Between Darkness and Dawn
Chapter 9: Ice and Terror
First > Previous > Next
Aragorn heard the door bang shut and found himself surrounded in
darkness. The orcs themselves seemed a little fearful and that
did nothing to alleviate the ranger’s concerns.
Sure-footed in the darkness, the beasts pushed him forward into what
felt like a cold, grey sea. The ranger knew it was a room of some
kind, but he could discern no visible features. He could not
distinguish walls, furniture, or even the floor. Not even his
ears could help him. The feet of his captors did not ring against
the floor, nor did their harsh breathing create any kind of echo.
It was as if the darkness around them was absorbing all the sound, as
well as the light. The pitch black was so total it was
disturbing... It was unnatural.
A voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere wrapped around the ranger’s senses.
“So you have come...” the voice said. It was toneless, metallic.
Aragorn turned his head sharply, looking around for the source of the
voice. It seemed to come from inside his own head.
Goosebumps chased themselves up and down the ranger’s arms and his
flesh crawled. There was a gnawing terror here, the kind of fear
that could drive men mad. It reminded Aragorn vaguely of being
trapped in the barrow after the fight with Kaldur’s bandits. Yet
it was different. The evil there had exuded a nameless fear meant
to strike terror into anything that lived. The presence here was
purposeful and focused... focused on him.
“Who are you?” Aragorn demanded. He spoke boldly, but his voice
sounded small and hollow in his ears, swallowed up in the immensity of
the evil cloud.
The voice laughed. “You know who I am. I am the one that will destroy you. The question, mortal, is who are you?”
Aragorn squared his shoulders. Yes, he did know who it was that
had lured him here. And he refused to be intimidated. The
ranger defiantly glared into the darkness. He couldn’t even see
the orcs. He could only feel their hands on him. Some part
of him knew this wasn’t real. It was an illusion inside his
mind. He would not let the evil one see his fear.
“I? I am the one who sent you flying away in flames, and if
I ever get the chance, I shall do it again. Is that why you hide
from me, in the darkened shadows?” The answer was bold, foolhardy
even, but Aragorn was hardly worried about his future at the
moment. He had been a dead man since the attack by the river.
The darkness intensified for a moment before suddenly clearing and
fading away, like mist burning up under morning light. Aragorn
found himself standing in the center of a large room. Scrolls and
bottles lined one wall and various tables sat about them at random
angles. A man in slave-garb stood quietly in one of the
corners. He was so still and quiet that Aragorn was startled to
realize he was a living being.
A vent in the ceiling above penetrated the rock face of the mountain
that the castle was built into, admitting a cold, pale ray of light
that shone down upon the human. It was not a friendly glow and
its harsh cast fell upon the ranger like fingers of ice.
Before Aragorn stood a figure completely robed in black. He had
seen the Lord of the Nazgûl before, but never quite like
this. The ragged black robes were thrown back, revealing powerful
arms swathed in thick armor plating that rippled like dragon
scales. The steel hauberk was covered from the elbow down by the
spiked, multi-jointed gauntlets that the Wraith favored. A pale,
silver armband like a ravenous serpent snaked up his right arm,
disappearing under his black robes, and a red-gemmed ring glowed dully
visible on his hand. The cowl of his robe covered the dark area
where his head should have been, but the faint glimmer of a pale crown
showed in the shadows of the hood.
This was the Witch-king of Angmar, at home in his own realm of old. Power and terror flowed freely from him.
Aragorn met the empty gaze of his dark hood without wavering, but inside, his blood ran cold.
“You are foolish to challenge me, mortal,” the Wraith hissed, his voice
both quiet and frightening at the same time. “You will pay for
that. You will not find me a forgiving master.”
“That is well, for I am not your slave,” the ranger retorted with a greater level of calm in his voice than he truly felt.
The Nazgûl laughed, walking forward slowly to tower over the
human. He was a little surprised that the man was feeling strong
enough to be this much of a nuisance. He would have thought the
poison had taken care of sapping excess strength. Obviously, he
had miscalculated. The human needed to be brought down in tone a
few notches before anything useful could occur between them.
“You think not? All who are in this mountain are my slaves...”
The Wraith ran the back of his ribbed knuckles down the side of the
man’s face. “You have accepted my hospitality, partaken of the
life-saving measures that only I can give... your gratitude is sadly
lacking, ranger. But no matter, you shall learn better with
time. I had it in mind to question you, but I find you in an
unreceptive state of mind. Instead I shall teach you what it
means to serve me.”
