1. Fell Memories - Gwynnyd
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.
Strider, The Fellowship of the Ring
Pain. Ribs crack. Aragorn wakes groping for his knife and sees steel-toed boots swinging down again. His chest frozen, he cannot breathe. He rolls. A blow to his head leaves his ears ringing. Orc grunts and howls of triumph sound from all sides. He flails, trying to ward off the blows buffeting him, hard fists and harder boots pummeling in left and right. His vision tunnels as his starved lungs still futilely attempt to suck in air. Fool. Fool! Eleven days tracking Nazgûl, short of sleep and rations, is a poor excuse for sleeping hard and careless. The world fades.
Body throbbing, mind blank, breaths shallow, he jogs between the jostling herd of orcs and the three dark, ominous figures that lead the way. The pace is quick. Every stride he needs more air. His ribs stab, sharp. He gasps when he must. Not enough, but it will have to do. He shivers as chill sweat coats his back. Hands bound behind him twist his shoulders at an unnatural angle, and they begin to ache and burn. Thirst torments him, thickening the back of his tongue. Woozy, he refuses to fall, jogging on and on through the pale moonlit night.
Dawn rips the sky in the colors of blood. They allow him to fall, cheek resting against cold gravel that strays away from the bed of a sluggish stream. When his shudders quiet, he works his way up to sit, gritting his teeth against the pain.
"Untie my hands. I will not try to escape." He speaks quietly, trying to keep his dignity.
"Why?" The orcs gather around at his temerity.
"I'm thirsty. I need to relieve myself."
The largest orc's face twists into what might be glee. "Piss, then."
A blow between his shoulder blades stuns him. He falls.
The wearisome day crawls. Pain breaks his sleep in any position. Water within reach, but swift kicks punish him every time he tries to move.
The smallest orc wanders out and stares at him, sniffing the air. He stinks.
"Piss, piss," the orc chants. Opening his pants, the orc sends a noxious stream onto his face. Blinking against the sting and trying not to gasp in the fumes, he struggles to turn away. A booted heel forces him flat, renewing the flare of agony in his side and shoulders. He is held down until they have all finished. They laugh.
"Who are you?"
Aragorn squints up, foul mud crusting his eyes and choking his nose. A single dark presence looms, pressing against his thoughts.
"Who are you?"
Chanting the Lay of Leithien through thirst-thickened lips and tongue, he pays attention to grammar and accent. It is a long poem.
"Who are you?"
Unfathomable, aching time passes. The three press him now. The sun sets behind the Darkness and faint stars glimmer. He mind repeats over and over, for his tongue has long since ceased to form words,
… light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.
Another night stumbling north, pain lancing his side with every step. He trips crossing a stream and lands face down, gulping grit and mud along with blessed, frigid water. Not enough. He is hauled out, thirst unslaked.
His steps flag and falter. Orcs crowd close behind, prodding him with fist and spear. Dol Guldur is only one more night's march, and they are eager to be home, regaling themselves with treats of torture to come. Darkness and despair flow ahead.
Anduin, flooded with snowmelt, sounds a muted roar far to the left. He can no longer feel his hands.
They circle him, and he is, almost, naked to their gaze. Despair pours off them, echoing what he has long known. He is worthless, unworthy. He made too many mistakes; lost Gondor, lost all. Love and eminence elude him. Still, he remembers stars and beauty, and…
Overwhelming waves of hate pound over and around him. Every one seeks advantage, power. They will give him what he wants most, if only…
…light of stars was in her hair
Primal screams rip the air. Bitter blood sprays his face and the pressure eases as orcs slash and stab, killing each other.
They have withdrawn, away from the carnage they unwittingly incited. Most orcs lie dead. The remaining few, wounds bound, stay sullenly apart, giving suspicious glares and growls until they succumb to sleep.
Aragorn squirms, positioning his wrists along the blade of the knife beneath him. He saws frantically, wrenching his elbows up, down and sideways, until the ropes part. Furtive glances assure him he is still overlooked. Drawing his hands forward, he sees cold, waxy sausages, wrists sluggishly oozing blood. Flopping one hand on the knife, he wills his fingers to close. Nothing. Finally, they move, but will not grasp.
He stares long at the knife, then tucks his limp, bleeding hands under his arms and moves silently away from the makeshift camp. Lightheaded, he heads west, and the roar of the river grows louder. Or perhaps it is the roar in his ears. His guts cramp and he shakes as he runs. His hands tingle, then burn, then throb as if they were being forged anew in Aulë's furnace. For all his mind's insistence that he must run - run! – he spends time unknowable huddled in the dry, winter grasses, teeth clenched over moans that escape in near-soundless breathy puffs.
The swollen river stops him as he stumbles down the bank. He drinks and drinks, until it spews out again, and he lays shivering half in and half out of the water. His wrists show black, fingers an ugly, bloated purple in the dying light. They move sluggishly to his commands, but they move.
There is a howl behind him; wolf, or warg, or thwarted orc. He casts himself into the river, aiming for a branch that floats with the current just out of reach. Spluttering water, he hooks his elbows over it, and kicks feebly for the other shore.
He drags himself up the rocky shale of what he hopes is the western shore. Clouds obscure the stars. The water gleams faintly. Icy wind bites into his sodden clothes. Teeth chattering, he burns, but there is a frozen core within his chest that will not melt. He feels smirched with more than orcish filth, and not all of Anduin has sufficed to wash him clean.
There is nowhere left for him to go. The north is safer without him. He has ruined any chance that Denethor would trust him. He knows now he cannot thwart Sauron's plans working alone.
The dawn sky lightens and he drags himself upright, hand over hand on a sapling, grunting as pain shoots along his side, and lurches away from the rising sun. The bare branches rustle over his head as he trudges west. West a little, then north; it will be a long walk to… Rivendell. He has no home.
Putting one foot in front of the other is all he can do. One hand wrapped protectively around his chest, he staggers into a clearing roofed in gold, into arrows nocked and threatening.
Elves. Safety. "May I rest here? I am so 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.