Between Darkness and Dawn
Chapter 21: Time Grows Short
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Aragorn shuddered involuntarily, resting his head against the elf’s
chest. His breathing was labored and fast. The world spun
around him anytime he opened his eyes now. Legolas’ hand on his
forehead calmed him a little and he concentrated on listening to the
prince’s voice as the elf spoke quietly.
“Aragorn, there is no way out of here. The grate above is locked
from the outside.” Legolas leaned over the hatch in the floor and
gazed down at the still rising lava, flinching slightly as the mountain
shook from yet another blast.
“At least we won’t freeze,” the elf continued, chuckling softly to
himself at the irony. “The lava will keep us warm.” He
scooted them both back as far away from the grate as he could, pressing
back against the opposite wall. The smell bothered him. The
scent of burning earth was distressing. The voice of the mountain
was warning him to get as far away as possible, but he was unable to
Aragorn stilled in his friend’s arms and relaxed. The day had been far too much for his body to handle.
“You’ll see to it that they are freed, won’t you?” the human asked quietly.
“What?” Legolas glanced down at the man huddled against him.
“The antidote,” Aragorn explained simply. “Make it for them, Legolas. Promise me you will. If I can’t...”
“You will.” The firmness in the elf’s reply quickly cut off any
argument to the contrary. They hadn’t come this far to die in a
wretched access hold, eight despicable feet from freedom. “I
cannot do it without you, mellon-nín. You are the healer,
not I. Besides, once it’s made, there has to be someone I can
test it on.”
The jibe brought a small laugh from the ranger, who settled more fully against his friend.
“Fine, I’ll be your test subject then.” Closing his eyes Aragorn
gave into his weariness and rested, knowing he was safe in his friend’s
Glancing back at the circle above their heads, Legolas could tell that
morning was just dawning. The shades of night were fleeing,
replaced by the soft blue hues of a new day. A shadow darted
overhead, blocking the sky momentarily. A clear piercing cry
followed seconds later and the elf’s heart leapt with joy as he
realized that it was not the call of a fell beast. The great
eagles were circling Angmar; it could be the call of no other
creature. He had no idea what brought them thither; perhaps they
had been drawn by the strange disturbance and fissures of steam rising
from the long dormant mountain. Whatever the cause, the elf did
not care. The important thing was that maybe, just maybe, there
was still hope.
Another blast shook the mountaintop and Legolas curled protectively
around Aragorn as the stone walls about them trembled one more time
before stilling into an unnatural calm.
His attention was drawn to the grate in the floor as the top of the
lava brushed the bottom of the mesh hatch and settled. Glancing
skyward once more, Legolas wondered how soon anyone would come looking
for them... or if they would think to look at all.
The Witch King realized that he had lost control over the volcano as
the mountain shook, trembling beneath his feet. Gas from the
cooling lava in the lower vents was building and the pressure was
increasing as more magma flowed into the core of the volcano, creating
bubbles in the superheated rock. It wouldn’t be long before the
volcano would find an outlet and the Wraith knew exactly where the weak
spot in the mountain’s wall was located. It was time to leave
Angmar and he was positive that this time he would be unable to return.
Rushing to the picture window in his study, the Ringwraith picked up
the chair in front of the desk and threw it through the glass
pane. The winter-cold winds of morning whistled through the
broken portal, tearing at his clothes and bringing the scent of burning
rock closer. His dark heart seized. True, nothing on this
earth could kill him, but there were still things that even he feared.
High above the Wraith’s chambers, his winged mount was fighting its own
battles. The iridescent, scaled monster leapt to the front of the
cavern just as the build-up within the mountain peaked. A
rumbling, shuddering explosion at the back of the grotto gave the
creature only seconds to escape as the volcano found a weak spot in its
Molten rock and ash blew out of the cave entrance as the beast leapt
from the lip of the grotto and rushed skyward. Pyroclastic debris
shot into the air, trailing in its wake and showering the plateau with
heated rocks. The great winged beast screamed in rage and
frustration, wheeling in a tight circle and gliding back past the face
of the mountain. Its heated chambers were a pool of molten
lava. Streams of the thick rock poured out the opening.
Below in the outer courts, the slaves were running from the castle
entrance, heading for the safety of the woods. A lone orc limped
hurriedly along with them. Of the other orcs there was no
trace. Doubtless, their dark living quarters near the base of the
thermal system had been one of the first areas flooded and apparently
something had prevented them from escaping.
In its primitive brain, the Wraith’s dragon rationalized that the
humans had some responsibility in the mountain’s destruction and dove
for the fleeing servants, intending to visit its wrath on the people.
