was useless here, but the servants of Sauron feared the fire; although it could not kill them, it hurt them and forced them to retreat at least for some time, until they had gathered enough strength to return.
In this moment on Weathertop, Aragorn felt no fear. He had no emotion at all, and when the Nazgul screeched and attacked, his only thought was that he had to protect Frodo and the Hobbits. He did not think about himself, and maybe that was the mistake he made.
In a quick motion, the other Nazgul charged, and for the fraction of a second Aragorn was distracted. The tall ghost King who had tried to take the ring from Frodo saw it, and lunged forwards. Before Aragorn could react, a fierce pain shot through his left shoulder. He swung the burning log and it caught the Nazgul's robe. The dry material burned bright, and the Black Rider screamed, turned and ran to the edge of the hill.
But Aragorn had no time to lose. The other Nazgul attacked. He let go of his sword and took the branch from his left into his right hand. A deadly coldness swept over his left arm and numbed it. Already he could feel his fingers losing their feeling and strength, and he knew that he had to end this fight quickly.
Charging himself, he set two other Nazgul on fire, and when the third one came too near, he thrust the burning branch into its side, setting him aflame as well. Then, it was eerily quiet all of a sudden, but Aragorn knew that the fight was not over yet. Panting, he tightened his hold on the branch, and the splintered wood cut his palm.
Then, he saw a movement out of the corner of his eye, and turning in a swift and powerful motion, he threw the burning branch right at the last remaining Nazgul. The black robe caught fire immediately, and in a high pitched wailing sound, the last of the Black Riders disappeared behind the ruins and fell to his doom.
The fight was over.
Aragorn trembled. Sweat was standing on his brow and his breathing was laboured. Without conscious thought he closed his eyes and sank to his knees. A shudder raced through his body and he let his head hang.
So cold. His left arm was numb and at the same time colder than ice. Aragorn had been a healer for many years and he knew that his injury was no normal stab wound. He took a deep breath to calm his racing heart. Dimly he heard agitated voices and then more sensed than heard the Hobbits approach.
Opening his eyes, he lifted his head and gazed around. The Hobbits were standing before him, their faces frightened and worried. But, to his utter relief, none of them was hurt. Finding Frodo's eyes, he was glad to see that the young Hobbit looked scared, but otherwise unhurt and back in reality. The ring had not claimed him yet.
As if ripped out of a trance, he suddenly heard the worried voice of Frodo reach his ears, "Strider, you are injured!" Aye, he was injured…
Turning his head, he let his eyes rest on the black hilt that was still protruding from his shoulder. Reaching up, he gripped it firmly with his right hand and with a resolute motion, he pulled the blade out of his flesh. It made a sickening sound, but surprisingly, no blood gushed from the wound.
Aragorn looked at the knife, but suddenly the blade vanished in ash and shadow, and he let the hilt drop to the ground as if burned. A morgul blade, he thought. Oh no.
Fear wriggled its way into his heart. He had been stabbed by a morgul blade. He was as good as dead. But that was not his only concern. The Hobbits…oh please no. He had only heard of the power of such a blade, but he knew that he would soon glide over into the world of the Nazgul and become one of them. And then, he would not hesitate to kill the four innocent Hobbits, or anyone else.
A voice broke through his thoughts, "Strider Sir? Can you hear me?" It was Sam who had spoken, and Aragorn looked at the Hobbit's face for a moment, before he nodded. But he did not answer. Instead, he reached inside his leather overcoat, pulled out a piece of cloth and wrapped the knife hilt in it. After placing the hilt inside his cloak, he got to his feet.
He had made his decision. And they needed to hurry.
Without so much as sparing a glance at his shoulder and his arm that hung stiffly at his side, he scanned the ruins, and then the four Hobbits before him. Indeed, they were unharmed, bless the Valar. Aragorn swallowed, and then spoke urgently, "We need to leave this place. The Nazgul might be gone for now, but they will be back, and their wrath will be terrible. Hurry!"
Grabbing Frodo's arm, he pushed the Hobbit in the direction of the path that led down from the hill. He had no doubt that the others would follow, and he was not disappointed. Merry, Pippin and Sam rushed after them, and so they climbed down the mountain. They stopped briefly at their campsite to gather their belongings, and then they descended the hill as quickly as possible.
The night was still dark and would be for many hour to come, and Aragorn wanted to put every hour they got to good use. It was nearly a fortnight to Imladris, and with the Hobbits and the Black Riders it would take them even longer.
And with my wound, he thought bitterly, I will never make it. He knew not all there was about morgul blades, but what he knew made his heart beat in fear. Soon, he would begin to become one of them, one of the black Nazgul. He would slide over into the otherworld and become a willing less slave of Sauron. And when that happened, he would kill everyone who stood in his way, be it brother, friend or foster father.
