Black Breath


by Cassia and Siobhan

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    Aragorn lay awake in bed. He couldn’t sleep.  With a deep sigh he turned over and gazed unseeingly out the huge picture window opposite his bed.  The light curtains had been left open and they blew gently in the soft night breeze.  But even the quiet sounds of the valley couldn’t calm him this night.  He closed his eyes in frustration and forced himself up in bed, pushing the sheets away from his upper body.  He could take it no longer; he couldn’t just stay here while Legolas was out there somewhere captive to orcs. 
    And what if he’s already dead?
    The little voice inside his head wouldn’t quit asking questions, awful, horrid questions that brought up deep, painful memories.  No matter what he did, he couldn’t silence them.  He still remembered the way the orcs smelled, they way the whip bit into his skin, the way he wished they would just kill him and end the cruel pain...  and Maraen had said that the orcs had taken Legolas.  He kept hearing her repeated phrase, “They took him.  They took him.”
    Quietly, the ranger collected his things and quickly dressed.  The conversation he had had with his father earlier reverberated in his mind, rebuking him.  He wished the last time they had spoken had not ended in an argument, but there was nothing he could do about that now. His heart was already too heavy.  Shrugging into his overcoat he stole silently out into the hall.
    Growing up in Rivendell he had learned early on as a youngster exactly where and where not to step on the wooden floors to keep his exit from being noticed and he expertly crept across the threshold, soundlessly making a quick stop in the small room where his father kept the medicines and poultices. Grabbing a pouch of the leafy athelas that Elrond had instructed him in the usage of earlier that day, he stuffed the potent medicine in his knapsack and stole back out.
    Pressing his hands firmly against the front doors Aragorn slowly pushed them open just enough so he could squeeze out between them, carefully shutting them from the outside.
    For a moment he considered fetching a horse from the yards but the sound of the animal’s hooves would surely wake the household and he wanted a decent head start before they came looking for him. 
    Aragorn glanced back up to the open windows of Rivendell, easily finding the one that shuttered his father’s room. Their last conversation came to mind again unbidden - 


    “I am going to find him.” Aragorn turned and resolutely headed for the door after he and Elrond had left Maraen’s room.
    Elrond placed a firm hand on the young ranger’s shoulder, stopping him. “Let us wait until Maraen awakens.  Perhaps it will be that she can tell us more of what happened to Legolas. Do not be so quick, my son, to rush into danger. We do not know who her attacker was.”
    “We know it was orcs father, what more needs knowing?”  Aragorn looked around them in frustration, “I can’t just leave him there!”
    “And I did not suggest that you should.  In the morning we will be able to question Maraen.  Then you and your brothers, with the prince’s friends, can go out well prepared.” He held up his hand to forestall the argument that his son was trying to interrupt with, “Prepared for what you will face.  It may not simply be orcs.  It sounded as though there was something else.  Besides, Estel,” Elrond took the boy’s chin in his hand and redirected the silver eyes that had sought the floor, “no orc could cast such a darkness over a soul as to pull them into the shadow realm.  I fear there is much more to her story than we have heard.”
    His father’s eyes had held an unknown fear to them even as he spoke the words but the shadow passed quickly and he smiled gently down at the human who stood next to him.
    Anger and helplessness radiated from Aragorn. “He is my friend.” The words were soft and driven and he shook his head, breaking eye contact with the elven lord.  “I cannot just wait. You cannot ask me to.  You don’t know what they do to elves...” Even as the words left his lips he regretted them and he glanced quickly at his adoptive father, hoping that somehow the elf had not heard him.
    But the pain was there, showing that the elf had, and Elrond simply nodded, “Yes, my son. I do.”  How could he ever forget the sight of his wife when his sons had brought her home...?  The elf turned his gaze back to Maraen’s room, “Please, Estel, be patient, wait.”
    “I’m sorry father I didn’t mean to...”
    Elrond shook his head, “I know.  Don’t worry my son, you are simply upset over Legolas, that I understand also.”  He draped his arm around the boy’s shoulders, pulling him close, and walked with him down the hall.  “Let us go see to Estelle before Celboril calls us for dinner.”
    With a heavy heart Aragorn had followed.  He knew he would never be able to obey his father, but he would try.


