20. Darkness and Light
Flames, bright and intense, rose toward the heavens with an angry roar, licking greedily ever higher and turning the sky black with smoke. The air above the raging inferno seemed to shimmer and dance with heat, and a sickening stench filled the air.
One hundred yards from the base of the bonfire, the city of Calembel lay quiet and subdued, the walls reflecting the light of the flames and giving off an eerie glow. No sounds of bird’s cheerful singing filled the still morning, and even the sun seemed veiled and shadowed, though there was not a cloud in the sky. The cold touch of death permeated the air, and an unnatural silence encompassed the land.
Faramir stood silent and still upon the field before the city, surrounded by a scene of death and destruction. The fire raged before him, and the city lay behind, yet Faramir’s mind registered neither as it wept at the sight before him. All about him, the land bore the horrible mark of the fierce and bloody battle that had raged here only hours before, and he thought sadly that the earth would never be rid of the dark stain that had settled upon it. Bodies lay everywhere, both orc and human, sightless eyes starring unseeingly into the sky or turned forever downward to the earth from whence they came. Soldiers wandered through the battlefield, pulling their fallen comrades free, unashamedly weeping at the loss of friends and companions and reverently carrying them back to the city with honor and respect. Those soldiers who did not have the task of searching for fallen defenders, had the much more gruesome task of dealing with the dead orcs.
Faramir grimaced in disgust as two soldiers struggled past him with the body of a dead orc, stumbling with their burden as near to the fire as they could, before tossing the carcass into the hungry flames. The fire welcomed the orc's body with a fresh belch of flame and black smoke, and the two soldiers hurried away, gagging and choking at the horrible stench of burning flesh. The smell, mixed with the heavy smoke, was intense enough that all those working upon the field wore heavy pieces of cloth wrapped about their noses and mouths to block out the toxic fumes.
Faramir also wore one of the cloth strips, yet standing so close to the fire he found it did little good, and his eyes were beginning to burn intensely from the black smoke. He stood for a couple more minutes before turning away and slowly walking back toward the city, his eyes taking in the damage and automatically forming a long list of repairs and tasks that would need accomplishing this day. Several sections of the city wall had partially collapsed from the force of the orcs attack, and many other sections were black and charred where the orcs had attempted to set fire to it. The north gates hung crooked and broken upon their hinges, the heavy wood splintered and shattered, and several defenders worked swiftly to repair them as best they could.
Faramir shook his head, as he realized, not for the first time, exactly how close the city had come to falling to the orcs. Only the bravery and determination of the defenders, as well as the timely arrival of Kenson Brantz and almost three hundred fresh soldiers, had kept the city from defeat. The creatures had managed to break past the lines of defense upon the field, pushing the defenders back to the city walls. Even then they had not relented, breaching the wall in several places including the gate, and entering the city. Faramir had led the charge that had pushed them back, yet he knew that if the sun had risen only a few hours later than it had, it would have risen upon a defeated Calembel. Yet luck, or perhaps fate, had been with them, and the defenders had prevailed long enough that the orcs had been driven back by the arrival of day.
Even so, the cost was great for both sides. The orcs had the advantage of numbers, and could take such losses without much thought; yet each new casualty to the defenders marked clearly just how desperate their situation was becoming. The way things stood now, Faramir had little doubt that another orc attack would end it all. Therefore, he had been extremely relieved upon receiving the message that the other half of the army of Gondor was only a few miles away, and would reach the city in a few hours. Faramir knew that the soldiers’ arrival would be a great moral booster for the worn and weary defenders, as well as providing fresh and much needed assistance. With the new help, he held hope that the city could stand long enough for a plan to be made to conquer Malek. Without leadership to pull them together, the orcs would become confused and quarrelsome, making them easy to defeat. Malek was the key to everything, the very reason Aragorn had decided to track the creature to his cave and attempt to learn more about him.