Legolas twisted uneasily in his bonds. It seemed an age since
Aragorn disappeared through those doors. Every so often, he
thought he could almost hear something that sounded like a scream in
the distance. He didn’t know if it was real or an illusion coming
from the darkness, but in either case, it filled the elf’s heart with
dread. He fidgeted restlessly, tugging at the ropes holding him
and testing the strength of the wall sconce to which he was
fastened. Both were unfortunately more than adequate.
Yrin shot the elf a glare that told him to be still, but he could not
blame the elf for his restlessness. The slave did not enjoy this
waiting game either. However, his long time under the
Nazgûl had taught him patience. The results of impatience
were painful at best, deadly at worst.
Legolas stopped fidgeting and fixed his gaze intently on the door once
more when the dark portal suddenly swung open. It was eerily
silent, not even creaking upon its hinges. Yet an invisible vapor
flowed out that turned blood to ice in one’s veins.
A man stepped out of the darkened portal, dressed in a grey slave tunic
of the same style as Yrinvan’s. This man was a little shorter
than the head-servant. He made his way quickly to Yrin’s side and
whispered something into the other slave’s ear. Legolas heard
them, but did not understand the tongue they used.
Yrin nodded, a sad, resigned look coming over his face. “Very well, Tinald.”
Legolas’ anxious eyes watched the two humans closely, begging them to tell him what was happening.
Yrin unbound the elf from the wall. “Your friend has upset the
Master; he will not see you today. You must go back to the cell
Legolas’ heart clutched. “No! Where is Strider? What’s happening?” he protested in alarm.
With a sigh, Yrin signaled the orcs to take the elf into custody.
The Master required his presence, so he was forced to turn Legolas over
to them. “The orcs will see you back to your cell to wait.
Don’t fight them and they won’t harm you,” the servant tried to
Legolas shuddered as the orcs pulled him into their midst, but right
now his overwhelming concern for Aragorn was more pressing than his
loathing of orcs. Suddenly a deep, dark shiver made the elf
He was here.
The Witch-king entered the hall with Aragorn before him. The
human looked bad. Blood ran down one side of his face and his
steps fumbled slightly.
“Strider!” Legolas called his friend’s name, struggling against the
orcs that held him. He refused to have a visible reaction to the
Nazgûl’s presence, focusing on his friend.
Aragorn looked up, his gaze instantly searching out the elf. He
nearly fell when the Nazgûl shoved him from behind, pushing him
into Yrin and Tinald’s hands.
“Take him!” the Wraith commanded. “Put the elf back in his cage. I will see him later.”
The two servants accepted their charge obediently, seeming to already know what their master wanted.
Legolas thrashed, fighting the orcs dragging him bodily away.
“Stop! Where are you taking him?! Strider!”
The Nazgûl did not turn or slow his steps. “To learn prudence,” he answered coldly.
Aragorn struggled with the two servants holding him and they were
forced to manhandle him down the hallway. He tried to glance
behind him but the Nazgûl blocked his view. He desperately
needed to see for himself that Legolas was all right but even that
small comfort was denied him.
The servant on his left smacked the ranger hard alongside the head as Aragorn struggled against them.
“Stop it,” Tinald growled darkly. “It will go easier if you come
with us willingly.” The last statement was barely a whisper, meant for
the captive’s ears only. He was frustrated that this man seemed
insistent on bringing the Nazgûl’s wrath down upon himself.
The unexpected note of fear under his guard’s gruff voice gave Aragorn
pause and he glanced at the man that dragged him along. The
servant would not return the ranger’s gaze but his fingers lightened up
slightly on Aragorn’s arm.
After a few turns, they stood before a large wooden door. A small
window had been built into it and was covered by a steel plate that
could be opened to view the interior.
Neither of the men holding Aragorn would look him in the eye; instead
they turned him around to face their lord. The Nazgûl
watched, pleased to see the fear that shadowed the ranger’s gaze.
“Prepare him.” The black lord’s voice whispered seductively; a soft hissing laugh accompanied the command.
Every one of the servants who lived in the palace had spent time in
this very room and each one knew exactly what they could expect.
Reluctantly, Aragorn’s guards stripped the ranger’s coat and outer
tunic from his body, hanging the clothing on pegs beside the heavy
door. They allowed the man to retain his light undershirt.
His hands were pulled in front of him and bound together before being
manacled by heavy metal cuffs placed over and around the ropes.
Feelings of helplessness edged into Aragorn’s mind and he began to fear
what the Nazgûl had in store for him. The anxiety released
adrenaline into his system and, before he had thought through his
options, he kicked out at the man on his left, bringing Tinald down and
leaping over the fallen slave, trying to get past the servants.
He had no idea what they had in mind for him but the servant’s
hesitancy spiked a fear through his system that he could not
explain. The slaves tried to keep hold of the ranger but Aragorn
was faster than they were, even bound. Escape was the only thing
he had in his mind.
