Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 13: So Hold Me

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Legolas was forced to wear the bridle for two more weeks although he was eventually allowed water every few days.  By the time the Nazgûl was finally ready to release him, the elf was ashamed of how very desperate he was to be rid of the cruel harness. 

The Witch-king crouched in front of him, considering the bound elf.  He held a bowl of water in his hands, taunting Legolas with his own helpless thirst.  Yrin covertly supplemented the elf’s meager water ration whenever he could, but it still was never enough.

“Slave, have you learned to mind me yet?  Or do you wish to remain like this for the rest of your stay?  I might like that.  I believe you could become accustomed to it, given a few years.  Other creatures do.”  The wraith laughed softly.  “Creatures who are significantly more useful than you.  What say you, Slave?  Do you wish to keep it?” 

Legolas shook his head, his eyes unintentionally reflecting horror at the thought of being left in the bridle indefinitely.  He wanted it gone.  It wasn’t the most painful thing he had endured in his life, but it was one of the most difficult ones. 

This was the reaction the Nazgûl desired.  He placed the bowl of water on the stone floor beside them. 

“Then you will obey me better?  And I shall not hear that vile language of yours in my home again?”  Hooking his gloved fingers in the cheek strap, the Nazgûl gave the elf’s head a vicious little shake, as he seemed fond of doing. 

Legolas wanted to be defiant.  He wanted to spit in the Nazgûl’s face, but he couldn’t.  The truth was he was desperate to be freed.  Unfortunately, the Wraith seemed to know that.  With an acute feeling of sickening shame, Legolas dropped his head forward and gave a small nod. 

“And when I give you your voice back, you will thank your master for this lesson?” the Wraith pressed, obviously enjoying this far too much.  The bridle wouldn’t kill the elf.  He could eventually be taught to eat certain things around it.  If Legolas did not offer him some serious concessions in return for removing the harness, then the Nazgûl was just as pleased to leave it on forever except when he wanted the prince to speak.  It pleased his twisted fancy to see the elf treated like a beast. 

Anger made Legolas’ vision haze, but his rage was laced with despair.  The vile creature had him in a hopeless position and was using the advantage cruelly.  Unable to believe that he was doing this, Legolas nodded again.  There was a time in his life when Legolas would have refused despite the consequences, but age and experience had tempered his stubbornness.  Pride could go only so far when it was at odds with survival.  In his current state he was of no use to Estel or himself. 

Across the room, Aragorn’s heart ached as he saw the defeated slump of his friend’s shoulders.  He had been mortally afraid that the elf would refuse, knowing his friend’s willful nature.  He was glad when Legolas acquiesced, but he knew the toll it took on the proud prince.  He could clearly see how much Legolas hated himself right now. 

Hot fire burned in the Dúnadan’s chest.  Despite what Legolas had told him, he hated the Nazgûl with a passion that was unsurpassed.  His own torture left him hurting and ill, but watching the Wraith torment his friend was what kindled Aragorn’s unbridled wrath.  He kept his peace with difficulty.  He knew that any interference on his behalf would only insure the elf’s further suffering.  

The Nazgûl unbuckled the bridle slowly.  He slid it roughly off Legolas’ head, yanking it out of his mouth.  

Legolas winced.  It almost felt as if the harness had become a part of his flesh since he had been wearing it so long.  His face ached fiercely where it had been chafed and abraded for so many days.  Blood rushed painfully back to areas long numbed.  Even though it initially hurt, the sensation of freedom was wonderful.  The elf would have never thought that so small a thing could bring this kind of relief, but it felt marvelous to be able to close his mouth and move his tongue again, to be master of his own body once more.  He swallowed compulsively, trying to accustom his dry, abused mouth to working once more.  His tongue felt three times its normal size and responded only sluggishly. 

The Nazgûl had not moved away but still crouched before him, holding the halter.  His silent gaze was demanding that the elf keep his word. 