This line of thought was one that Faramir had been carefully avoiding all morning, fighting down worry over his missing companions and attempting to keep his mind focused upon the defense of the city. When Aragorn, Legolas, and Pippin had failed to arrive at Calembel before nightfall the previous evening, Faramir had half expected to see Gimli, and Merry as well, march out the gates and begin an immediate search for them. Only Gandalf’s calm words of caution and wisdom had held the dwarf and distraught hobbit at bay. The wizard had argued that there could be several reasons to explain their companions delayed return, and he had urged them all to remain patient and focused.
When the orcs had attacked, everything had been forgotten in the desperate battle for survival, but now that the battle was over, Faramir found himself once more overcome with feelings of worry and restlessness. Less than two hours after dawn, Gandalf, Gimli, Merry, Sam, and six soldiers had set out on a search for the missing companions. Gandalf had seemed strangely reluctant, yet whatever his reasons, he had kept them to himself.
Frodo, who had been injured during the battle, Faramir, and Arwen remained behind. Faramir had longed to go, yet he knew he was needed within the city, all the more so because of Aragorn’s absence. Arwen had also longed to accompany the search, and Faramir guessed that her decision to stay behind had been much more difficult than his own. After the attack, the number of wounded had outnumbered those of the healers caring for them, and Arwen’s skills were desperately needed within the city. So they had been left behind, trusting Gandalf and the others to do whatever possible to find Aragorn, Legolas, and Pippin. Faramir desperately hoped that all their worry would end up being for nothing, and that Aragorn and the others would be just fine.
Forcing his mind back to the city, Faramir busied himself for the next several hours helping reconstruct the fallen north gate. Midmorning came and went without him really registering the passing of time. He was just starting up the street, planning on visiting Arwen and Frodo, when loud shouts along the top of the wall alerted him that someone was coming. He ran back down the street, reaching the wall and bounding up the nearest stairs, hoping to get a good view of whoever was approaching. A young soldier met him at the top, pointing excitedly to the north were a group of horsemen were riding toward the city.
Faramir felt a thrill, as he realized that the group had to be Gandalf’s party, and the only reason they would be returning so soon was if they had found something. The horsemen were still too distant for him to make out any distinct forms or numbers, yet the closer they came, the more certain he was. He left the wall and hurried to the gate, squinting past the fire toward the approaching riders. As they drew closer, he at last could make out the form of Gandalf in the lead, the wizard carefully supporting a limp figure in the saddle before him. Faramir felt his heart lurch as he realized the figure was too tall for Pippin and not quite tall enough to be Legolas. It took all his self-control to remain waiting at the city gate and not go racing out to meet the approaching riders.
It seemed like forever before Gandalf at last rode through the gates, pulling his horse to a stop and carefully dismounting with an unconscious Aragorn in his arms. Faramir held the wizard's horse, his worried eyes scanning the pale face of his king for some sign as to what ailed the man.
"How is he?" he asked worriedly, reaching forward to offer Gandalf aid with his burden.
"He is alive for the moment, and that is all that matters," Gandalf replied shortly. "He is running a high fever, and we must get him to Arwen."
Faramir nodded and quickly handed the reins of Gandalf's mount to a nearby soldier. "What of Legolas and Pippin?" he asked worriedly, for he had already noticed the absence of the two.
Gandalf shook his head slightly, his eyes full of worry. "He was alone and unconscious when we found him," he replied simply, and Faramir felt his heart sink at the words. He glanced over his shoulder to where Gimli was being helped off a horse he was sharing with a soldier. The dwarf's face was strained and weary, and he kept glancing over his shoulder the way they had just come, the top of his hand rubbing nervously over the haft of his axe. Beside him, Merry looked dangerously close to tears.
"Where do you think they are?" Faramir asked softly, turning back to Gandalf.
Once more, the wizard merely shook his head. "That is something I can only hope Aragorn can tell us once he wakes," the wizard replied, turning and quickly striding up the street toward the temporary house of healing.