Yrin and Tinald reacted a trifle too slowly. In the black lord’s
home no one resisted when told where to go or what to do, even if it
was to a punishment cell such as this. The Nazgûl was
The ranger was far from compliant.
In moments it was obvious that the household servants were not going to
be able to control Aragorn. The Witch-king was growing impatient;
he had other things he needed to attend to and this diversion was
slowing his plans. Moving swiftly, the black-robed Wraith hooked
his gloved fingers in the ranger’s hair and forcefully pulled the human
back. With his left hand, he pressed the tip of the metal spike on
his forefinger into the wound in Aragorn’s shoulder.
The slightest pressure by the dark lord spiked the latent poisons and
the ranger dropped to his knees, crying out under the paralyzing
pain. Bands of agony wrapped his body in steel bonds and the
breath left his lungs in a rush.
“Now get him in the cell,” the Witch-king commanded darkly,
shoving Aragorn back towards his servants. “Remove his shirt as
well. That can be his punishment for his foolish
resistance.” The dark lord hissed.
“My...my lord...” Yrinvan shifted nervously as he gently helped Aragorn
to his feet. The ranger was too dazed to put up much opposition
now. “It was my understanding, My Lord, that you wanted him to
live. He will not survive without some protection.” The
servant winced as he softly protested. It was not wise to cross
the Nazgûl, but the headservant could not help pointing out the
obvious. Sometimes when the Wraith was provoked, he did things he
later regretted. Usually that meant that whatever he had done
instantly became Yrin’s fault as he expected the chief slave to see to
his concerns even better than he saw to them himself. It was a
difficult and dangerous edge for the underling to navigate.
“You question me.” The dark, hissing answer was a statement, not a question.
“No, My Lord. I would not deign to cross you, ever. Forgive me my
simple mind. I just thought you wanted him to live until the
morning.” Yrinvan glanced at Tinald.
The other servant was shifting nervously; his fingers hesitantly
fumbled to unbutton Aragorn’s shirt while his friend talked to their
master. He hoped Yrinvan knew what he was doing, his friend took
far too many risks and he feared what would happen. If the
Witch-king was in a bad mood he could order them all into the
knew for certain he would never survive the night there again, he
barely had the first time his lord had thrown him in there.
Conditioning they had called it. A little discomfort went a long
way in garnering obedience.
Aragorn slumped against Yrinvan, falling to his knees as Tinald bent
over him, removing the light shirt he wore. The ranger was trying
to catch his breath, trying to still the pain that was still keeping
him nearly paralyzed in the dark lord’s presence. A soft sob
escaped his lips and he bit back the tears that formed. Just the
touch of the evil Wraith was enough torment; he could not understand
what the servants feared so much.
“Of course I want him alive, fool,” the Nazgûl answered as
if that were obvious. He glared at the ranger, the heat of his
hatred an almost palpable wave of anger in the passageway.
“Sometimes I forget how little your pitiful mortal bodies can
withstand. Very well, you can give it back to him at
midnight. IF I do not change my mind.”
Tinald sighed softly; closing his eyes as he quickly unbound the
ranger’s hands, removed the shirt completely and refastened the ropes
and manacles. Eru, that was close. Their master must really
want this prisoner for something.
“I’m sorry,” Tinald whispered softly to the ranger as Yrinvan opened the door and he pushed Aragorn over the threshold.
As soon as the wooden hatch was opened, a blast of icy cold air
barreled down the tunnel, blowing the robes of the Nazgûl about
him like a dark whirlwind. With a sudden shock of clarity Aragorn
realized why the servants had been so afraid for him.
He glanced up to where the ceiling of the small cell should have been
and instead saw the bright, clear, starry night high above. The
room, no larger than ten paces in any direction, looked as though it
had been bored straight down through the rock of the mountain
itself. The shaft had a grate that enclosed the top of the
vertical tunnel, keeping out any predators or large animals. The
wind blew down viciously into the cell without impediment however,
bringing with it liberal showers of the snow and ice that collected
against the outside of the grill.
Loosed by the draft created by the open door, a freezing cascade of
white fell down upon the ranger, coating his shoulders and hair.
Aragorn flinched, shaking the snow off him and onto the ground that was
already thick with the frozen precipitation. The snow stung his
exposed flesh like a million painful needles. It clung to him
when he tried to shake it off, burning like frozen fire. He
wished he could brush the snow away, but his bound hands did not allow
The door clanged shut and the small window opened. Yrinvan
glanced in hesitantly. “Try to keep moving. Whatever you
do, don’t fall asleep,” he cautioned quietly, his tone even and
emotionless in front of his Master. “I’ll be back after midnight.”
