Between Darkness and Dawn
Chapter 15: Arachnophobia
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Yrin thought he could hear his heart stop beating. Oh stars, the
elf was gone and he was dead. What had happened?!
Aragorn was no less alarmed. He turned to Yrin, his face darkened
by fear and misgiving. “Yrin, what is going on? What has
been done with him?”
“I-I don’t know, I swear!” Yrinvan shook his head. “If he’s escaped...” he could not finish the thought.
Aragorn interrupted Yrin adamantly, “He would not have left without
me. Something’s wrong!” He wished he could believe that
escape was the reason for Legolas’ disappearance, but he knew
Yrin raised his hands, trying to get the ranger to calm down.
“Strider, I promise you I do not know what’s going on anymore than you
do. But I will find out. Wait here.” The servant let
himself out of the cell quickly, locking the door behind him.
Aragorn leaned against the closed door. Twining his hands around
the grate near the top, he pressed his forehead against the cool
wood. The sudden uncertainty and concern was nauseating.
Mixing the unexpected, sickening worry with lack of sleep and poor
physical condition, caused the ranger to feel ill. He had to
battle to keep his stomach from heaving.
Yrin strode quickly down the hall, looking for someone to
question. Almost everything that went on in this place did so
under his supervision. To suddenly be in the dark about where one
of his prisoners had gone, was enough to make him ill. He
pulled up short when he was confronted with Retzhrak’s large form,
lurking in a doorway. The orc straightened up when he saw the
human, greeting him with a feral smile.
A cold, sinking feeling settled in the pit of Yrin’s stomach.
“Retzhrak, the elf is not in his cell, did you remove him?” he
demanded. The keys had been in the hall; anyone could have opened
that door. Usually, no one would have dared, but someone
obviously had this time.
“Master sent for him,” the big orc growled. “Got some big plan
for him, he does. You weren’t handy, so Master asked us to fetch
him.” Retzhrak gestured behind him with his misshapen head, indicating
several of the orcs that stood just behind him in the shadows.
“Funny thing when we went to get him. He was unchained... and
alone.” The orc’s yellow eyes held maliciously gleeful
condemnation. “Master says they’re never to leave the cell unless
he sends for ‘em. This morning, all he wanted was the elf.
Leave the human he says. But there was no human to leave.
Where was he, I wonder? Everyone knows there’s only one person
besides Master who has the keys for prisoner chains. Who do you
think that would be, Slave-man? I’m thinking that would be you.”
Yrinvan scowled at the orc, refusing to let the creature see the
bubbles of fear churning in his stomach. He wasn’t afraid of the
orc, but he was very afraid of what the creature would tell the
Nazgûl. After last night, Yrin knew he was walking on thin
ice. The Wraith would not forgive him another trespass or even
the hint of a trespass right now.
“I believe you think too much,” the human said with cold disdain.
“You should not attempt tasks that are so ill-suited for you. The
Master put these prisoners in my care. If I judge they need to be
out of the wall restraints for awhile, then that is my business.
The door locks are just as effective. The human is right in the
cell where he belongs, and I dare you to prove otherwise.”
“I’m sure he is now, wormie,” Retzhrak sneered. “But it’s our
word against yours that he weren’t earlier. And there were plenty
of us to see that empty cell. I bet some of your precious slave
friends would agree, if asked properly. I think this is one you
won’t be able to squeal yourself out of so slick. Master will be
very interested in our side of the story.”
Yrin’s heart was pumping in his throat as he tried to consider his
options. The Nazgûl would take his word over that of an
orc’s most of the time, but his against all of them? Especially
after last night? His stomach clenched. The other slaves
were loyal to him, but if their own lives were on the line he knew they
would admit to having seen him and the ranger together. The thin
ledge of leeway he had been surviving on thus far had just run out.
Yet he knew, that if Retzhrak were only interested in getting him
killed, the Witch-king would already have been informed of his
disobedience and he would be hanging from a gibbet in one of the
Wraith’s torture rooms. The fact that the orc was still
threatening him and not yet acting out those threats told him there
must be some room for negotiation.
“What do you want, Retzhrak?” Yrinvan asked coldly. He was not an
easy man to blackmail, but at the moment it would seem he had no
“I want to put red-hot maggot holes in your belly, slave scum,” the orc
replied, viciously candid. “But I can wait for that. Master
won’t need you forever and when he’s tired of you, you’re mine.