So bent on revenge was the monstrous flying mount that it had blocked
all else from its periphery senses. A black dart fell from above
it, crying a warning as a second swift shadow chased across the sky on
an intercept course with the foul beast.
Sharp talons snagged the beast’s long neck, diverting its
attention. With a pained cry, the mount twisted mid-flight,
snapping at the diving eagle and altering its course. It beat the
air with huge, leathery wings trying to gain altitude and follow its
attacker. From below, the second eagle inverted its flight and
raked the creature’s exposed belly, jerking the large reptile down with
it a few feet before releasing the snarling, hissing mount.
Slower than its enemies, the Wraith’s mount snapped and lunged at the
eagles that flew in circles around it, snagging its wings, its
tail or any unexposed part of the creature’s body that they
could. Their attack was incessant and intense as they kept the
The humans had reached the safety of the woods that bracketed the front
steppes of the castle and were fleeing into the protective cover, out
of the monster’s range.
Gwaihir, king of the eagles, did not stop to consider that this was not
their fight. The eagles hated the fell beasts of Mordor,
considering them an aberration to the sky. He and his companion
had literally just happened to be in the area when they saw the smoke
in the sky. Had it not been for the presence of the fell beast
about to attack the people below, they probably would have continued on
their way after sating their curiosity.
Gwaihir dropped down on top of the Wraith’s steed, slamming the
creature’s snakelike head with his body. The impact drove the
beast downward, spiraling out of control. It twisted its neck
with lightening speed, snapping at the eagle that dipped just out of
reach. Its ire was peaked and the creature loosed an
ear-splitting shriek as it caught the upward rise of wind that traveled
up the mountain’s expanse. Regaining its momentum, the dark beast
increased its speed chasing the eagles higher and swiftly gaining on
its enemies. In moments it would overtake the great eagles and
deal with them blow for blow. It had had enough.
Far below in Angmar, the Witch King balanced on the ledge of the window
he had just shattered. Behind him, lava oozed slowly into the
study, crawling up the legs of his desk and covering his work with its
liquid rock, destroying everything that he had spent so many years
The chest that held the spiders from Dol Guldur was buried beneath the
brightly glowing liquid rock as the lava fanned out into the
room. The Wraith howled in frustration. That batch had
nearly been ready for release. All his work had been for nothing
and his anger mounted. He knew this had something to do with that
blasted elf and ranger. His one satisfaction was that at least no
one else would escape this destruction either. Even if the
prisoners and slaves escaped the destruction of the mountain, they
would simply die in the wilds from his poison.
Anything that could burn was now on fire, the flames adding to the heat
and glow of the lava. The molten rock touched the edges of
the wall below where he stood, splashing lazily up towards the broken
sill. In moments it would overspill the confines of his study and
he would need to be far away.
Glancing upward, the Wraith caught sight of his winged mount battling
the great eagles near the lowest pinnacle. The beast nearly had
those meddling birds in his grasp. Their kind had been a thorn of
contention in his master’s plans before. For a moment he
considered allowing his beast to have its way with them, but he was out
Lava licked the edges of the shelf just behind where he was
precariously balanced and the mountain had begun to shudder once
more. It was building up for one final eruption...
One he didn’t plan on watching.
Calling the black creature to him, the Wraith leapt from the sill, plummeting towards the ground.
Breaking off his attack, the winged creature twisted around. It
stopped its forward motion, alerted by the Wraith’s piercing
call. He saw the black, tattered form of his master dive from the
window sill as lava spilled over the edge, following the Nazgûl
towards the base of the mountain.
Folding its huge wings against its back, the monstrous beast dove
straight towards the falling black shape. Passing the Wraith up
by meters, the mount unfolded its wings, bringing its descent to a
sharp halt. The Nazgûl landed squarely between its
shoulders, barely causing the creature to dip as it skimmed the valley
floor before angling vertically over the tree line and disappearing
with a heart-stopping scream. Fear that dragged in the wake of
the Nazgûl spread across the woods and edged everything in an
unnatural darkness as the Wraith fled south towards Dol Guldur.
The fell beast was happy about one thing. With their home here destroyed, it would mean heading south again.
Tinald crouched down with the rest of the slaves, covering his ears as
the Witch King’s angry cry shuddered through his heart, freezing him in
place. Behind them, the mountain convulsed, sending a black plume
of dust and ashes into the air. The side of the mountain where
the library window had been blew outward, providing another vent for
the volcano as the eruption found another weak point. Lava poured
from the newly formed opening in undulating orange waves that quickly
cooled to black at the edges, only to be covered over again with more
The thick molten rock covered the steppes and layered over the lower
entrances to the castle itself. The slow moving tide eased to a
stop some distance from the edges of the forest, hissing and venting
steam in the cool winter air. It was a miracle that the woods had
not caught fire from the falling cinders and heated rock. The
refugees counted themselves lucky, at least for the time being.