Legolas knew the minute Malek entered the cavern. A dark chill ran throughout his being, and it seemed as if the torches surrounding the cave flickered and dimmed. A black evilness filled the room, settling down upon the two huddled prisoners like a dark blanket, seeping away all light and warmth. Even the air seemed to become oppressive and suffocating. Legolas had faced the evil that was Malek face to face, yet at that time, it had still been daylight, and he had been preoccupied with fighting for his life. This time, lying bound and helpless deep within the closed confines of the cave, the evilness seemed much more palpable and intent, chilling his blood and freezing his heart.
Legolas kept careful control over his emotions, scanning the many cave entrances for some sign of Malek. His eyes at last came to rest upon the far end of the cavern, the only place still completely shrouded in darkness, with no torches to add the slightest amount of light. Legolas recognized the blackness of this section to be unnatural, for even his keen eyes could not penetrate it’s black folds, and he knew that it was within this shadow that Malek stood, watching him.
Beside him, Pippin began to shift restlessly, fearful eyes darting around the cave, and Legolas knew that the hobbit felt Malek’s presence as well. Pippin glanced up, meeting Legolas’s gaze and opening his mouth to speak; yet no words came out, for suddenly orcs began to pour into the cave, appearing from several different entrances and filling the cave with their loud and vulgar language. The orcs arrival startled Legolas nearly as badly as Pippin, and he cursed himself for not sensing their coming long before. It seemed that Malek’s presence was serving to cloud his already dulled senses even further.
As the orcs continued to fill the cave, Legolas had to clench his jaw tightly and fight to remain calm against the tight knot forming in his stomach. He knew he could not allow the orcs to see his fear, for the creatures enjoyed nothing more than causing such fear and pain in their victims. He was determined not to give them the satisfaction. He had to remain calm and in control no matter what torment they had in store for him, for nothing else would be acceptable for the proud prince of Mirkwood. His mind kept recalling all the stories he had heard of elves captured by orcs. None of the stories had been pretty, and none of them had ended happily.
Legolas forced his mind away from such thoughts, focusing instead upon the frightened hobbit at his side. Pippin was yet another reason he had to remain calm. The hobbit was once more shifting nervously, his eyes wide and terrified, looking as if he was considering bolting, bound limbs or no. Legolas gently placed his tied hands upon his small friend’s shoulder, squeezing softly.
“Be still,” he ordered quietly, surprised at the level of complete calm and command he heard in his voice. He most definitely did not feel calm.
Pippin looked up at him, surprise evident in his young face. Slowly, Legolas felt him begin to relax beneath his hands, the hobbit’s face still frightened, yet losing the wild look that had been there before.
“Remember what I said earlier,” Legolas whispered, his voice still surprisingly calm. “Do nothing to draw attention to yourself, no matter what happens.”
Pippin shook his head, his eyes tormented. “Legolas, I still do not think I will be able to…”
“But you must,” Legolas cut him off mid-sentence. “Think of Merry if you have to. Think of the pain it would cause him to loose you.”
Pippin let out a small gasp, his eyes widening, and Legolas felt a pang of guilt at the cruel words. Yet at the moment, he was willing to try anything to get Pippin to understand.
Pippin stared up at him silently for a few seconds, his eyes showing his hurt, yet at last he replied, “And what of Gimli? What of the hurt he would feel?”
Legolas flinched slightly, but quickly recovered. “If Gimli were here, he would tell you to remain still as well,” he answered softly.
“Maybe, but he himself would not,” Pippin retorted.
Before Legolas could even think of a response, the first of the orcs spotted them and let out a high yell, rushing forward and calling to their companions who were still entering the cavern. In no time, the two prisoners were completely surrounded by a horde of orcs calling out for their blood. Legolas was glad that Pippin did not know the creatures foul language and thus could not understand the ugly threats directed toward them. Even so, he glanced down at the hobbit worriedly and was surprised to see Pippin sitting up straight, his chin raised and glaring back at the orcs with resolve filling his small face. Legolas felt a thrill of pride at the hobbit’s action, and he squeezed Pippin’s shoulder tightly one last time before dropping his hands back into his lap.
The orcs kept edging closer and closer, their faces filled with blood lust, and Legolas doubted that anything could keep them at bay. He stared up at them bravely, his face defiant, and tensed his body for what he knew was about to come.