The Nazgûl pushed his servant aside and glared through the
portal. Hissing laughter issued from somewhere beneath the dark,
empty hood. “I would use this time to think long and hard about
what you are going to say to me tomorrow when I question you... I would
suggest the truth.” Slamming the window closed, he turned and
pulled the human’s clothing from the pegs near the door. Stalking
down the hallway he followed the passages back to the elf’s cell.
Legolas jumped when the door to his prison scraped suddenly open and he
stepped forward, hoping beyond all hope that Aragorn was being brought
back. The small oil lamp on the back wall barely illuminated the
four corners of the cell and with the morgul darkness blanketing his
senses the elf could not see the Wraith as the Nazgûl crossed the
threshold. He could, however, feel the dark one’s presence and
pressed back against the recess behind him. He was not such a
fool that he could not admit his own limitations to himself, and the
truth was he was more afraid of this being than anything else on Middle-earth.
A black gloved hand tossed a wad of familiar looking cloth into the cell.
“Your friend won’t be needing these tonight.” He laughed darkly
as he left. The door swung shut ominously behind him and the lock
clicked loudly into place.
Picking up the bundle, Legolas turned it over in his hands. His
heart froze in his chest as he realized he was holding most of
Aragorn’s clothing. Oh no, Valar no... What had they done to
him? What might they still be doing?
Panic bubbled in the elf’s chest. He realized that when he came
here, he had been afraid of all the wrong things. He had feared
seeing the Witch-king again, he had feared losing Aragorn, he had
feared torment in the dark... but the real terror here was
helplessness. All he could do was sit here. All he could do
was wait. He didn’t even know where Aragorn was or what was
happening to him.
Legolas buried his face in Aragorn’s shirt, clenching it in his hands until his knuckles turned white. “Bring him back. Please, I don’t care what’s happened, just bring him back...” he whispered softly into the dark fabric.
When the Nazgûl had slammed the small window closed, it shut out
all light save for the bright pinpoints of the stars high above in the
heavens. Aragorn’s eyes adjusted slowly to the dimness. The
room closed in on him, the walls pressing in claustrophobically.
It wasn’t just the cold. There was evil here, shrouding, choking,
terrifying evil, the kind that could whisper in a man’s mind until he
wanted to claw his ears off to make it stop. The ranger glanced
around nervously, expecting something, anything. The servants had
been so fearful of this place... it unnerved him. However,
nothing stirred, save the night winds and the snow that constantly
rained down on him.
The stone walls were too cold to rest against and the ground below his
feet was thick with snow. There was no place to sit, no place of
comfort, no place to rest his weary body. Aragorn’s shoulder
ached mercilessly and soon his fingers and toes followed suit.
Voices whispered constantly in his ears. At first he thought it
was the wind, but eventually he realized it was not. Fell voices
murmured maliciously around him, barely audible. They spoke of
defeat, despair, death... they turned Aragorn’s own thoughts against
him and shredded at his waning strength. It wasn’t long before
the ranger realized why the servants feared this cell so much.
He tried walking in circles, running in place... anything to keep
himself warm, but as the night temperatures dropped, they sucked away
any remaining heat that the room retained.
To Aragorn it seemed he had been pacing numbly forever, although some
part of his sluggish brain was telling him it had only been a few hours
at most. Violent shivering had taken over sometime ago and he
could no longer feel his legs or arms. His hands, bound as they
were in front of him, were useless in staving off the freezing cold, he
couldn’t even rub them together for what warmth that would
create. What little sweat his body had generated now coated his
face and hair in a thin layer of ice. He stumbled over his own
feet, falling to his knees. It seemed that he vaguely remembered
being here before. Wasn’t almost freezing to death once in a
lifetime enough? Apparently not.
“What are you fighting for? Give up, you’ve lost, there is no hope left in the world, just give up...”
Clumsily Aragorn tried to gain his feet again but his body wasn’t
listening to him anymore. He couldn’t stop moving. He would
die, he knew that.
“Would that be so bad? The snow is soft and you can just lie down for a minute. It won’t hurt at all.” The small thought echoed treacherously in his mind.
Aragorn nodded slowly. Yes, that’s what he really wanted.
He couldn’t remember anymore why he was here or where ‘here’ was.
He collapsed in the collected drifts on the bottom of the cell, the
compacted snow pillowing his head. It wasn’t cold anymore; in
fact it was oddly comfortable and even warm. He smiled slightly
and sighed through lips that were tinged an alarming shade of
blue. Slowly, the human closed his eyes and his breathing slowed
as his body began to shut down.