Legolas’ voice was hoarse and scratchy.  He could barely get it to work.  He tried and failed several times to form words and push them past his injured mouth and dehydrated vocal cords.  “I... thank you for this... lesson,” the elf finally forced himself to croak.  Shame made his pale face flush hotly.  Of all the things he could have been forced to make his protesting body say, that was the worst. 

The Nazgûl’s hard gaze bored into him, waiting for the one thing the prince had omitted.  He gave the bridle in his hand a slightly menacing shake, reminding the elf how easy it was for the Wraith to re-harness him.  

“...Master,” Legolas rasped miserably, his voice barely audible.  He didn’t mean the word, but he said it nonetheless.  He had to close his eyes and drop his head.  His eye sockets throbbed dully with an ache for tears that his dehydrated body could not produce.  He should have been stronger.  He should not have given the evil being what he desired, no matter the consequences.  He felt like he had just sold his soul. 

“Good,” the Wraith purred.  “Everyone can be taught, given enough time.”  The evil being picked up the bowl of water from the floor.  He tipped it against the elf’s cracked lips. 

Legolas was parched, but he hesitated.  He did not want to drink from the Nazgûl’s hands. 

The Witch-king easily pushed the lip of the bowl between the prince’s teeth and tipped it, forcing Legolas to swallow or have the water run everywhere.  The instant the liquid touched the elf’s mouth his body’s strong need for liquid took control and he gulped the water without much conscious say in the matter. 

When the bowl was empty, the Nazgûl straightened up with a satisfied hiss.  He patted the elf’s cheek lightly.  The bridle had left red indents upon the pale flesh and the Wrath traced one with his thumb.  “My slave begins to remember his place.  Good.” 

Legolas dropped his gaze and his head, staring down at the floor.  If it were possible to die of shame he might have. 

The Witch-king was pleased.  He retrieved the bridle from where it had been set aside and walked to the door of the cell.  Being sure that Legolas could see him, the Wraith hung the contraption on a peg just outside, in the hall.  “I shall keep this near at hand, Slave.  Beware lest I decide you need it again.” 

After he was gone, Aragorn watched his friend carefully.  “Legolas?” 

The elf had not lifted his head and would not meet the human’s gaze.  “I’m all right, Strider,” he murmured with difficulty.  His voice still cracked and broke painfully when he tried to speak.  It was going to take him time to heal and get his voice back completely, but at least he could speak. 

Aragorn knew that was not true, physically maybe, but not emotionally.  “They were just words, Legolas,” he said softly.

Legolas did not look up.  He appeared unconvinced.  “Do you know how much I suffered once because I would not say those ‘words’?”  His hoarse voice was bitter at the memory, bitter and ashamed.  The strangely harsh sound of the elf’s voice and tone was like a self-inflicted blow.  Aragorn flinched.  

“I have become weak,” the prince said softly, disgust clouding his cracking words. 

“No.” Aragorn refused to let the elf think that way.  “You are not weak, Legolas, you are realistic.  I know how you feel, but trust me my friend, they were just words.  You didn’t mean them.  I know that.  You didn’t have a choice.  I would have done the same thing.”  The ranger tried to reassure Legolas that he had not committed as horrible a concession as he thought. 

“Would you?” the question was filled with such pain.  Legolas’ eyes locked with his, begging for a truthful answer. 

Aragorn nodded.  “Legolas... you haven’t been there when I am alone with him...” It was the ranger’s turn to avert his gaze.  “You don’t know what he’s forced from me when I can’t take anymore, when I just want him to stop,” the whisper was ashamed, but honest. 

Gathering his courage and trusting that his friend would not despise him for his own weakness, Aragorn lifted his gaze again and let Legolas read the truth in his eyes.  Let the elf see the echo of those dark, unspeakable hours when the ranger would scream anything the Nazgûl wanted, beg any way demanded, just to make the unbearable torment end. 

The shame in Legolas’ eyes tempered as it mingled with compassion.  Forgiving himself was one thing, but he knew that Aragorn was totally blameless.  “I know what he can be like,” the elf whispered.  “It’s not just the pain, it’s the evil, the consuming dark.  Do not fault yourself.” 

Aragorn smiled faintly.  “I won’t, if you won’t.” 