Suddenly, a chill so intense it rocked his body swept through him, and the orcs halted their advance, their voices dying away into complete silence. The front row of orcs shifted and moved aside, revealing an approaching Malek, the creature looking much more terrible than before in the blackness of the cave. Legolas heard a strangled sound coming from beside him, yet he could not tear his eyes from the creature before him.
“Welcome,” Malek hissed, the sound coming out more like a hideous laugh. “I have been waiting a long time for this moment.”
Legolas stared up at the creature, his features calm and expressionless.
Malek cocked his head, his grin widening. “My pets are calling for your blood,” he continued, his voice gleeful. “They have worked hard, and perhaps I shall give you to them. They know how to have fun, and it shall be an enjoyment to watch them. I am curious what it will take to make an elf scream.”
When Legolas merely continued to watch him, his face cold and unreadable, Malek’s features darkened. “Of course, if you should bow before me and beg for your life, perhaps I shall spare you from their hands,” he growled, his eyes narrowing.
For the first time, Legolas showed a reaction, but it was not one Malek was expecting. The elf let out a short laugh, looking up at Malek with disgust and contempt and already shaking his head.
“I would never bow to you, creature of the dark,” Legolas spat with disdain, his light eyes flashing. “Nor would I beg mercy from a bunch of orcs,” he added, filling the last word with as much derision and contempt as he could muster.
An angry mutter went through the surrounding creatures, yet Legolas was not finished. He knew that his words were bold and rash, yet if they managed to draw all of Malek’s and the orcs attention and anger to himself, then perhaps Pippin would be ignored. “Do with me as you please, Malek,” he continued, his voice now filled with taunting. “You may even have your orcs kill me, but do not think you will have the pleasure of seeing me broken. No matter what you may do, light will always triumph over darkness, and you cannot change that. You will be defeated, Malek, just as all dark things are defeated. You will fall!” His speech given, Legolas fell silent, staring up at Malek with cold defiance.
The silence in the cave was deafening.
Malek looked down at him, a hideous rage burning in his dark eyes. At last he spoke, advancing a single step, his voice cold and dangerous. “You think so, elf?” he hissed, his voice a mere whisper. “You think I shall be defeated? Darkness can extinguish light, as I will soon teach you. I will show you exactly what it means to be a ‘creature of darkness.”
The words were spoken coldly and with a definite promise, and Legolas could not stop the wave of terror that swept through him at the dark meaning of the threat. Legolas’s face must have given away a hint of his fear, for Malek suddenly laughed.
“No, my pet,” he spoke slowly, his voice now filled with condescension. “I shall not kill you, though you will wish you were dead before I am through. I have a much better plan for you. But first, I must keep my promise to your friend.” Malek motioned a large orc over to him, the creature perhaps one of the largest of the breed Legolas had ever seen. “I would see the elf suffer,” he ordered the orc coldly. “I would see him bleed.” At this last sentence, Malek licked his lips, looking at Legolas hungrily.
These words were met with a mutter of anticipation from the surrounding orcs, as the large creature bowed before Malek, pulling free a wicked looking whip from its belt. Legolas thought that such an instrument was a strange tool for an orc, but he was given no time to think over this. Two of the creatures stepped forward and roughly grabbed his shoulders, brutally shoving him face forward to the ground, a heavy boot landing on the back of his neck and pinning him down. He gasped in pain as his bound hands dug into his chest, making it hard to breath.
“I have heard that elves are extremely resilient,” Malek spoke once more. “I hope this is true, for it will make this so much more fun.”
Legolas’s cloak was torn from him and tossed carelessly away as his tunic was ripped open, exposing the soft flesh of his back and shoulders. He heard a soft cry from Pippin, and he closed his eyes, praying fervently that the hobbit would do nothing to earn a share in the fate awaiting him. His entire body was tense, waiting for the first fall of the whip, as the orcs screams and jeers filled his ears.