Within moments, the upper layers of lava had cooled, deceptively daring
the humans to walk across the newly laid valley floor.
Edging farther away, Tinald began seeking Yrin. He was worried
that his friend hadn’t made it out and he had yet to find him in the
mass of people that milled uncertainly beneath the ruined
mountain. Their summer homes were not but an hour north of this
position. In the growing seasons the Wraith permitted part of the
populace to move into the tiny vacant town to till the ground for
winter stock. They could easily reach those dwellings before the
day was through, but there was much that still needed
accomplishing. Everyone was in chaos, families had to find one
another, explanations had to be made... and none of them dared go
anywhere without the antidote.
The former slaves stared at the ruined mountain in disbelieving
shock. Their whole way of life had just gone up in flames and
smoke. Everything they had known was buried under molten rock...
A loud cheer burst spontaneously from the stunned humans after that
realization fully penetrated their minds. Whatever happened now,
they would never have to see the inside of those hated halls again.
Pressing his way through a knot of slaves, Tinald found Yrin quietly
consoling some of the less jubilant amongst the newly freed
people. Approaching quickly, Tinald waited until the former
headslave was done and then stepped closer.
Looking over the ragtag collection of humans moving about the meadow,
Yrin glanced down at his friend, questioning him wordlessly.
“Everyone made it out. We lost no one, except that I can’t find
the elf or the ranger. I locked the orcs on the fifth level; they
could not escape.” Tinald watched Yrin, carefully gauging his
response. He hated the orcs - it was no secret. But
intentionally sealing them in to their death had been harder than he
had thought. Only moments ago they had been alive and now because
of his actions they were not. The young man tried hard not to
think about how their end had come but focused rather on the freedom
the slaves would now have to roam the woods of Angmar freely, without
fear and retribution. Without the shadow of the Witch King and
his servants dogging their every move.
Tinald rubbed his shoulder. They weren’t entirely free.
Perhaps they were all walking dead men right now, but it was better
than living and dying under the shadow.
“You did well Tinald. We knew it had to be done. We
wouldn’t have been able to escape if they were left free,” Yrin
consoled the smaller man. He glanced quickly at Rhzaq. The
orc was nervous, shifting quickly from one foot to the other and
constantly looking over his shoulder towards the destroyed mountain.
“Where are they?” The dark creature asked hoarsely. He had not heard the previous conversation. “Where are the others?”
“They didn’t make it out, Rhzaq.” Yrin turned the orc around and
pointed to a group of men who were attempting to construct a fire
ring. The younger boys had been sent into the immediate forests
for wood and kindling.
“Can you help the others get fires going so we don’t freeze out
here?” he asked kindly as he gave the orc a push towards the far
side of the group.
With an enthusiastic nod, Rhzaq shuffled off, his temporary worries
forgotten in the need of the moment. It wouldn’t be long before
the crippled orc would not even remember that his kinsmen were
gone. They had never been true kin to him anyway. They had
always treated the smaller creature as a freak, a mistake. In a strange
twist of fate, the humans had accepted the slow-witted orc when his own
kind rejected him. The humans saw in him simply another slave,
twisted and wounded by the master’s cruel hand. He would be safe
in their company for the remainder of his years, and they knew that
they were safe in his.
When Yrin focused his attention back on Tinald, he noticed the man had
stepped back out onto the plateau and was glancing upward, one hand
shading his eyes from the bright morning sun.
“Yrin...” Tinald didn’t turn to see if his friend had heard him.
“Yrin? You don’t think... you don’t think he’ll be back, do
you?” Tinald tried to keep the apprehension in his voice in
check. But they had all lived too long under the dark shadow of
their cruel master to not know what his retribution was like.
Yrin glanced skyward, his eyes squinting against the rising sun.
There was no lingering shadow of fear and the wound to his shoulder no
longer throbbed as it did in the presence of the evil one. The
Wraith was gone for now. Would he return? Yrin didn’t
know. He hoped not. After all, there was nothing for the
Nazgûl to return *to* now. The fortress was destroyed and
Yrinvan looked around at the refugees moving aimlessly around
him. Some were squinting and looking around in awe as if they had
never seen the sun before. Maybe they hadn’t. Grim reality
niggled at the back of Yrin’s mind, tainting the elation of
freedom. The slaves were all as good as dead without their former
No, the Nazgûl would not be back because his last, cruelest
stroke would be to simply let his former thralls die the slow and
agonizing death he had intended for them from the beginning. Yrin
was sure this is what the Witch King would be thinking. He knew
the dark one’s ways too well.