Legolas’ gaze drifted to the wall.  “I will try, Estel,” he said softly.  “I cannot promise, but I will try.”


Elrond shifted in a troubled dream.  Darkness hedged his thoughts.  Vague and illusive, the sense of evil was remote, but distinct.  It wasn’t often that he was susceptible to disturbances in the night, but lately he had been seeing things.  However, this was the first time it was so dark.  Usually they were just... strange. The images themselves weren’t always that troubling, but the strong sense of feeling that accompanied them at times was disturbing.  In his dreams he saw strangers he thought he knew, but could not place, and the darkness of the night was filled with the soft, relentless sobbing of a child.  At times, in his dreams, Elrond was that child, crying into his pillow, his body wracked by pain, guilt and fear.   Such was the case tonight. 

//The pillow under him was damp.  He was afraid.  There was a sound at the door.  It wasn’t locked.  He wished it was.  Hurt, confusion, fear and self-condemnation all swirled through him in a frenetic frenzy as he clutched the pillow, burying his face in it until he couldn’t breathe.  Did he want to black out?  Maybe.  He did not want to face whatever would come through that door.  He was so alone; so crushingly alone with no one to turn to, no one to understand him, no one to stop what was happening.  Hinges creaked.  Panic surged through his entire body...//

Elrond woke up and found himself staring at his own ceiling.  He didn’t awake with a start or a jolt, despite the intense emotions of the dream.  Rather it was if he had simply opened his eyes from a long-buried memory. 

Strange.  Very strange. 

The elf lord lay pondering the dream for several minutes, trying to place it in his long memory.  He had felt certain at first that it had been conjured up from past experience, but now that he tried to pin it down he could not locate the reference that he sought.  The first thing his waking mind had suggested, was that his subconscious was recalling some of the more traumatic moments of his childhood when he was a prisoner in the dungeons of Himring... but that didn’t feel quite right.  In reality he had been with Elros, but in his dream he was always alone. 

Elrond shook his head and pushed aside the covers of his bed.  He might have expected troubled dreams after the Mirkwood envoys arrived with Thranduil’s carefully worded shout of alarm at his son’s absolute failure to return home.  What he had not expected was that they would be so strange.  The elf lord pushed his long, dark hair over his shoulder and let his breath out slowly. 

He had often thought that Thranduil tended to overact in many situations, but he could not blame him for being disturbed this time.  When Elrond’s youngest son had not returned home, he assumed that Aragorn had gone on to Mirkwood with Legolas.  Now he learned that was not the case and that both of them were missing.  He was not yet ready to panic, but he was troubled nonetheless.  The dark, blank emptiness that met him when he tried to reach out and touch Estel’s consciousness set him on edge more than he wanted to admit.  There was a cloud gathering and the elf lord could no longer see into the ranger’s future. 

He sighed.  Brenyf had been sent back to Mirkwood with Elrond’s answer to Thranduil’s letter while Raniean and Trelan joined Elladan and Elrohir in searching for their missing friend and brother.  The additional news that the three Mirkwood envoys had brought from the Beornings was at the same time reassuring and disturbing.  Beoma and Pejor told them of the attack and the long chase north.  That explained part of the time the ranger and the prince had been missing. However, if they had all started for home at the same time, why had the Beornings made it back already when neither Aragorn nor Legolas had returned?  Legolas should definitely have made it back to Lasgalen by now and Aragorn should at least have been close to Rivendell. 

It was all too likely that something innocuous had simply come up to detain the elf prince and the ranger.  It was always something with those two.  All the same, Raniean, Trelan and the twins intended to retrace the trip described by Beoma as closely as possible.  Hopefully, they would come across one or both of the missing friends on their way home.  At the very least they hoped to find news of them. 

His dream fading into a barely recalled memory, Elrond moved to the basin on his dresser to wash his face.  If only he could shake this nagging worry... 