He heard the loud crack before he felt the pain, and he could not stop the gasp that escaped his lips. The orc wielding the whip was obviously no stranger to the tool, for he administered the beating with a cold proficiency, waiting several seconds between blows to allow Legolas to experience the full pain of each terrible lash. Legolas bit his lip hard, his eyes squeezed shut, fighting against the cries of pain that were becoming harder and harder to choke back as the whip repeatedly bit deeply into his flesh.
Pippin stood a few feet away, tears burning his eyes and running tracks down his face, an orc’s rough hand gripping his shoulder and holding him in place. He flinched heavily at each new blow that landed upon his friend’s back and shoulders, each lash opening up new ribbons of crimson that flowed from torn flesh. Each time the whip fell, the orcs screamed with pleasure, yet Legolas did not cry out once, and Pippin wept harder at the courage and determination of his friend in the face of such brutality.
The beating seemed to go on forever, and Pippin watched helplessly as Legolas’s back became a ruined mass of torn flesh and blood. He couldn’t see how anyone could survive such a beating, and each time Legolas’s body jerked from a blow, Pippin breathed a sigh of relief that the elf still lived. Pippin was unsure how many minutes passed before Malek at last raised his arm and signaled an end to the violence. Pippin let out a relieved sigh, thinking that Legolas would at last be left alone. He was terribly wrong.
The same two orcs who had forced Legolas to the ground now roughly shoved him onto his back, facing upward into the jeering face of his captors. A small trickle of blood flowed from the side of his mouth from where he had bitten through his lip, and his eyes were clouded and dark with pain. The cold stone against his burning flesh actually helped clear his mind a little, bringing him back from the edge of unconsciousness. It would have been better if it hadn’t, if he had just allowed the blackness to take him right then. As it was, Malek had a much more terrible darkness in store for him.
Legolas watched through blurred vision as Malek knelt over him, reaching down and almost gently caressing his face, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth. Then, slowly, the creature raised his hand to his lips, licking the blood from his fingers and rolling his eyes in pleasure. Legolas felt as if he was going to be violently sick.
Malek’s eyes locked with Legolas’s own, and the elf felt the ice prison close firmly about him once more. Only this time, he did not have the energy or strength to fight it. Malek continued to stare at him long enough to make sure Legolas was securely entrapped, then reached down and ripped the remainder of Legolas’s tunic away from his chest. Cruelly inserting the tip of one sharp claw into Legolas’s chest, just above his sternum and just deep enough to draw a tiny pinprick of blood, Malek began to move his finger, carving an ugly groove into the elf prince’s flesh. As he worked, he spoke softly and intently in a foul language, the small sound seemingly filling the large cavern and further dimming the light of the torches while deepening the shadows.
Pippin watched in horrified fascination, completely unaware that the orc behind him had released him. Malek’s slow chanting reminded the hobbit of Gandalf preparing for a spell, and he wondered distantly what sort of dark curse the creature was placing upon Legolas.
As for Legolas, he found himself suddenly encompassed by a cold more intense than anything he had ever experienced. Blackness, darker than anything he could have ever imagined seemed to be stealing over him, pressing in upon his very inner being and slowly engulfing him particle by particle. He finally found the strength to fight, yet it was no use. Just as it had been in his dreams, cruel hands held him to the ground and laughter assaulted his ears. Yet even the laughter could not drown out the soft words being spoken above him, their meaning lost, yet their purpose clear. It was the words, and the painful pressure upon his chest that aided the cold and dark takeover of his body, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Desperately, Legolas attempted to recall light and warmth, before all memories of these things were torn from him. He tried to picture Mirkwood, his home, the trees dancing in the afternoon light and a warm breeze lightly playing with his hair. Yet even as the memory came to him, it seemed to warp and distort itself, the trees turning black and dead, the air colder than winter. Each memory he attempted to wrap around himself for protection was thus torn from him and polluted, until he could not even recall what light looked like, or what it felt like to be warm. The coldness and darkness wrapped itself around his soul, seeming to become a very part of him and slowly squeezing all life from him. With the final takeover of his body, Legolas could at last no longer keep back the horrible scream of pain and despair.