Shaking off his thoughts and looking back at his friend, Yrin shook his head. “No, Tinald, I don’t think he’ll be back.”
Tinald could read the conflicting emotions that those words summoned
behind his friend’s eyes and nodded slowly, not sure what to say.
He looked away, towards the sky again. It was beautiful to see
the whole sky like this, and not just the portions one could view out a
barred window or through the top of a tunnel shaft.
Tinald frowned and squinted as something atop the mountain caught his
gaze. He ventured a little further forward, shading his eyes with
his hand for a better look.
“Yrin, do you see that?”
The head servant walked up behind his friend and matched the smaller
man’s gaze. High above, near the base of the lower peaks of
Angmar, the great eagles were circling and diving. One of the
largest birds he had ever seen appeared to light upon the mountain
momentarily. It seemed they were trying to pick up, or move,
something. A few minutes later a high keening cry was taken up by
the eagles as they tried to get the attention of the humans on the
“I think they have something up there.” Tinald continued quietly. “You don’t imagine...”
“I think we should get up there and find out what those eagles are
circling before it’s too late.” Yrin raced across the plateau,
trailing Tinald in his wake. The smaller servant called back
quick instructions to the men now assembling camp, letting them know
where they were headed. They circumvented the cooling lava as
much as possible, not yet trusting its deceptively solid
appearance. The gasses being released into the air made their
eyes sting and their throats constrict.
Yrin took a moment to pull his shirt up over his nose and mouth, and
Tinald followed suit. If the lava had completely encircled the
mountain, they would have been out of luck. As it was however,
the lava had only broken through in some areas, and the winding
staircase up to the heights that the two servants sought, was still
The back stairs up Angmar’s heights were tedious and slippery this time
of year and the damage done to them by the upset within the mountain
was not helping matters. The higher up they climbed, the more
slick the carved steps became. The freezing night temperatures
iced the stairs solid, but when the sun rose, they became a rivulet of
snow water cascading down the side of the mountain and collecting in
pools at the base of the cliff. In the summer, the steps were
completely concealed by a waterfall for the better part of the spring
months, providing the population of Angmar with clean fresh water for
the warmer seasons ahead.
There were few entrances or exits into the mountain. The access
path they were on now was used infrequently and only in dire
emergencies. The stairs had been crafted eons ago by the first
men who had been conscripted to build the mountain castle. A
means of accessing the natural caverns and grottos that had been
converted by the earliest inhabitants, the stairs led to two small
shafts, one that emptied out into the mountain near the Witch King’s
study and the other which dropped into the ventilation shafts above the
The vertical passages into the mountains had been sealed shut with a
series of grates to which Yrin still held the keys. As the head
servant in his master’s house he knew of all the back routes and hidden
passageways that had been dug through the mountain, and he knew their
purposes. The intention for some he hoped to one day forget
However, if anyone had survived and found their way into the access hatches, they would need to find them and soon.
Legolas’ voice felt small and ineffective in his own ears as he tried
to catch the attention of anyone outside. He could not see the
eagles’ battle with the mount from where they were trapped. All
he could see was that the great birds had disappeared from his line of
“Tulu mín! Ammen mellyn!”
He hoped that if the eagles were still within earshot, that calling to
them in Elvish would garner him more attention. The plan seemed
to work, because a few moments later a shadow passed over the two
friends as one of the great eagles soared by overhead.
“Who calls out to Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles? Speak! Make yourself known!”
Legolas felt relieved. “Gwaihir, glad am I to see you! I am
Legolas, son of King Thranduil of the woodland realm. We met in
Imladris some years ago, and again after that, when you were with
Gandalf the Grey. I am with Estel Elrondion, we need your help!”
“I remember you Thranduilion, hold fast. We shall get you out,” Gwaihir assured.
Aragorn flinched slightly as the eagles repeatedly attempted to break
the grate, diving and scratching at it with their powerful talons and
beaks. Snow fell into the shaft, dusting him and Legolas with a
fine, white powder. The elf held the human close, leaning over
his friend and shielding Aragorn’s head against his chest as he tried
to protect them both from the falling debris and the cold winds stirred
up by the powerful wings of the birds above them.