He cupped the water in his hands, bringing it to his face.  As his eyes, nose and mouth entered the water, everything changed.  Darkness swallowed his consciousness, banishing all light like the snuffing of a candle.   For one supreme moment of panic he could not breathe nor move.  Terror paralyzed him.  He was suffocating, drowning.  The sheer weight of the evil screeching around him was unbearable. 

It wasn’t physical.  The water had already run out between his fingers by the time he was jerking backward, disoriented and alarmed.  The water basin fell from the dresser.  Almost in slow motion, it tumbled to the floor.  Landing with a startlingly loud crash upon the tiles it shattered into pieces, spilling water like a bloodstain upon the rug. 

The sound of the breaking ceramic jolted Elrond out of whatever had taken hold of him.  His chest heaved as he leaned against the dresser.  Valar, he wished he could wonder what it was, but he knew.  Somehow he knew.  When Elladan and Elrohir almost died in the mountains as young elves, he had felt it from a distance.  When Arwen’s horse threw her down the ravine and broke her leg, he had been the first one out of the house.  He had a connection with his children that was deeper than most... all his children. 

“My Lord?” Celboril rushed to the room in alarm.  Elladan and Elrohir he expected to be breaking things, but not Elrond. “My Lord!” the servant’s voice turned even more worried when he saw how white Elrond’s face had become. 

“Something is very wrong,” Elrond said quietly, trying to still his frantic breathing.  He didn’t know how, he didn’t know what and most maddeningly of all, he did not know where.  With the others he had known where they were, or at least where they had been going.  When he felt the warning, he could act.  But this time...  

Elrond released his hold on the dresser slowly.  His hand was trembling.  “Estel is... I don’t know.  But it’s very wrong, Celboril.  So very wrong...”



Where do I take this pain of mine?
I run, but it stays right by my side.
So tear me open, pour me out
There’s things inside that scream and shout
And the pain still hates me
So hold me... until it sleeps

It grips you, so hold me
It stains you, so hold me
It hates you, so hold me
It holds you, so hold me

Until it sleeps...

-- Metallica

Aragorn tried to flail, but he could not.  His arms were pinned to his sides, fastened by iron cuffs to the board upon which he was being forced to lie.  His ankles were similarly restrained.   The Nazgûl pressed the wet cloth back over his face, covering the ranger’s nose and mouth.  The human sucked against the cloth, trying desperately to draw air through the weave of the fabric. 

Slowly, deliberately, the Wraith poured water from a pitcher upon the cloth, soaking it and the ranger beneath.  As the water saturated the fabric, it cut off any chance of breathing and pooled into the ranger’s mouth and nose.  A blindfold around the ranger’s eyes kept him in the dark.  Always, when the Nazgûl tormented him, he was kept in the dark. 

Aragorn choked, trying to blow the smothering cloth off his face; he could not and wasted air trying.  He was obliged to swallow the water to keep from drowning.  Yellow bursts of light clouded his vision.  His lungs screamed.  Panic rippled through him in dark waves he could not control.  

The Nazgûl continued pouring water onto the helpless prisoner.  The cloth was fully saturated.  The liquid the ranger could not drink or inhale ran down the sides of the man’s face, drenching his hair.  The Wraith had long ago discovered how effective simply depriving prisoners of air could prove to be.  He had had good results thus far by using air-deprivation on this prisoner.  One benefit was that he could engage in such methods for hours without doing the human’s ridiculously fragile body mortal harm.  He intended to continue employing variations of such tactics for as long as they served him.  

The Witch-king pulled the cloth away from the human’s face, allowing him a few moments of oxygen.  The cloth came away soaked with water and stained with an increasing amount of blood.  

Aragorn choked and coughed harshly.  His raw throat burned.  He could not stop coughing.  He wanted to roll onto his side, wanted to clear his lungs... but he could not.  His back arched uselessly, his head tossed from side to side as much as the iron band around his forehead allowed.  

“Who are you and what is your purpose?” the Nazgûl’s persistent question pressed the human unmercifully. 