No, Aragorn thought desperately. It will not come to that. I will see that the Hobbits will be as close to Imladris as I can manage, and then I will leave them and…and…
He did not know yet what he would do, but he knew that he would not –never- enter Imladris again. Not if it would mean the death of all those he held dear.
They hurried through the night, their feet stomping over grass and their arms and legs being cut by the sharp blades of it. But they did not stop, and as the bleak light of day turned the sky lilac, they crossed a small river.
Suddenly, Pippin slumped to his knees and let his head hang. He panted, "I...cannot. Please, a little rest. Only…some minutes."
The little Halfling coughed, and the others stopped in their tracks. Merry rushed to his cousin's side, and Sam and Frodo stood there, panting and trembling slightly. They were exhausted, and not even the fear of the Nazgul could make them move.
Aragorn stopped as well, his chest heaving and his breath coming in short ragged gasps. Normally, he could run many leagues without tiring, but the coldness that had gripped his shoulder had spread through his arm and sneaked into his chest. He had trouble breathing.
One look at the Halflings told him that they would not be able to go on. Desperately wishing to go on, but knowing that it could very well kill the Hobbits, he nodded. Sam, Merry and Frodo flopped to the ground beside Pippin, and they let a water flask go around; each of them drank eagerly.
But Aragorn could not rest. He stood near the sitting Hobbits and scanned the open plains around him. During the night, he had neither seen nor felt the Black Riders, but he knew that they would return; if they were lucky not for a few hours yet.
Suddenly, he felt someone tug at his dirt covered cloak. Looking down, he looked into the worried face of Frodo. The Hobbit held out the water flask, "Here, Mr Strider. You must be thirsty." Aragorn nodded, took the water and drank eagerly. His throat seemed parched.
Returning the flask to Frodo, he nodded his thanks and then returned his gaze at their surroundings. But Frodo had more to say, "Strider, you are injured. You need to clean the wound and bandage it, otherwise it will become infected, and what good are to us then?"
Aragorn nearly smiled at that, but his heart ached too much at the thought that Frodo was concerned for his well being. Shaking his head, he said softly, "It is not deep and does not bleed. It will not become infected. Once we are in the safety of Elrond's house, I will take care of it."
That was not entirely true, and Aragorn nearly regretted lying. The wound was deep, and he had felt something move inside the cut, but it was not bleeding. And without any herbs, he could not stop an infection. Alas, he had used his last herbs some time ago, and had not been able to find new ones in the short time he had had between reaching Bree and meeting with the Hobbits. And that he would take care of it in Imladris…he would not be able to do that, he knew.
Aragorn looked into Frodo's eyes, and suddenly realized that the Halfling seemed to sense that he had lied, but he would not take his words back, and so he simply took a deep breath and said, "You should rest while you can, Master Hobbit. The way is still long."
From behind them Merry spoke up and asked, "I know you told us, but please, tell us once again what these creatures are."
Aragorn sighed and without looking at the four Halflings repeated what he had already told them in Bree, "They were once men - great kings of men. Then Sauron the deceiver gave to them nine rings of power. Blinded by their greed, they took them without question. One by one they've fallen into darkness. Now they are slaves to his will. They are the Nazgul, Ringwraiths, neither living nor dead. At all times they feel the presence of the Ring, drawn to the power of the One. They will never stop hunting us." Letting his eyes find Frodo's he added softly, "But they shall never get you."
And Frodo nodded sadly and returned to his friends.
The days passed slowly, and with the end of every day, Aragorn felt himself lose his hold onto this world a bit more. More than once during their flight towards Imladris he felt himself stumble as his body refused to obey his commands. His skin was cold and clammy, and his thoughts lingered on many dark things. He faded.
Then, seven days after the attack on Weathertop, Aragorn saw a stone bridge appear before his burning eyes. The river it crossed was swift and of a deep blue, and the morning mist was still laying heavily over the banks.
The Mitheithel, he thought. Not long now and the Hobbits will be safe. They crossed the bridge an hour later, but the fear and tension they all felt did not lessen. The last night Aragorn had heard the unmistakable screech of a Nazgul. It had send a fierce pain through his shoulder, and his breathing had stopped for long moments. He knew now that he had to hurry even more.
So, they hurried on without rest, in the direction of the forest that bordered the hidden valley of the elves. Once inside the woods, they would have some cover from the red eyes of the Black Riders, and there Aragorn hoped to find some herbs.
For some more days they hurried on, and Aragorn had no feeling left in his arm. It was numb and as agile as a dead fish. It was useless, and would he be called upon to fight, he would have to use his right arm only.
Aragorn knew that Hobbits suspected that something was wrong. They shot concerned looks at him and whispered when they thought he would not hear. They were afraid, but not only of the Nazgul any longer. They were, at least to some extend, afraid of him.
For nearly a day he had not spoken, and he had neither eaten or slept for even longer. But, he just could not bring himself to talk. In the darkness of night, his thoughts strayed to black places. Places filled with pain and death, with horror and despair. He day dreamed of many evil things. He saw his family and friends, he saw himself with his bloody sword in hand, standing over their lifeless bodies. It was terrible to watch.