Right now... I want the elf. If you can have your way with the
prisoners, so can I. We have business with that one that we never
Yrin’s fists balled at his sides. “Don’t be ridiculous,
Retzhrak! The elf belongs to the Master. He’d have both our
heads if I let you play with him.”
“Then talk to the Master,” the orc growled. “Tell him we want our
due. That filthy elf killed a lot of my people when it came
here. We have our blood rights. He won’t listen to me, but
you tell him and he’ll listen.” Retzhrak proved that he was,
unfortunately, much smarter than most people expected.
Yrinvan glared at the orc. His heart twisted. After what
Strider had just done for him, granting Retzhrak’s cruel request felt
like quite a betrayal. Unfortunately he did not see what other
options he possessed.
“All right, I will speak with the Master about it when he has
time. I’ll relay your request, but that is all. I am not
about to stick my neck out for you,” the slave said heatedly. He
hated having to do this, but at least he would make sure the
Nazgûl set limits on whatever the orcs had in mind.
Retzhrak grabbed the front of Yrin’s tunic. He pulled the man
close until the slave was almost overpowered by the orc’s foul breath.
“Oh you better do better than just ask, wormie. We get our
request, or we go to the Master with our own little story. Then
maybe we get your woman back and your brats too. I like the
little ones. Tender meat they have and they squeal so well when
you pluck out their eyes. Oh, we’d have a lot of fun with
them. Keep that in mind!” He released Yrin with a brutal shove.
Yrin could not catch himself and fell hard against the wall, sinking
halfway to the floor. He pulled himself up again quickly, his
glare tinted with ice, yet realizing that this time his domination
would not win. He slowly straightened his tunic.
“Touch me again, Retzhrak. I dare you,” he hissed. “Touch
me again and I will tell the Master. Then it will not matter what you say. Don’t you ever DARE to threaten my family
again! Remember you’re not the only one who has things they could
tell the Master,” the headservant threatened darkly.
Turning on his heel he stalked away. He would, unfortunately,
have to do as the orcs asked. Despite what he said to Retzhrak,
he knew that the orcs’ damaging testimony could get his family into
trouble too deep to escape. He cringed inwardly. What was
it that Strider had said last night? Not everyone in this world will betray you? The slave shook his head sadly. The man did not yet understand the cruel reality of this place.
At least he knew where the elf was now. Although going back to
tell Strider that his friend was with the Nazgûl for reasons he
did not know, was not going to be the best news he could have
“What is it? What did you find?” Elladan called as he ran lightly
across the snow clad earth towards the forest’s edge. Elrohir was
not far behind him. Their breath fogged and hung upon the frozen
They had found the area where Beoma described the battle taking
and continued on to the branch in the river where the Beornings had
separated from their missing friends. From there, it was
difficult to decide where to go next. Time and heavy snows had
effectively erased or buried any tracks that might have helped
them. They had been searching for several days now, but were not
exactly they hoped to find. It was obvious no one had been here
for a long period of time. Whatever tracks there had been, were
long ago buried under a blanket of snow.
Shouts from across the river brought Elladan and Elrohir hurrying to
rejoin their wood-elf companions. The twins jumped lightly across
a broken line of stones that loosely bridged the river. Ice on
the stream’s bank crackled underfoot.
Raniean was kneeling by the base of a gigantic, hollow oak tree.
The mammoth giant was bedecked with glistening icicles. A strange
symbol seemed to have been etched into the rough bark of the
tree. The oak’s trunk was frosted along one side with a thin
layer of clinging snow. One of the two wood-elves had brushed the
snow away from the etching, making it stand out even more.
“What are those marks?” Elrohir asked as he and his brother came to a halt.
Trelan ran his fingers over the chipped bark. “It’s a sign.
Our warriors use them to mark paths. This is Legolas’ sign.
Due to the way it’s situated, Raniean thinks he left something here.”
“And that would be?” Elladan leaned over Raniean’s shoulder as the wood-elf rose to his feet.
Raniean sighed, his fingers tightly closed around something in his
palm. “You aren’t going to like this,” he warned. Opening
his hand he
passed Elladan a little leather pouch, such as was often used by the
brothers to carry herbs. There was a hard, round object inside
Elladan hesitated to open the bag. It was tied off with a
semi-distinctive type of slipknot he liked to use. He had been
attempting to teach his little brother how to do the knot before Estel
left Rivendell. The knot had been loosened enough to let the
mouth of the bag gape open. Raniean had already seen whatever was
inside the pouch. Taking a deep breath, the eldest twin emptied the bag into his
hand. His heart sank.