Aragorn couldn’t have spoken even if he had wanted to do so.  He was coughing too hard to form words.  Right now, he was almost glad.  The ranger feared what he might have said if he could have spoken.  For a few horrible moments his resolution wavered.  He felt like he was dying, but the Wraith continually brought him back from the edge.  It was all the pain and terror of drowning, relived over and over and over again.  He could not take any more.  The darkness around him screamed with a thousand screeching tones of pain and terror.  

The evil world the Nazgûl took him to when he tortured the human was nearly as unbearable as the torment itself.  Twisted, evil voices shrieked in Aragorn’s head, filling him with terror and despair.  They whispered in his ears, promising death and defeat.  He wanted them to go away.  He wanted to scream at them to leave him alone... but all he could do was choke up more water and blood.  

“No?”  The Nazgûl dipped his pitcher back into the barrel of water beside him.  Pressing the cruel cloth back down over the ranger’s face he let the steady stream of liquid flow down once more. 

Aragorn choked helplessly, his body wracked with uncontrollable jerking spasms.  The demons in the dark rang in his ears, mocking him.  While his body was reduced to its most vulnerable state, they assaulted his mind.  Driving screaming panic into every corner of his thoughts they slowly robbed him of all rational thought. 

Screaming into his own raw, waterlogged suffocation, the ranger convulsed spasmodically in his bonds.  He wanted to die. 


“Shh, be calm, it is all right now...” Yrin was trying his best to pacify the nearly frantic ranger as he and Tinald walked him back to his cell, but Aragorn seemed past the point of listening to reason. 

The ranger’s voice was hoarse, but he was babbling to himself.  He was alternately talking nonsense and begging to be left alone.  He thrashed weakly in their arms.  They were carrying him more than he was walking and their words did not seem to be reaching him. 

Tinald looked scared.  “What did the Master do to him?” he asked, not at all sure he wanted to know. 

Yrinvan shook his head.  Tortured the ranger nearly all day is what he had done.  The headservant had not been present and wasn’t sure of the details, but it wasn’t the first time he’d seen people in this state.  It was an effect the Nazgûl could have on his victims sometimes.  It was both horrible and frightening to witness. “I don’t know,” was all Yrin said as he opened the cell door.  

They sat the ranger down on the floor, but he pulled away from them.  Folding into a ball Aragorn rocked back and forth.  He clutched at his head, his fingers tugging painfully in his own soaked and dripping hair. 

“Shh, come on, give me your arm, Strider.  Relax now, relax.  He’s gone...” Yrin soothed, trying to take hold of the human’s arm so he could put him back in his chains. 

“Estel?  What’s wrong?” Legolas, still chained to his wall, was alarmed by his friend’s appearance and actions.  The elf pulled against his restraints, trying to see Aragorn around the two slaves blocking his view. 

Aragorn pulled away from Yrin and Tinald, batting their hands away.  He seemed completely disorientated.  Suddenly he fixed a wide-eyed, pleading gaze upon the two slaves. “Do you hear them?” he whispered hoarsely.  “They’re laughing.  Like a million daggers... Make them stop...” 

“Estel?  Estel!” Legolas was gravely disturbed by his friend’s strange words and the unearthly tone of his haunted voice.  “What’s happened?” The prince pleaded for someone to enlighten him and his alarm grew as he received no answers. 

Aragorn seemed to hear Legolas’ voice and tried to bolt towards him.  Yrin and Tinald attempted to hold onto him half-heartedly, but the ranger’s near frenzy gave him more strength than his critically weakened body should have possessed.  He pulled out of their hands and scrambled to the elf’s side on his hands and knees. 

Legolas was more than frightened when he looked into his friend’s pale face, he was terrified.  Aragorn’s eyes were wide and searching.  Water dripped from the ends of his wavy, matted hair, drenching the edges of his loose, torn tunic.  The human’s hands trembled as he wrapped them in the front of Legolas’ jerkin.

“Darkness, under the earth... do you know where it is?  Do you know?” the ranger’s voice was haunted and barely understandable.  He seemed to be having a lot of trouble speaking.  His shaking fingers brushed Legolas’ face.  They were like ice against the elf’s skin. 