The top layer of lava had cooled, pooling out around the edges of the
grate and melting the snow at the bottom of the tiny grotto. It
had slowed for the moment, but not given up, threatening a cataclysmic
battle between fire and ice that would take no notice of the two
hapless beings trapped in its path.
Despite the lava attempting to eat its way up from below, the air here
atop the mountain was biting cold. The wind drove painful needles
into Aragorn’s skin wherever it could reach him around Legolas’
The floor below them was warm now as the stone began to conduct the
magma’s heat. Legolas pressed the human close to the warm rock
floor, trying to preserve his friend’s body-heat. However, it was
more than the chill about them that was causing Aragorn’s
Darkness swirled in uneven patches before the ranger’s eyes. A
warm chill lay like a blanket across his body, a foggy disassociation
from reality that let him see the end was nigh without inspiring much
“It’s been too long.” He whispered softly against Legolas’ tunic.
Choosing to ignore the quiet statement, the prince held more tightly to Aragorn and called up to the eagles circling above them.
“Gwaihir!” His voice caught on the winds and drifted up to the great
bird. One wheeled away from the pack and dove for the mountain
alighting easily on the craggy ledge.
Leaning down, the eagle pierced through the gloom of the passage and fixed his gaze on the two beings huddled at the bottom.
“Great one, we need help and swiftly.” The prince called up.
“We cannot break the lock, Thranduilion.” Gwaihir answered solemnly.
“I know.” Legolas cupped Aragorn’s head against him, trying not
to feel ill at the dark nausea he felt every time he touched
Estel. “Elrond’s son fares poorly and will not survive without
aid. Tell me, what can you see? Have any of the others
escaped the mountain?”
“I see many people moving in the mountain meadows not far from here,” Gwaihir reported after a moment.
Legolas was relieved to hear that the slaves seemed to have
survived. “Gwaihir, please find the one they call Yrinvan and
bring him here to us.” He hoped against hope that the servant
would have found some antidote in the Wraith’s lab as he had said he
was going to attempt to do before they left him for the lower
levels. At the very least Yrin should be able to get them out of
With a sharp cry, the eagle vaulted skyward and swept down the face of
the mountain, calling out to his kinsmen. The great birds broke
off their circling flight and followed their leader towards the
staircase and the two humans who were stumbling up the slippery
Yrin ducked, barely avoiding being knocked back as Gwaihir dove down over his position, calling out to the human.
Tinald grabbed his friend, righting them and fighting to keep his precarious balance on the stairway.
“Yrin, I think that bird just spoke to you!” Tinald pressed close to
the taller servant and glanced upwards as the eagles turned for another
“What?” Tinald’s observations made no sense to Yrin. But
the smaller man was unable to respond as Gwaihir swooped low, grasping
the headservant by his shoulders and hefting him aloft.
Yrinvan’s heart dropped into his stomach. The only experience he
had had with winged creatures this large was with the Nazgul’s Mount,
and that was not a pleasant association. The human fully
considered himself a dead man now.
“Yrin!” Tinald screamed after his friend in horror.
Gwaihir’s sharp ears did not miss the call. He had merely wanted
to talk to the human about where he could find the person he sought,
but perhaps his quest had been easier than he thought.
“Are you Yrinvan?” The eagle questioned his quarry as he flew
higher up the mountain. He was forced to tighten his hold as the
frightened human fought him. “Stop moving so I do not hurt you or
drop you.” The bird commanded, “I take you to the Prince of
Mirkwood. He has need of your help.”
The words stunned the human and he relaxed, holding onto the large
talons that encircled his shoulders. A small cry from behind him
caused Yrin to turn slightly in Gwaihir’s grip. He could barely
see a second eagle following them with Tinald held tightly in his grasp.
In moments, Gwaihir dropped back down toward the mountain. Yrin
cringed and closed his eyes as the ground rushed up at him.
Seconds later the great bird released his hold and the servant fell
free, touching down onto the uppermost ledge near the staircase.
Stumbling forward, Yrin fell onto his knees against the grate fixed
above the access hatch. He finally understood what the eagles had
been trying to tell them. Pressing his face closer to the opening
he glanced down at the blue eyes that watched him carefully.
“Yrin?” Legolas called up to the human.
“You are alive!” Yrin pushed back in surprise, fumbling with the
overlarge pockets of his outer coat as he searched for the keys.
Tinald dropped down next to him, flattening himself against the cliff face as the eagles swept upwards once more.
“What?...” The smaller servant quieted as he watched Yrin working over
the lock on the hatch. “Are they there?” Tinald questioned,
overcoming his initial fears as he helped the other pull the heavy
grate back and rest it on the ground.