But what was even more terrible, was the feeling that spread through his body when he saw these pictures. He felt…good then. Only later, when his mind cleared somewhat, he would feel guilty and regretted ever having such thoughts. But while he dreamed…he loved it. And it scared him.
On their seventeenth day after the attack on Amon Sûl, they finally reached the outskirts of the forest, and passed into the shadowy woods. The trees towered over them, and the canopy was so dense that not even the moonlight could enter. It was a cloudless night, but the stars did not sooth Aragorn's weary heart.
Over the day, his vision had failed him more and more; colours had dulled, edges blurred, white turned to black and black to white. He was starring into a world that no mortal should ever see. He was becoming one of them.
The coldness in his arm had claimed his whole chest, and each breath he took rattled inside his lungs and ached fiercely. His mouth was constantly dry, not matter how much water he drank, and his mind was fuzzy and foggy. He knew that his time had come, and that he needed to leave the four Halfling's as soon as possible, now that they had reached the fake safety of the forest.
Upon reaching the forest, he urged the tired Hobbits to go deeper into the woods, and once they had entered far enough, he let them stop. Instantly, Merry and Pippin flopped to the ground. The youngest Hobbit had been very quiet as of late, and he had not even once complained that he was hungry. Maybe he was only too tired to complain, but Aragorn had a feeling as if he was afraid to talk to him. They all were in some way afraid to direct his attention on them.
He felt a sting in his heart at this thought. Valar, he had set out to help the Hobbits, not scare them! But alas, this could not be helped now. Perhaps, he thought, it is good that they are afraid. It will make it easier to make them leave me. And then another thought crossed his mind: They should be afraid. I only a day or two, I will be one of them, and beyond mercy.
Aragorn took a deep breath. Frodo stood near a huge tree, gazing into the darkness of the forest. They were not safe yet. Aragorn knew that he needed to go on a little bit longer, just a tiny bit longer.
But oh, the call of the Shadow was strong. He could hear it whisper his name, his real name. It beckoned him, it called to him, it pleas with him to come and join it. Darkness spread in his vision, and he could see things that were not really there. Shadows were there were none, shapes where there could be none.
It was so inviting to him to just answer the call. He wanted to let himself fall into the darkness, to forget and be forgotten. But no! He could not give in now. The Hobbits relied on him, and if he found no way, then they were doomed as well.
No, he needed to at least make sure that the Hobbits found their way to safety. Unsuspected he came out of his trance like state, and grabbed Sam's shoulder. The gardener flinched, and his fear widened eyes gazed at Aragorn.
"Sam, do you know Athelas?"
"Kingsfoil, do you know what it looks like?"
"Yes, of course, but…"
"I need to find it, and I need your help."
Sam chanced a look at Frodo, and then nodded. He darted away into the forest and was soon vanished behind the moss covered trunks of the trees. Aragorn gazed at the remaining Hobbits, and his gaze lingered on Frodo for a moment.
Aragorn frowned. Had someone called his name?
No! He shook his head to chase away the voice. He must not give in now. He must not. Gazing back at the Hobbits but avoiding Frodo's look, he said softly, "Stay right here. I will be back soon. Be on your guard."
And with that, he vanished into the darkness.
For some more moments the Hobbits gazed at the spot where Aragorn had stood, and then they relaxed somewhat. Huffing, Merry tossed a branch into the direction of the surrounding trees, "I do not know how you feel, but something is not right with that man."
Chewing on some grass blades, Pippin agreed, "Oh yes. Have you noticed the strange looks he gives Frodo? And he has not eaten for three days! That is just not normal."
Frodo said nothing. He stood leaned at a tree trunk and gazed into the forest. But he felt that his friends were right. Something had happened to Strider. The man had changed, and Frodo had noticed the paleness of the man's face and the sweat that covered his brow. Perhaps the human was ill…
No, Frodo thought. It is something else. He was stabbed by a Black Rider, maybe that had…changed him somehow. He remembered an old tale from Bilbo about the Nazgul, and he thought to remember that Bilbo had said that their blades held a black magic.
And he could almost hear the ranger's words in his ears…/One by one they've fallen into darkness. Now they are slaves to his will. They are the Nazgul, Ringwraiths, neither living nor dead. /
What if the man was also falling under their spell. What...what if he became one of them? The thought made Frodo's heart beat quicker in his chest. If their guide was poisoned by the blade and was even now slipping into the shadow, then they were all in great danger.
Alas, he thought. We should not stay here if it is so. Strider will not be able to fight the magic of the Ringwraith, and he will succumb to their will and kill us. He will take the ring for himself, and then all hope will be lost!
But they could not leave. Not without Sam. And perhaps, he thought, he was only imagining things and Strider was not falling into the shadow at all. Mayhap the man was only tired and weary.
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.