Legolas’ brows furrowed.  He tugged ineffectually against his chains, trying to touch his friend.  Unable to do so, he tilted his head to the side, trapping Aragorn’s freezing fingers gently between his cheek and his shoulder.  He rubbed the side of his face against the human’s hand reassuringly.  “Know what?  Estel, I don’t understand.  Shhh...” he tried to calm the human with his voice. 

“No!  No!” the human’s whimpering voice was desperate.  “So loud, so loud...” Aragorn’s words choked off in a sob.  He pressed his face into the supple leather fabric of Legolas’ partially opened jerkin, his hands bunching in the silky silver fabric underneath.  Touching the elf made him feel safe.  

Legolas’ throat tightened painfully.  “Oh, Estel...” he didn’t know what to say.  “Yrin?  What’s wrong with him?!” 

Yrin swore quietly under his breath.  “It was the Wraith.  Terror and madness are not the least of his weapons.  I have seen this before.  If your friend is strong, it will pass... eventually.” 

Tinald tried to pull the ranger back to his corner, but Aragorn clung to the prince with frenetic strength. “No!  Legolas... don’t leave me.  Don’t leave me alone with them!”  The ranger clutched at the elf’s shoulders and buried his face against his friend’s chest. 

Legolas knew Aragorn was not speaking of the two slaves, but of the voices in his head that must be tormenting him, even now.  The elf’s heart broke painfully. 

“I’m here, Estel, I won’t leave you.  I’m here!  Yrinvan... please...” The elf’s pleading eyes sought the older servant’s face as Aragorn clung to him.  Curling into a tight, shuddering ball against the elf’s side, the ranger resisted all attempts to dislodge him. 

Yrin laid his hand on Tinald’s shoulder, bidding the younger man to stop.  Stepping forward, Yrin pulled a key ring from one of the large pockets of his smock.  Without a word, he unlocked Legolas’ fetters.  He knew the ranger needed his friend if he were going to make it through this. 

Dropping his arms gratefully to his sides, Legolas quickly gathered Aragorn into his arms.  He looked up at Yrinvan.  “Thank you.” 

Yrin just nodded, dropping the keys back in his pocket.  “The door will be locked.  Don’t make me regret this,” he warned.  

Legolas nodded in understanding. 

Tinald retrieved the seldom-used key ring from its peg at the end of the hall.  He locked the cell door from the outside before returning the keys to their place once more.  He did not question Yrinvan.  As long as the prisoners were secured, there was no need to quibble over how they were restrained.  The Master had ordered the prisoners into the wall chains weeks ago, but he had never specifically said for how long or that they had to remain there until he said otherwise. Tinald was beginning to understand the cautious method behind the many perilous grey areas that his friend and mentor navigated on a day to day basis.  Yrin knew this and was pleased.  If Tinald ever was to take his place someday, it was a skill the younger man would need.  

Now locked in the cell, Legolas rocked Aragorn softly.  The elf spoke quietly to the human until Aragorn finally began to calm a little. 

“Make them go away...” the ranger repeated his plea, quieter this time. 

“They aren’t real, Estel.  They aren’t real.  It will pass, my friend.  Just hold onto me.  Hold onto the light,” Legolas murmured softly in Elvish.  He didn’t care about the Nazgûl’s restrictions.  He would avoid speaking his own tongue in the dark one’s presence, but not when they were alone.  The human’s wet garments leeched water into the elf’s clothing as he cradled him close. 

“I can’t,” the human admitted in a whisper.  His voice was frightened.  “I can’t, Legolas... I can’t!” 

The elf held the human’s head tightly against his shoulder.  His long fingers smoothed the man’s dripping hair while his thumb gently rubbed over the stubbly bristle on his friend’s jaw.  His other hand clasped Aragorn’s, rubbing warmth back into the icy fingers.  The elf tipped his head forward, letting his warm cheek rest on the top of Aragorn’s damp head. “Then I will hold onto you,” Legolas assured.  “And I won’t let you go.  Ever.” 

Aragorn pressed his hands to his ears, clenching his eyes shut with a moan.  “Make it stop!” 