It was Legolas’s cry, filled with ultimate agony and loss that finally jerked Pippin back to his senses. Without thinking, without even truly realizing what he was doing, Pippin lunged forward, straight toward Malek. His body collided roughly with the dark creature, and both of them stumbled back, falling to the hard floor.
Time seemed to stand still as the orcs fell silent, completely frozen in shock. Almost automatically, the nearest orc reached down and grabbed Pippin by the back of the neck, hauling him up and shaking him roughly. Malek leapt to his feet, his eyes burning with rage, and Pippin thought for sure he was dead.
Malek glared at the hobbit for a second before turning back to finish his task with the elf. But it was too late, Legolas was unconscious, his head fallen limply to the side and his breath coming out in short rasps. Malek turned back to Pippin, seriously considering killing the hobbit for disturbing him before he had finished his task. He struck out, his sharp claws slicing four deep grooves down the side of Pippin’s face. He smiled in satisfaction at the small cry that came from the hobbit.
Pippin kept his eyes tightly shut, waiting for the killing blow he was sure was coming. He was surprised when the orc holding him suddenly dropped him, and he opened his eyes just in time to see Malek striding away and the orcs slowly dispersing. His bound hands flew to his bleeding face, feeling how close one of the jagged cuts had come to his eye. He grimaced in pain, the salt from his tears burning into the deep scratches.
Slowly, Pippin dragged himself across the hard stone to Legolas’s side. He wept at the bloody scratches that covered his friend’s chest, and his fear grew as he felt how cold Legolas’s body had become. Gently he leaned over the elf, trying to share his own body heat without aggravating Legolas’s injuries. He could not stop the flow of tears caused by fear and pain, and several drops fell to land upon the still and pale form of Legolas.
Arwen carefully removed the wet cloth from the basin, wringing it dry and placing it gently across Aragorn’s brow. After several hours of continuous care, his fever was at last diminishing, although Arwen thought him still far too warm for comfort. When Gandalf had first brought him in, she had been fearful for his life, yet now he seemed to be slowly recovering, though he had yet to wake.
Arwen gently brushed a stray strand of dark hair from his forehead, before leaning down and kissing him lightly. When she once more straightened, her sharp senses alerted her of the arrival of several more people to the small room where Aragorn lay. She turned as Gandalf, followed closely by Gimli, Faramir, Merry, Sam, and a slightly limping Frodo, entered the room. All of them crowded closely around the bed, peering worriedly down at Aragorn.
“Has he stirred yet?” Gandalf asked, reaching forward and laying a hand against Aragorn’s cheek.
Arwen shook her head. “Not yet,” she replied, “He is still recovering from the poison in his body, and he needs rest. It may be several more hours before he awakens.”
“We do not have several hours,” Gandalf responded wearily, shaking his head slowly. “Can he be roused?”
Arwen frowned, not liking the idea, but before she could speak, Gandalf continued. “We must find out the fate of Legolas and Pippin, and I am afraid that time is quickly running out.” Gandalf’s dark eyes locked with her own. “I would not even suggest it, daughter of Elrond, if the situation was not so dire.”
Arwen’s gaze darted quickly towards Gimli and Merry and she at last let out a small sigh. “He still runs a fever, and his mind may not be clear,” she warned as she turned back to the bed, leaning over Aragorn and shaking his shoulders gently.
Gandalf merely nodded, accepting her warning but seeing no other choice and thus willing to take the chance.
“Aragorn,” Arwen called softly, continuing to shake him lightly. “Aragorn, you must wake. Come, my love, for we have many question we would ask you.”
It took several minutes of shaking and begging before Aragorn shifted and moaned, seeming to at last approach consciousness. When his eyes fluttered open, he blinked them several times, obviously having trouble focusing upon the group of faces peering worriedly down at him.
“Welcome back to the world of the living, my friend,” Gandalf greeted him softly, reaching forward and gripping Aragorn’s arm. The ex-ranger blinked up at him, then immediately began to struggle into a sitting position. Faramir and Gandalf aided him, supporting him while Arwen placed several large pillows behind his back.