He was answered as Yrin leaned into the hole and extended his hand down. “Can you reach my hand? We’ll get you out.”
Legolas hesitated as he shifted Aragorn into a standing position.
The jostling woke the ranger and he glanced dully about them.
“Legolas?” He questioned softly, holding tightly to his friend to keep the nausea at bay.
“Yrin, did you find any antidote?” The elf glanced back up at the human hopefully.
“What is it?” Tinald questioned from above, trying to see in around his friend. “Yrin?”
“Tinald, be quiet for a moment. Let me speak.” Yrin glanced
back at the smaller servant, shushing him with a slight motion before
refocusing on the elf and ranger.
“I did.” He answered hesitantly, his fingers finding the small vial in
the pocket of his vest. “But there was only one dose. It is
all we have left. I do not know if any more has survived.
The castle is destroyed.”
“I know.” Legolas spoke evenly and softly, hoping the man would
be able to follow his logic. “Strider has not had enough antidote
for far too long. He will not survive much longer and we need him
to recreate enough of the medicine for everyone else. I won’t use
it all. We’ll need some of it as a sample...” His voice trailed
off as he saw the worry lining the servant’s face. “When was the
last time you were given any antidote Yrin?”
The truth was Yrin had been sharing his antidote with Aragorn too
often. He knew that and could feel the effects, although he hid
them well. Sitting up, Yrinvan pushed back from the grate and
glanced at Tinald. The servant had knelt next to him and
overheard the entire conversation. Yrin’s eyes questioned his
“We knew it would come to this,” Tinald spoke softly thinking only Yrin
could hear him. “You trusted them enough to risk all our lives
and you were right. If we die, then we all die free and that will
The two servants sat quietly for a few moments as unspoken words
drifted between them. Tinald arched an eyebrow and shrugged
glancing back at the shaft. “Give him the vial, Yrin.”
Nodding once, Yrinvan leaned back to the edge of the passage and handed the small glass bottle down to the elf.
Legolas’ heart had tightened when Yrin’s head disappeared from the
narrow square of daylight above them. He knew he was asking a lot
of the humans, facing the fate that they were. Several anxious
moments dragged by before Yrin’s head appeared above them once
more. With a grateful sigh, Legolas accepted the antidote and
quickly popped the tiny cork. Tipping Aragorn’s head back he
poured part of the contents into the ranger’s mouth.
“Not all of it, Strider. We’ll need some if we are to recreate it
successfully. I just need you more coherent my friend.” He
smiled slightly as he braced the man against the wall, hoping the
medicine would take effect soon. Stopping the vial once more, he
slid it into an interior pocket of his tunic and focused his attention
on the ranger.
“Will he make it?” Yrin called down. He was slowly lowering
a looped off length of rope that the eagles had deposited for him on
the ledge. The great birds circled high overhead, watching what
happened on the peak. From time to time, one would drop down to
the plateau to assist the humans there as the servants began to set up
camp and take stock of what and who had survived.
Legolas crouched down slightly in front of the ranger, trying to see
into the human’s eyes. Aragorn stepped back a pace and took in a
deep breath. His head pounded and he still felt ill but the
thrumming waves of pain had ceased and his heartbeat had slowed back to
its normal pace, giving him a bit of respite. Weary, red-rimmed
grey eyes opened and locked onto the elf’s curious gaze.
“Do you feel any better?” Legolas asked softly.
With a small nod, Aragorn glanced up towards the top of the
shaft. “It won’t last long though. We need to find out if
we can get into the lab still. We need to make more soon,
Overhearing the slightly slurred words, Yrin leaned farther in and
spoke to the two as he eased the rope down into the elf’s hands.
“I’ve sent Tinald on ahead to check the vent shaft for the laboratory
and see if we can access the room. It is high enough up, so
perhaps the lava has not reached it.” He smiled and nodded in
affirmation as Legolas tightened the loop of rope around Aragorn’s
chest and boosted the man partway up the passage.
In seconds, Yrin had hoisted the ranger out of the duct and tossed the rope back down to Legolas.
It was easier to pull the elf out of the vertical bore, as the prince
helped by climbing most of the way out himself. He gripped the
edge of the hatch and eased out onto the snow covered ground as the
servant kicked the grating back over the hole.
Aragorn was seated on the rocky outcropping, resting against a large
boulder that decorated the ledge. He smiled weakly at the elf
before glancing into the meadow far below. The eagles, seeing
that no more help was needed on the heights, had joined the humans on
the plateau, scavenging all that could be rescued or reused.