The ring of Barahir shone dully
against his skin. The green stone winked dimly in the fading
“Oh no...” Elrohir voiced the emotion for both of them. “Not again. Not Estel.”
It was not the first time finding Barahir had been a harbinger of ill
tidings for their little brother. Nor was it the first time in
the past year or so that they had had a loved one disappear and been
left with only a token that told them that wherever they were going, it
was not good.
What would have caused Aragorn to abandon such a historic and personal
item? Elrohir closed his eyes tightly and Elladan squeezed his
Raniean and Trelan exchanged worried looks. Legolas and Aragorn
had both been here, but the signs said it was months ago. Where
were they now? Where could they even begin to look?
Legolas gave the manacles around his wrists an experimental tug.
Unfortunately, they held quite firmly. Resigning himself to the
fact that he could not escape, he stared up at the ceiling above him
and tried not to think too much. He knew all too well that, in
situations like this, your own mind could be your worst enemy. It
conjured up horrible possibilities with which to fill the empty
minutes. His own long history of such experiences had given his
mind plenty of references upon which to draw.
Held flat on his back on the floor, Legolas waited to find out why he
had been brought here. He looked from side to side, but all he
could see was the wooden frame onto which he was chained. His
ankles were fastened directly to the floor, but his arms were locked
inside iron cuffs that were connected to the wooden frame on either
side of him. The orcs had removed his tunics, chained him in
place and left him.
He was neither pleased nor surprised, when the door opened and he felt
the dark swirl of the Nazgûl’s presence enter the room.
Lifting his head, he watched the Nazgûl place a large metal chest
of some kind upon a rough stone ledge built into one of the
walls. The elf’s sharp senses picked up the sounds of movement
from inside the casket.
“Where is Strider?” the elf demanded coldly.
The Wraith seemed amused at being interrogated by a person who was
chained to the floor. “He is not my interest today. You
are. Some of my
underlings are concerned about how much his fragile human body can
take. I had thought to give him a day to recover, unless you
displease me, in which case I shall resume his lessons
immediately. Do you want me to do that, Slave?” the Wraith
“No.” Legolas lay his head back against the floor. He would
be the Nazgûl’s amusement for the day if it bought his friend a
little much needed time to recuperate.
The Witch-king laughed. “Still so willing to sacrifice yourself
for others, Slave? Even when you served me, I never understood
this about you. You did not make a very good slave then. It
will be different this time.” The Wraith slowly worked the
latches on the iron chest in the corner of the room.
“I erred last time,” he continued in a toneless voice. “I thought
I could subdue the will of an Elda by force. It was successful
for a time perhaps, but ultimately futile. I will not make such a
mistake again. When you come to serve me, it will be by your own
“Then it will never happen,” Legolas said bluntly, still staring up at the ceiling.
“We will see.” The Wraith seemed unconcerned. “Time changes
many things, and you and I have that time to spend, do we not?
Unlike your mortal friend. I judge you will learn slower than he,
but even so, in the meantime, you can still be useful to me, your highness.”
Legolas shifted in his bonds. He did not like the way the
Nazgûl chose to use his title. “If you think I will betray
anything about my people to you, then I severely overestimated your
intelligence.” His tone was flat, a compromise between
resignation and defiance.
“I didn’t expect that you would. However, I do not need your
compliance for you to help me,” the Witch-king assured, ignoring the
elf’s insult for the moment. The prince would be paying for his
misconduct soon enough. “You see, I received something very
special from Dol Guldur recently. Something I think you will
The Wraith opened a small door in the side of the chest, exposing the
dark interior. For a moment nothing happened and the skittering
sounds inside halted. Then a few long, thin, dark legs appeared
around the edges of the opened hatch, testing the air.
Legolas’ gaze fixed on the opening in a mixture of confusion and
apprehension as he realized what was inside the container.
Two black-bodied spiders, a little bigger than a man’s fist, crawled
hesitantly out of the chest. Presently they were joined by a few
more. Continued sounds of movement inside the trunk suggested
that these creatures were merely a few of many.