    “Forgive me father.  I will return with Legolas, I promise you that.”  He whispered quietly into the night, standing for a few moments longer to stare at his father’s room before turning and running swiftly up the path from Rivendell and heading out towards the place where he had found Maraen.
    He had in mind to track back from where he had discovered her.  In the shape she was in, even though she had been in the woods several weeks, she couldn’t have gone far.  He had a hunch he would be able to pick up Legolas’ tracks if he could just find the last place she had been with the elf.
    Using the light of the stars and the full moon he had nearly gained the meadow where he had found Maraen by the time the sun was blushing the skies a soft shade of pink.


    “Father!” Elrohir ran into the dining hall, interrupting the morning meal. He had been sent to fetch his younger brother to join them.  “He is not there!”
    Elrond simply stared at the young elf.  He had known, known in his heart that his youngest son was going to go out after Legolas on his own and now he chided himself for not being more aware last night.
    “You do not think he has gone after Legolas on his own do you?” Elladan cast a worried glance at his father, already knowing the answer that he feared.
    Trelan and Raniean had stopped eating.  Trelan’s fork clattered to his plate as he listened to the conversation.  “We must go after him.”
    Elrond raised his hands and stood to his feet, “No one is going anywhere.” He sighed deeply and returned Elladan’s worried gaze, “Estel has an eight hour lead on you at least.  If he has tracked back to where he originally found Maraen then he will already have left that area.  Let us eat, and when we are done I will question the girl more on Legolas’ captors.”  The younger elves began to protest but Elrond’s tone turned firm, “Listen to me.  Whatever put that girl and her child under such a dark spell was not an orc. No orc can bind another to Mordor in such a way.  You need to know what you are up against, just like I warned your brother.”  The elder elf turned away from the group seated before him, “That young one will be the death of me.”
    “He needs to learn to listen a little better,”  Elladan muttered darkly. “I think I’ll beat it into him when I get him back.”
    “If we get him back,” Elrohir spoke softly.
    “Don’t,”  Raniean stopped the self-berating, fearful talk. “Strider is a smart ranger, I saw that when he was in Mirkwood on more than one occasion.  As strange as it sounds, I believe that he’s got a better chance of finding Legolas than anyone other than maybe Trelan and I.  And we will be out searching for the both of them.”
    Elrond turned back to the table and eyed the warrior.
    “Eat,” Trelan spoke around a mouthful of fruit. “You’ll need your strength.  Raneian is correct.”  The small elf raised his eyebrows at the twins, trying to encourage them. “You think you have it bad, imagine having to tell Lord Thranduil his son is missing.” The warrior rolled his eyes and smiled at Elrond.
    “He’ll have our heads,” Raniean continued the thought for his friend.
    Elrohir snickered softly from his side of the table and leaned forward, “Its really not so bad, we get it all the time here.  Estel is forever getting us into trouble.”
    “Estel is?” Elrond re-seated himself and smiled at the twin. “Funny I was under the impression that it was the two of you who were always getting him into trouble.  Or at least that’s what he says.”
    “Just another thing to beat him for when I get a hold of him.” Elladan’s mood had not improved, his worry getting the best of him.
    “Uhm...father, perhaps you can keep Elladan here with you.  He might not be very helpful and I’d hate to drag Estel home half dead again because he got to him before you do.”  Elrohir leaned towards his father trying to evade his brother’s reach.
    “You have a point, my son.”
    “Father!” Elladan stared at the elf lord wide-eyed.
    “Eat, all of you.”  Elrond smiled and swept his hands over the table indicating the still untouched food. “You all will be going so that I may have some peace and quiet in this house – for a bit anyway.”
    The laughter about the table broke the dark mood that had fallen, but the father’s heart was still tight with worry as he thought on the safety of his human son.