Legolas’ arms tightened around the man.  He could feel the darkness tremor through Aragorn’s being and it made him so angry he wanted crush something.  It did not belong there, it had no right!  He told Aragorn it was nothing, but he knew that was not true.  The Wraith had left this lingering cloud of darkness to torment the human, trying to drive him mad. 

The elf’s face steeled.  He would not see that succeed.  “Gwanno!  Gwanno son!” the elf bit out sharply.  “Depart!  Leave him!”

The light around Legolas flared out to encompass the ranger, driving back the darkness here just as he had the night in the Barrow-downs.  In that fleeting moment of radiance, Aragorn looked up to catch the elf’s eyes.  For a blessed instant the voices fell silent and he could actually think again.  

Legolas brushed his cheek. 

“I can’t fight it all for you, Estel,” he whispered, wishing he could.  “You have to be strong.  You have to want to fight... you can, Estel.  You can.  You are hope, hold to that.  Hold it, mellon-nín, and no shadow can touch you.”  The elf placed his hand over the human’s heart.

Aragorn nodded mutely.  As the light around them faded back to normal, he clenched his fists.  The evil was still all around them, but he pushed it violently away from his mind, refusing to give into the screeching panic that had been claiming him a few moments ago. 

The effort exhausted him and he slumped limply against Legolas’ strong embrace.  His body was completely drained.  His mind hurt, his head hurt, everything hurt.  Consciousness and reality wavered in and out of focus. 

Legolas simply continued holding him and stroking his hair.  At first the ranger was fitful and restless, but eventually his disturbed movements stilled and began to calm as the horror of what he had been through slowly receded.  Aragorn was strong, he would get through this.  Still, Legolas’ heart ached fiercely.  How much was his friend expected to take?  They had to get out of here.  The elf’s heart ached.  He felt responsible in a way.  He had convinced Aragorn to come here, and now they seemed totally unable to escape the web in which they had become trapped. 

Aragorn slumbered in a semi-twilight state for a long time.  Finally, he stirred once more in the elf’s arms. 

The human blinked a few times, trying to make sense of his surroundings.  Something warm was wrapped around him.  He felt safer and less alone then he had in a long time.  Looking up, he found himself gazing into Legolas’ face.  He stopped moving and smiled somewhat sheepishly. 

“Better, mellon-nín?” Legolas’ soft voice was amused. 

Aragorn nodded against the elf’s chest.  “A bit.  Legolas, how did I get here?  I feel... I feel like I made a fool of myself somehow.  What happened?” 

Legolas smiled faintly.  “Don’t you remember?”

Confusion drifted across the human’s face.  The last thing he recalled was the Nazgûl’s torment.  He did not remember coming back to the cell, nor how it was that he and Legolas were unchained. 

“I... I don’t know...” he winced in pain and pressed his head tighter against the elf’s shoulder. 

Legolas shook his head quickly.  “Don’t try, Estel.  Don’t try.  It’s enough that you are all right.”  Legolas closed his eyes as he shifted Aragorn to a more comfortable position.  It was just as well that the ranger did not remember.  Legolas wished he would not.  The look on his friend’s face earlier had frightened him.  He was afraid he was finally losing the ranger to the darkness. 

Legolas took another glance down at his friend’s weary face.  Aragorn looked painfully weak, but he seemed himself.  The elf whispered a silent prayer of thanks. 


Yrinvan was getting a tray ready to bring the prisoners their dinner when a voice shouting his name from across the kitchen made him look up. 

“Yrin!  YRIN!” Tinald was fairly screaming his friend’s name as he raced across the uneven flagstones. 

“Tinald!  What is it, what’s wrong?” Yrinvan asked quickly, checking the other man’s forward rush.  Catching Tinald by the elbows, Yrinvan spun him part way around so that the younger servant was facing him.  “Breathe, and then tell me what’s wrong,” Yrin instructed firmly, alarmed by the panic and pain in his younger friend’s eyes. 

“It’s Ahnna!” Tinald said urgently.  Those two words struck icy terror into Yrinvan’s heart.