The shout of a distant voice could just be heard, drawing Yrin’s
attention. It was Tinald. He rounded a corner just beyond
the edge of the outcropping upon which they were standing. The
pathway seemed to drop off into thin air, but in actuality it wrapped
around the mountain out of sight, following a second set of stairs up
to the vent shaft opening above the laboratory.
Tinald’s investigation of the Nazgûl’s lab had revealed that the room was indeed still intact.
“The far wall is nearly collapsed from the press of lava but it seems
to have stopped and is stable for now. Many things lie broken,
but it appears usable.” Tinald finished his assessment as he led
the trio higher up the mountain to another hatch. From this one,
small wisps of warm air drifted out. The lava may have cooled but
the warmth generated by it was still dissipating.
Aragorn was doing a bit better by the time they reached the second
hatch but Legolas would not allow him to spend any extra strength and
insisted on helping him up the stairs. Worry had set in the
prince’s heart now that they were so close to creating more of the
antidote. Would Aragorn be well enough to figure out how it was
made? The wood-elf feared he would be of no help, as his
knowledge of the healing arts had ever been rudimentary at best.
If they couldn’t do it... if all these people were doomed to die... if
Legolas shook his head, denying those thoughts and clearing his
mind. There was no time for that type of thinking. They had
come this far; there had to be a way to make it all end up right.
“Legolas, are you all right?” Aragorn gently placed his hand on the elf’s chest.
Tinald scurried down the shaft, calling up for Yrin and leaving the two friends to converse quietly for a moment.
“It will work out, Estel.” Legolas tried to reassure the
ranger. “We need to get you inside quickly and see what damage
the lab has taken. The faster we begin, the sooner you will be
The slight worry that hedged the elf’s eyes was not lost on his
companion. With a small smile, Aragorn conceded and eased stiffly
down into the shaft, crawling through the confined vents towards the
sound of the servants’ voices inside the lab. Behind him, he
could hear Legolas as the elf followed. When he slowed
imperceptibly, the prince’s hand gently grasped his boot, encouraging
him to continue.
The air in the lab was heavy and broken glass crunched underfoot.
Shelves of vials had been thrown down and smashed, their contents
staining the rubble-strewn floor like orc blood. The lava that had
crushed in one wall had stopped short of breaking through the stones
and now lay hardened on the other side. The noxious gasses
released from the eruption, combined with the acidic smell of whatever
had been in the broken vials, were enough to make anyone feel
choked. Tiny rivulets of the molten rock had seeped through the
cracks and pooled on the ground, looking as though they were simply
part of the wall itself. They shimmered slightly with the heat
they gave off.
Aragorn had to lean against the wall to support himself as he fought to
breathe in the foul air. It was going to be hard to work in here,
but they had no choice.
Legolas supported his friend, his own eyes watering slightly. “Is there any way to get more air in here?”
Yrinvan, breathing through his shirt sleeve, shook his head. “I’m
afraid not. Here,” he retrieved an empty sack from the corner of
the room. “Put this over your nose and mouth.”
Legolas easily tore the sack in two along its seams. He tied the
make-shift mask around the lower portion of Aragorn’s face first, and
then secured his own. It was a flimsy barrier at best, but at
least it was better than nothing.
Aragorn stiffened when the cloth went over his face and for a brief
moment a small flare of panic hedged his eyes. Legolas saw this
and stopped moving immediately.
“Estel?” he questioned quietly, his voice slightly muffled behind his own mask.
Aragorn shook his head and attempted a weak smile behind his protective
covering. It was going to be a while before he could have
anything put over his face and not remember what had been done to him
here. “It’s nothing, don’t worry,” the ranger assured.
Tinald and Yrinvan had already secured their own masks and were now
busy at one end of the room, clearing a table and searching out what
undamaged supplies remained to be found.
Aragorn closed his eyes a moment. He had to push aside the dark
memories of how often he had been tortured in this room. The
feeling of evil was strong in here, as strong as, or stronger than, the
noxious air. It made his knees feel weak, as if the very strength
were being slowly sapped out of him.
He hated being in this place again. It held too many dark
memories. Glancing slowly around, he stopped moving as his gaze
landed on a table a few feet away from him. Legolas bumped into
the ranger when Aragorn jolted quickly to a stop. He gently
grabbed the man’s shoulders and tried to look around the human to see
what had captured his friend’s attention. Just to their right,
shoved up against the broken wall, was the table that held that
Nazgûl’s torture devices. The gag that Aragorn had been
forced to endure, lay in a jumbled pile of leather along with several
other devices of a similar nature and a spare bridle.
