4. Walking in Darkness
There were cliffs but no rope. Aragorn looked with dismay over the edge. He had never liked climbing either up or down unless it was a broad tree or the railings at Rivendell. He had been hiking in the grey range for days, following animal tracks and orc trails. How he longed for leaves or trees, anything but gray rocks and dust. The only cover here was scrubby bushes with aromatic needles and tines that ripped at clothing and skin. As the sun climbed above the horizon to herald another dusty, cloudless day, he could see the silver ribbon of the Anduin, shining far to the west, a mirrored line in the green. With a sigh, he lowered his eyes to the drop below. This was the first sheer cliff he had come to and he must go down.
There was nothing for it. He wrapped his cloak around Agawaen Nor and dropped it and his boots to the bottom of the ravine. Then he lowered himself down over the edge. There were no toe holds and certainly no shrubs to hang on to. He felt for crevices with fingers that were quickly raw. Most of the time he seemed to be swinging out into oblivion hanging by those finger tips. For the tenth time, he almost fell, blood making his hands slick, and he swung against the rock face unable to stop his momentum, smashing his knee. He clung desperately with his finger tips, missed a foothold, and was falling. The one part of his mind that was not screaming noticed how calming it seemed.
The sun blazed down, radiating off the rock around him. Aragorn's first conscious thought was how terribly thirsty he was. His tongue was swollen and his lips were cracked. The taste of hot copper filled his mouth. He raised his head and slitted, bleary eyes to the glare, looking for shelter. Many yards down the ravine was an outcropping of rock offering dark shade. He willed his battered body to his knees, collected his dropped sword and boots, and using the blade, pulled himself to his feet. He struggled down the draw, the burning, jagged gravel unnoticed under his bare feet, and collapsed in the deep shade behind the rocks. Aragorn gratefully closed his eyes in the cool darkness and let the swirling blackness take him.
The shivering woke him. There was a sliver of moon riding low in the night sky. It was cold but this uncontrollable shaking was more: he knew he was very ill. A tall, dark figure wearing a jagged crown was standing over him. Aragorn looked up expectantly and unafraid.
"My lord Angmar," he asked the witch-king. "have you come to collect me for your master?" The shadowy figure was unmoving and unspeaking, and Aragorn decide the Nazgul would have to drag him from this spot. He was unable to rise: he barely had the strength to pull his cloak around his feverish body. The world swam with the effort and he shut his eyes.
Somehow, when Aragorn woke again, he dragged himself to his feet and shuffled painfully west. He traveled through the rocks of the Ephel Dúath, his head swimming with fever. His companion on the journey was the dark form of the witch-king who studied him with glowing eyes. Aragorn recognized him as an apparition of his mind and took to speaking with him quite companionably as he trudged, commenting on everything from the damnably hot climate to Angmar's somewhat dated and frayed clothing. The witch-king never answered but Aragorn never questioned his presence. The murder of Fallon, his fault and unavenged as he saw it, anointed him as a protégé of the Nazgul and made him fine company for Angmar. Aragorn saw his deed as already sending him sliding down the track of doom and destruction.
Once he remembered drinking at a small stream. A small clump of cress grew there and he ate it, silt and all. Another time, he stumbled and slid down a rocky incline, scraping both palms and dislodging fair sized rocks, his forehead coming to rest against one. The unseated rocks yielded up several fat grubs and a white, bloodless worm, which made the best meal he had had since his trek began.
Most of the time, he watched his feet trudge across the faceless ground. Any enemy could have brought him down with a single arrow but no one was in that tractlessness but him. It seemed like there was no living creatures left in the world but he and his diabolical companion. One morning, he woke, though he hadn't remembered stopping the night before. Angmar had vanished. In his stead, Gandalf sat smoking a pipe, the tobacco smoke sweet in Aragorn's nose. The vision of the wizard gave him comfort through the day and he seemed to walk next to him, as so often they had walked together in the north, on some new adventure. Mithrandir here was truly a wizard, unaffected by the heat, clad in his great gray cloak and hat.
"Suilad, istonon nin*," Aragorn spoke to the rocks around him. "I prefer you as companion to my last." He confessed to Gandalf his great sin that made his soul sick. "One of your lessons was brought home hard this time."
Aragorn heard Gandalf's voice again from that day long ago as they rode to Rohan when an offhanded comment drove the wizard to great anger. 'Killing nameless, evil orcs is easy, puppy. But looking into a man's eyes as his life runs out with the blood flowing over your sword hilt and covering your hands is no frivolous task.' Gandalf's angry words from that day long ago echoed off the rock faces.
"You are so wise, my good, good friend. Now I have been punished for my foolish, careless words." But Gandalf offered no words of comfort and Aragorn's heart filled with bleakness and guilt for being unable to save Fallon.
As he walked, Aragorn wished that Arwen might come to him in his waking dreams as she often did in times of great trial to ease his pain. He never so needed her soothing touch as in this desolation, but she never did. Perhaps her white spirit could not breach the borders of this black land; perhaps she was pleased to be quit of such an evil lover. He often felt for the Evenstar and when he found it missing, started up in panic, thinking he had lost it in this evil place, and then remembered, relieved. He hoped Quillion was safe in Rivendell, but in his delirium, he saw the boy dead, his throat cut by the assassin's blade, or executed by one of the shadow-eyed guards of the Citadel at Denethor's command.
When he was lucid enough to recognize it was dark, he would drop under a bush or overhang and when he became conscious of light, hours or days later, he was up and moving again. And so, miles marched away and the endless time rolled on. Exhausted, starving, and ill, he staggered down the western escarpments. The barren rocks gave way to scrub brush and then hearty pines and finally to rough meadows and wood, but before Aragorn's eyes remained the dusty and barren Gorgoroth plain. He had almost waded to his knees in the Anduin before he realized he was at the river. Head down, eyes unseeing, Aragorn trudged north along the eastern shore. Here the waters were broad and slow moving, the bank cut down to a broad graveled beach littered with ancient, twisted wood and boulders. Perhaps he could paddle across if he found a log. Catching his foot on a half buried root, he tripped, staggered and fell face down.
Aragorn listening to the pebbles singing to him, lay for a long while thinking it was the music of Eru Glorfindel often spoke of, and then he discerned that what he heard was riders coming. 'It is unsafe,' he reasoned to himself. 'If these are Ithilien rangers, I need an explanation for being here; if they are Sauron's patrols, they'll ask for none.' He found he could not stand, could not hide himself, could not even reach his dagger to end his life. The riders drew rein and horses snorted, directly above him.
"It looks as if we have found what we seek."
*"Hello, my teacher."
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.