    Aragorn knelt in the still moist grass.  The dew hadn’t quite dried on the green blades as his keen eyes searched the small glade.  This was where he had originally found Maraen.  He needed to know where she had come from before that morning.  Carefully he paced the exterior of the glen, his vigilance finally rewarded as he approached the south side; the branches of a tender sapling growing on the edge of the meadow were broken, the sap from its damaged outgrowth had caught a stray hair from the one who had passed this way and it was auburn, definitely Maraen’s.
    Easily the ranger spied the outline of her booted foot in the dirt beneath the trees and began to follow the weaving trail off towards the west – deeper into the forest.


    The Nazgûl couldn’t have been more pleased than if he had found Sauron’s desire himself.  It was long since anything they could do had been able to affect any of the Firstborn and, if this were indeed successful, then his master would be very pleased with him.  He watched the elf prince quietly from where he stood.  It was time to test his latest servant and see just how far the elf would obey him.
    “Elf,” the wraith's voice hissed soothingly, “come here.”
    Legolas placed his food on the forest floor and rose gracefully in one swift motion, moving to stand before the dark lord. The silver blue eyes were dead of emotion as they locked on the faceless darkness beneath the wraith's hooded countenance.
    “Do you see that orc on the far side of the fire, the one with the axe?”
    Legolas turned and looked in the direction indicated before slowly gazing back at his new master, “Yes, my lord.”
    “Kill it.”  The nazgul folded his arms across his chest and waited.
    Turning, Legolas watched the orc who stood in shock, surprised by his master's command but at the prodding of his companions he gleefully took up the challenge.  The elf was unarmed and the orc had a debt to settle with this one anyway.  Killing the fair being could actually be fun.
    Inside Legolas balked.  As much as he hated orcs, there was no reason to kill this one.  It was just something the dark lord desired for his own pleasure and he had no want to please the wraith.  But the part of Legolas that balked, that was still himself, was weak and small.  It was as if his very control over his own body and his consciousness had been pressed back into a small prison locked inside his mind and there was no way out.  He could see, he could hear, he spoke, but the words were not his own – he in essence did not exist as the free being he once was.  He was truly owned by Mordor’s minion and the thought horrified him.
    The elf moved towards the orc, unfazed by the jeers and taunts of the creature's peers.  He had not been given a weapon to dispose of the being but it did not seem to matter as he coldly stalked the orc, circling the dark creature, moving just outside the arc of its swinging blade.  Easily he spun and ducked every jab and swing the orc threw at him, slowly wearing down his opponent.
    He waited until the orc had raised the axe blade once more and charged the foul creature.  Every bit of Legolas’ memories, strengths and combat skills had been commandeered by the evil poisons in his system. His body reacted to his master's command as he slammed the orc backwards off balance forcing the creature to stumble over the stones of the fire ring and fall into the pit.  As the orc tumbled backwards into the fire the elf wrenched the axe from the creature's hand and threw it into the beast’s chest before he had a chance to even stop falling.
    Legolas screamed inside his own head but no one paid him any attention, no one listened, no one cared and he was forced to watch in muted silence as he walked back to the nazgul and kneeled.  He spoke, his voice even and dead, “As you commanded, my lord.”
    The orcs in the camp had grown silent at the defeat of their comrade.  Their tiny eyes latched onto the dark lord for explanation.
    The Nazgûl’s high pitched laughter rent the air causing icy fear to shoot through Legolas’ soul but his body did not flinch.  “Well done, my servant.  Yes, well done.”  He turned his hooded gaze on his orc minions, “Let that be a lesson to you.  The elf will come to no harm unless I say so.  Understood?”
    The orcs stood dumbfounded.
    “Is that understood?” the wraith asked again, his very presence seeming to darken and grow and the lethalness in his voice was chilling to bear.
    Legolas cringed inwardly.  If only he could die.  He almost did not care what happened to his shell of a body.  He begged Iluvatar to free his soul.