Legolas unconsciously licked his bruised lips when he caught sight of
the offensive contraptions. Gently pushing the man aside, the elf
strode over and swiped the pile of torture devices off the tabletop,
sending them flying into the wall. The gag bounced off the hard
stone and fell against a broken edge, sinking quickly into the still
cooling lava. Bright flares of orange molten rock swallowed the
gag, covering it immediately with a deceptively cool dark
exterior. The prince watched as the metal on the bridle melted
into the lava, disappearing from sight. The elf’s anger cooled
with the magma that hissed on the ground, barely touching the tip of
his boot. A small thrill of satisfaction coursed through him as
he realized the offensive contraptions would ever again harm any living
Aragorn’s shaky hand on his arm brought the elf back to the
present. He was watching the lava that now covered the torture
devices. Legolas gently turned the man back and led them both
away, joining the servants in the far corner of the room. Yrin
was watching them carefully. He hadn’t given much thought to the
room or its contents. He had been here so many times he was used
to seeing the Nazgûl’s collection. The reaction from the
two former captives caught at his heart, reminding him that the old way
was over and there was no more torment to fear.
“Yrin, can we take all this outside, do it there?” Aragorn asked.
His voice muffled by the cloth over his mouth. He still did not
like this room.
Yrinvan set a large iron caldron back on its thick-pronged feet over an
un-kindled fire-ring. “Perhaps,” he nodded slowly, also wishing
to be out of this foul place. “But... I don’t know if we’d be
able to control the environment enough.”
“What?” Aragorn did not understand.
Yrinvan wished he could explain more clearly. “I assisted the
Mast-” he caught himself. That evil being was his master no
longer. “I assisted the Wraith in the preparation of the antidote
on several occasions. I wasn’t there the whole time; he never
allowed anyone in the whole time, lest they know how it was done.
But in the final stages, he needed someone to keep the fire at exactly
the right temperature while he added the last ingredient. He was
very particular about the temperature of the room and the fire
itself. We lost more than one slave because they let a draft in
or did not tend the fire exactly as he wished.”
Aragorn nodded slowly. So, it was temperature sensitive when it
was being made. That was not a good sign. This was going to
be a very complicated potion to recreate. “When you were here,
Yrin, what did you see? What did he do?”
Yrinvan was thoughtful for a moment, trying to recall everything
exactly. “I remember that the room was very warm and I had to be
careful to allow no air in the door with me that would disturb the
temperature. He had some kind of red-brown tincture that he must
have mixed up beforehand sitting on the table. He would put it
into the cauldron with whatever else was already in there, while I kept
the fire evenly stoked. Then he would soak a piece of cloth in
whatever is in that canister,” Yrin indicated the one he meant, which
was thankfully not broken. “And dip it into the potion. If the
cloth turned brown, then he removed the potion from the fire and let it
cool. All was well. If it turned black... then he had to
start over again and I was subjected to the mercies of the orcs for my
failure.” Yrin’s gaze did not waver. “I was lucky. The
master did not think he could replace me as easily as some of the
Aragorn’s eyes flashed with silent compassion and understanding.
He could not imagine having lived under the Nazgûl for as many
years as Yrin had suffered. “Do you think you could bring the
fire to the correct temperature again when it is needed?” he asked
Yrin nodded with a mirthless smile. “I am certain I can.
There is a small spoke built into the fire pit that glows dully when
the temperature is right. I learned very quickly how to take my
bearing off of that.”
“Good,” Aragorn smiled weakly behind his protective mask. He knew
they were all looking to him to create the antidote. Any possible
help was appreciated. “You give me hope that we may accomplish this
“Can we not take this outside then?” Legolas inquired with concern as
he walked beside his friend to the table. Aragorn held the elf’s
arm for support and orientation. His own illness combined with
the fumes made the human incredibly dizzy.
“No,” Aragorn shook his head. “Not if temperature is a
concern. We could never control it right out there in the cold
wind. There are too many variables and this is going to be hard
enough as it is. We will simply have to work fast.”
Legolas understood. “Very well, tell me what to do mellon-nín, and I will help you any way I can.”
“All right,” Aragorn assessed the situation, forcing his mind to work
through the haze crowding his mental functions. “We have the
lichen from the caves, and I think I know how that should go into the
base. Legolas, I’ll need what’s left of the antidote to examine,
some clean, empty vials and a mortar and pestle. Yrin, Tinald,
look around through what is left undamaged. I’m going to need
some charcoal powder, flaxseed and white oak bark if there is any.”
Estel prayed to the Valar that he could do this and do it right. Their time was growing painfully short.