When he was at last settled, he glanced once more at the faces surrounding him, frowning slightly. “What happened,” he asked in a whisper, his voice hoarse and raspy.
“That was something we were hoping you could tell us,” Gandalf responded lightly, taking a proffered cup of water from Arwen and holding it to Aragorn’s lips. “Have you no memory of how you came to be here?” he asked, as the man drank thirstily from the cup.
Aragorn finished drinking and then sank back into the pillows with a tired sigh. Gandalf repeated his question, but Aragorn only shook his head. “I can’t seem to think very well at the moment,” he explained wearily, his eyes already beginning to drift shut. “Perhaps if I sleep…”
Gimli had had enough. All morning he had begged to go in search of Legolas and Pippin, and each time Gandalf had urged him to be patient and wait for Aragorn to wake. The wizard had insisted that Aragorn would be able to give them valuable information that would aid in any search. So, despite the waves of worry and misgivings, Gimli had waited, and now he was not about to let Aragorn go back to sleep without giving some answers.
Elbowing past Faramir, the dwarf reached forward and seized Aragorn by his shoulders, giving him a firm shake to get his attention. “You cannot sleep now, Aragorn,” he ordered sternly, forcing the man’s clouded eyes to meet his own. “We must know what has happened to Pippin and Legolas. They left here with you yesterday morning, but you returned alone. Where are they, and what has happened?”
“Easy Gimli,” Gandalf warned, “We cannot rush him.”
Gimli merely grunted, turning back to Aragorn with the purpose of pressing him further, yet he stopped at what he saw. Aragorn was sitting bolt upright, his face pale and his eyes distant. It was obvious that he was seeing something the rest of them couldn’t, and they could only hope that his memory was returning.
After several minutes of silence, Gimli reached out and gripped Aragorn’s shoulder once more, gently calling the ex-ranger’s name. Aragorn did not respond or even blink at Gimli’s call, and the dwarf exchanged a worried look with Gandalf. Gimli was opening his mouth to repeat the call, when Aragorn spoke.
“We…,” the ranger started, swallowing hard before continuing. “We lost Pippin.”
Merry let out a soft cry at this statement, but Gandalf merely reached forward and gripped Aragorn’s arm. “What do you mean you lost him?” he asked quietly, trying to get the man to look at him.
Aragorn continued to stare straight ahead, and Gandalf was not sure he had even heard the question. “He disappeared,” Aragorn continued, his voice slow and uncertain, almost as if he were relating the information even as he first recalled it. “Legolas and I hoped he had come back here, but we also feared he had been captured by orcs.”
Merry began to shake his head wildly at this idea, tears streaming down his face, yet Aragorn seemed unaware even of this as he slowly continued his story.
“Legolas and I split up,” he said softly, frowning intently as if trying to remember exactly what happened next. “And then…”
Suddenly, Aragorn stopped, his face going even paler and his eyes flying to Gimli. The dwarf actually took a step back at the intensity within Aragorn’s eyes, and he felt a cold dread steal over him.
“I’m sorry, Gimli,” Aragorn whispered, his eyes still glued to the dwarf. “I’m so sorry.”
Silence descended upon the room, and as Gimli’s eyes locked with Aragorn’s, it seemed as if the two were suddenly alone, the presence of the others fading into a blurry background. Gimli shook his head slowly, desperately wishing he could plug his ears and block out what he knew would be coming next, yet his entire body seemed frozen as his dread turned into ice cold fear.
“I tried to reach him in time,” Aragorn continued, still in a whisper, his agonized eyes fixed on Gimli. “I tried, but I was too late. Too late. I’m so sorry, my friend.”
The silence in the room seemed to grow into something palpable, something evil, intent upon destruction, and Gimli could only stare at Aragorn, his body completely numb with disbelief. Ages seemed to pass before Gandalf finally spoke, somehow breaking the dangerous tension that filled the air.
“I think you should start at the beginning.”
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.