    Aragorn had found the rocky shelf that Legolas had made his last stand in front of.  The ranger inspected the ground about the edges of the tiny plateau that butted up against the cliff, noting the trampled down plant life and the very obvious prints that were uniquely orc.  But the set of boot prints he was crouched over now confused him.  Whoever had occupied this spot had stood in one place and watched the entire proceedings of what had happened.  The edges of the imprints were deeper than those of the orcs and the boots were oddly shaped, seeming to be of plates of metal riveted to one another.  Whomever had accompanied the orcs was also apparently their leader for his prints had overlapped those of the orcs as they came into the glade and they had been the last to take their leave when the company had left with Legolas heading out in the opposite direction.
    A slight chill made the ranger shudder and he glanced around him to see if the trees stirred from a breeze, but the glade was still, deathly still and the feelings of lingering darkness caused thrills of fear to skitter up his spine.  Something had definitely gone wrong and his friend had been in the middle of it.  His father had been right, something far more evil was afoot here than merely orcs.
    It didn’t take him long to pick up their trail and track the orcs back.  Their path was muddied and even after all these weeks the grass had not grown back over their footprints as though the very forest itself detested their presence. 
    Aragorn couldn’t remember ever seeing orcs this far north and he trailed them all afternoon, nearing their camp by sunset. 
    The forest grew deathly quiet around him and he frowned as his keen hearing picked up the sounds of many feet heading his way.  Quickly, the ranger concealed himself in the brush on the side of the path and waited.
    Several orcs stalked by his position; obviously it was a hunting party.  But what caught his attention was the elf that walked unbound in their midst, seemingly at ease with the foul creatures.  He was relieved that Legolas was in fact able to walk and still alive, but puzzled at the same time.  What had they done to the prince?  He needed to free his friend and quickly.
    Waiting until the hunters had passed him by, the ranger attacked them from behind; the element of surprise was on his side as he cut down the two creatures bringing up the rear.
    The commotion Aragorn's attack had caused halted the hunting party and they turned in confusion towards the human. 

    Legolas stopped and looked over his shoulder.  In his mind he almost cried for joy as his tortured consciousness caught a glimpse of the human, but his body simply stood and watched the melee as his friend slew orc after orc.  The elf was so relieved that the ranger had survived being drug over the falls that if he had been able to he would have cried.  He had never thought to see Strider again and now he was forced to watch as orcs attacked the human relentlessly.  Unable to help, Legolas beat against the prison of his mind until his agony had nearly numbed him senseless.
    "Slave."  The Nazgûl’s dark call drifted to the elf caught on the winds by his sharp ears.  The wraith had heard the disturbance and was coming with more orcs, "Return to me."
    The elf prince turned casually and walked away from the man who was fighting for him, calling his name repeatedly.  

    Aragorn was completely surprised.  He watched as Legolas walked away under the darkness of the trees - confusion sweeping through him.  But he had little time to ponder what was wrong as another orc stepped near him, attempting to cleave through him with a wicked-looking scimitar.  The ranger caught the scimitar on his blade and spun beneath the locked weapons, sliding his sword along the length of the blade and driving a sweeping lethal blow to his opponent's side.  The orc dropped dead to the forest floor.

    Under the cover of the trees in the fading afternoon light the wraith watched the human as he fought with the orcs.  The man's display of lethal combat was almost as stunning as the elf's had been but not nearly as graceful.  Legolas approached his liege and inclined his head.
    "Bring me that human, he interests me. I will return to camp and await you there."
    Legolas nodded and walked back towards the small open area where he had left the orcs fighting the human, another contingent of orcs at his heels. 

