14. In Some Dark Place - by Raksha the Demon
He was safe now, riding behind Halbarad on the broad back of his kinsman's sturdy mare, within the protected bounds of Imladris, in daylight. Soon they would reach the house of Elrond, and be welcomed with food and care, warm soft beds where they could sleep in peace.
The Riders had found him just last night, alone on a wooded hill high above a creek. Only three Riders had attacked, which was probably why he still lived today. He was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Heir of Isildur, Chieftain of the Dúnedain, rightful King of Gondor, and though he had weathered skirmishes with Orcs and even a few trolls, known the sharp tang of battle-alert, he had never felt terror until the wraiths had appeared, dark shapes barely divisible from the night that cloaked them. Their chill had frozen the very breath in his lungs. He had forced himself to move, to duck and roll and hurl firebrands at them as he fled. He had known the hillside well, the wraiths had not. He had run, dodged like a hare between rock and tree, finally reached the stream and stumbled through the current.
But he might well have died from the fear they brought, his heart hammering as if to break his chest-wall, if not for Halbarad. His kinsman had come early to their meeting, and heard his cries, seen the light of the brands he had thrown, and rode round and round in the dark trying to find him, until Aragorn had staggered out of the water and collapsed in Halbarad's very path. Halbarad had pulled him up and borne him away on the fleet-footed mare. The wraiths had lost two horses, and the one they had left could not bear them all with sufficient haste to catch her.
Aragorn let out a deep, shuddering breath. He was grateful that it was Halbarad, friend as well as kinsman, who was with him now. Halbarad would not reveal how the fear still, shamefully, gripped him. Hopefully, Halbarad had not noticed that Aragorn had messed himself like a lad in a first battle. Perhaps it had happened when the foremost wraith had advanced, reached out for him with night-shrouded gauntleted hands. The water had soaked Aragorn so thoroughly that the smell must have lessened by now. And the mare, whose nose was better than Halbarad's, did not care.
"Easy now, Aragorn" Halbarad said. "See, they are opening the gates. We'll sleep soundly tonight, eh?"
"For sure," he answered wearily, and forced himself to sit up straight, clasping the other's shoulder as the only show of gratitude he could manage for now.
Aragorn could not bear to say what frightened him the most. He had escaped the Riders of Shadow, by luck and Halbarad's aid and the mare's good speed. But what still set his heart a-racing and his hands to unmanly trembling was the certainty that sometime, somewhere, he would have to face the Riders again.
'…They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you wish them to find you? They are terrible!'
The hobbits looked at him, and saw with surprise that his face was drawn as if with pain, and his hands clenched the arms of his chair. The room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim. For a while he sat with unseeing eyes as if walking in distant memory or listening to sounds in the Night far away.
The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 10: Strider
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