The Wraith saw the recognition in the elf’s eyes. “You are
familiar with our spiders, I think? As you can tell, these are
only babies, but we have high hopes for this brood. They are
being specially trained. When they grow up, they will not be
merely an irritating menace. They will be highly skilled
assassins with a taste for elf blood. Correction, your highness,
thanks to you, they will have a taste for royal elf blood.”
Suddenly, as if with unspoken consent, the spiders surged
forward. A dark wave of small, scuttling bodies streamed out of
the opened gateway from all angles. They poured out of the hole
in their previous prison and down the wall like a liquid wave.
The Nazgûl’s will guided their small minds, driving them forward.
Legolas’ body tensed as the spiders swarmed towards him. As soon
as they hit the floor he could not see them anymore, but he could hear
them: a thousand small, sticky feet pattering around him. He felt
them through his leggings as they crawled up his legs and then
they reached his naked arms and chest. The contact made his flesh
crawl as their small feet brushed over him, tickling and pricking in a
very disturbing manner. The elf tried to repress a shudder of
horror as he felt their barbed legs tangle lightly in his hair, moving
He didn’t know when the first one bit him; it seemed as if they all
started at once. Small, stinging pricks covered every inch of
exposed flesh and nipped him through his leggings. Legolas bucked
sharply, twisting in his bonds and trying to throw the small creatures
off of him. They swarmed over his face and Legolas’ heart raced
in helpless terror. He tossed his head desperately from side to
side, but he could not escape them.
The Witch-king chuckled darkly. “You see? You shall help
me. I shall train them to feed on your blood. Once they
have a taste for you, all other food shall seem to them
unsatisfactory. They shall crave elf blood, and most of all the
blood of your kin.”
Buried under the swarm, Legolas emitted a short gasp as he desperately
scrubbed his head back and forth upon the stone floor. The motion
got several of the spiders even more tangled in his long blond hair and
they bit at him viciously. The elf was hyperventilating.
Every inch of his flesh was crawling and he could not suppress his
“Oh yes,” the Wraith purred, reveling in the elf’s distress.
“They aren’t lethal yet, not when they’re so small. Once they are
grown however... they will be ideal killers. No walls can stop
them; no defenses can keep them out. All it takes is one.
Tell me, does your father sleep with the windows of his chambers open?”
Legolas’ heart tightened painfully. He happened to know that
Thranduil did sleep with his windows open most of the time.
Valar, no, don’t let this succeed. Don’t let the Wraiths use him
against his father and his people this way!
The Nazgûl did not expect an answer; he was merely taunting the
prince. “It matters little. Even if he does not, there are
vents, doorways... They will find a way.”
Legolas wanted to scream. The pain from the stings had not been
particularly bad at first, but as bite layered upon bite and the spider
venom flowed into his system, his nerves began to shriek. The
spiders were everywhere. He had to close his eyes to keep them
out, but he could feel them biting his eyelids.
Their strong legs and stinging fangs probed everywhere. He could
feel them in his hair, his ears, prying at his tightly closed lips,
crawling over his nose and hindering his breathing. Panic
engulfed him fully. He wanted to cry out but he was afraid to
open his mouth. His body twisted in its bonds, squirming
painfully against the rough stone floor beneath him. The spiders
crawled under him and he smashed some of them with his body.
The Nazgûl did not intend to let the elf harm too many of his
prodigies. He nodded to several orcs that had entered the room
without Legolas’ notice. The orcs moved forward, working a wheel
mechanism connected to the frame holding the prince’s arms. The
frame creaked upright, dragging the elf into a sitting position.
The change in position effectively removed any hindrance to the
spiders’ conquest and any way he had to fight back.
The prince tossed his head even more wildly, desperate to shake the
arachnids. It did no good. They surged up his back as well
as his chest, crawling over and into his clothing and spreading fire
throughout his entire body.
Legolas struggled fiercely for several minutes, but the more venom
entered his system, the more sluggish his movements became.
Creeping numbness spread through his body. It was a sensation he
recognized. He had been spider-poisoned before and fear made his
throat dry as he realized that he was going to be left paralyzed in the
middle of this merciless swarm.
His feelings did not dull. The pain remained white-hot, a searing
irritation that made him want to scratch his skin off. Presently
however, his muscles stopped responding to his brain and he hung limply
from the frame. The spiders continued to feed on him, drinking
his blood and injecting their own, irritating poisons as they
did. Many of them stung him with their stingers as well as their
fangs purely out of spite.
Legolas’ head spun dizzily. He wished he could pass out, but his
consciousness lingered painfully. He could not move. All he
could do was feel as the spiders crawled over him, biting, probing,
drinking his blood and returning only pain and poison. He could
have cried at his helpless terror, but even that action was denied him.
The Nazgûl’s chilling laughter filled his ears.
Aragorn rubbed his wrists absently. It was good to be able to
move, and the antidote Yrin gave him last night had cleared his head a
bit. Tinald brought him his midday meal, but he could barely
eat. His stomach was tied in knots. It had been hours and
Legolas was still gone.
The pain in his shoulder intensified and Aragorn unconsciously pulled
back into the corner of the room. His body knew when the
Nazgûl was near.
Keys rattled in the lock.
The door to the cell opened as it had a hundred times before, but for
the first time Aragorn was as glad to see it as he was anxious of what
lay beyond. He had hoped that Legolas was being returned, but was
startled when the prince’s body was flung into the cell.
Legolas hit the ground hard and rolled several times. He came to
a stop face down, his golden hair tangled about his head and
shoulders. The elf did not move.
Despite the dark waves of fear rolling off the Nazgûl standing
over the limp elf, Aragorn crawled quickly forward, towards his
friend. The elf’s creamy skin was covered with a swollen,
irritated red rash.
Aragorn rolled Legolas onto his back, smoothing the tangled locks away
from his face. He started in alarm when he saw that Legolas’
unblinking eyes were partially open. They stared at the ceiling
and did not react. The elf’s face was mottled. His eyelids
were nearly swollen shut, but remained partly cracked. The blue
orbs inside were glassy.
“Legolas...” Aragorn touched his friend’s hot, flushed cheek
gently. “What did you do to him?!” the human demanded hoarsely,
turning his burning gaze upon the Nazgûl standing over them.
The Nazgûl just gave a low, amused hiss. Turning, he
stalked out of the room, closing and locking the door behind him.
“Legolas, Legolas wake...” Aragorn shook his friend gently, trying to
get some response from his friend. He had never seen Legolas
unconscious with his eyes open before and was alarmed about what was
wrong with the elf.
A shiver ran down Aragorn’s spine when Legolas’ blue eyes moved.
Slowly, almost painfully they turned to fix on Aragorn’s face.
The human’s heart froze as the spark of recognition passed between
them. He realized to his horror that Legolas was awake and
completely aware. For whatever reason, he was simply unable to
move or respond.
“Valar, what has he done to you...?” Aragorn whispered in horror.
Legolas’ hair was still clinging in matted tangles to the prince’s face
and Aragorn tried to sweep them away. The golden tresses clung to
the ranger’s fingers, sticking to his hands as he tried to pull
free. Looking closer he realized that sticky tendrils of webbing
coated the elf’s hair and trailed down the sides of his face. In
the dim light, he could see more glittering trails covering the
Prince’s red-pocked skin.
Understanding came to the ranger slowly. Upon closer inspection,
the thousands of swollen blotches that created Legolas’ rash looked
suspiciously like bites.
Legolas must have been in this state for quite some time already for him to be regaining any kind of control back.
The elf was a captive in his own body. Legolas could feel
Aragorn’s hands upon him, he could see and hear the ranger’s worry, but
he could not respond. His eyes moved at his command again now,
but anything more than that was beyond his grasp. It was
maddening. His body flamed like a searing prison around
him. He itched so badly he wanted to cry. Without having
any control over the situation, a single tear slid from the corner of
Aragorn brushed it gently away. He knew that Legolas must be in
intense pain. He wanted to help his friend, but he had nothing
with which he could treat the elf, nothing that could ease his
suffering. The ranger fought to hold back his own tears as he
held the elf’s gaze.
Carefully, Aragorn ran his hands across the mottled surface of Legolas’
arms, back and stomach as he held the elf in his arms. He hoped
the contact would give a gentle distraction to the irritation and
discomfort the multiple bites were no doubt causing his friend.
“Hold on, Legolas...” he murmured into the elf’s sticky hair as he held
Legolas upright against him. “We’re going to make it, my
friend. Somehow...” his voice wavered. Tears slid down his
own cheeks. “Somehow.”