    As the elf stepped into the glen the ranger felled the last of the creatures that had rushed him.  The entire hunting party lay dead at his feet, their bodies decorating the small meadow.  The ranger was breathing heavily and his eyes widened as he saw the elf walking towards him.
    "Legolas! Thank Iluvatar you are all right."  Aragorn had not noticed the dead, glazed look his friend laid on him as he moved closer to the elf, nor had he glimpsed the orcs that trailed the prince.  "Quickly, before more come."  Aragorn spoke breathlessly as he turned to lead his friend away.  "What happened to you?  When I saw you with all those orcs..."
    His question was cut off as Legolas grabbed his wrist, stopping his retreat.  Confused, Aragorn turned back and glanced around them, "What? What is it Legolas?"
    The orcs encircled the two friends, trapping them in the small area.  Even though he was winded, the ranger had no doubt that he and Legolas could take them on and escape unharmed, but when he glanced up into the eyes of his friend his heart stopped and his mouth dropped open in silent question.
    Legolas' bright blue eyes were dead, dead and glazed.  This was not his friend that he had known.  It was Legolas’ body, but there was no recognition in the glassy stare.
    "Legolas?"  The elf didn’t seem to hear Aragorn as he pulled the ranger with him toward the far side of the grassy meadow, his fingers tightening on the human's.
    “Legolas, what are you doing?” Aragorn gazed worriedly between his friend’s blank eyes and the elf’s iron grip on his wrist - dread clawing at his heart.  “What’s wrong?”
    “My Lord wants to see you, you must come with us,” Legolas said tonelessly, his grip tightening even harder on the young ranger’s arm.  The orcs moved in closer.
    Apprehension and wariness blossomed into near panic in Aragorn’s chest at the icy deadness he saw clouding his friend’s countenance.  “I did not know that the Prince of Mirkwood answered to anyone save his father and I have not heard that he was near,” a hard edge crept into the young man’s tone. 
    “When a Nazgûl calls, you do not keep him waiting,” the iron bite in Legolas’ voice was chilling.  At that moment, the young ranger barely recognized his friend and fear flooded through him.
    Aragorn tried to wrench his arm away in horror, but Legolas held on tightly, spinning him around and twisting it painfully behind the ranger’s back, refusing to set the younger being free. 
    “Since when do you serve the shadow of Mordor, Legolas?!” Aragorn spat darkly, somewhere between uncomprehending anger and breathtaking betrayal. 
    There was no answer, but the elf started to bind the human’s hands behind him.  Reacting quickly, Aragorn bent sharply forward, ignoring the pain that shot through his twisted arm and rolled Legolas over his back, wrenching free. 
    In an instant the orcs were on him.  Drawing his sword, Aragorn crossed blades with them, whirling as he fought and dispatching two of them.  Then suddenly he was face-to-face with Legolas.  For a few split seconds, he had a clear path and could have taken the elf down with a stroke.  With any other foe, Aragorn would not have hesitated, but this was not a foe, this was his friend... or at least so he had thought to this point. 
    The Dùnadan did not strike, he could not, but that moment of hesitation cost him the battle.  Legolas did not pause, but yanked the sword out of the ranger’s grip and struck out with an open palm.  His blow caught Aragorn’s chin and mouth, knocking the young man to the ground.  In an instant, the remaining orcs were on Aragorn.  They bound him securely and dragged him back to his feet, but Aragorn’s eyes never left Legolas.
    “What’s happened to you, Legolas?!” Aragorn demanded, caught between anguish and anger.  “What have they done to you?”  He refused to believe that his friend would ever willingly betray him like this, yet the empty look in the elf prince’s eyes scared him.  
    Legolas did not answer, but turned away.  “You must come.  He is waiting.”
    “I’ll be damned if I will!” Aragorn exploded, struggling like a wildcat against the orcs that held him.  He had never met one of the legendary nine ringwraiths before and he had no desire to do so now, especially not if they wanted to do to him whatever they had done to his friend. 
    Legolas stalked back to where the orcs were trying to subdue their prisoner.
    “I don’t know what they did to you Legolas, but you’ve got to snap out of it!  This isn’t you!” Aragorn pleaded desperately with his friend.  “I know who you are, you are not this darkness!  You are Prince Legolas of Mirkwood, son of King Thranduil, not the thrall of some dark lord, not the servant of the Nazgûl!  Come back to yourself!”
    For an instant something flickered across Legolas’ eyes, something akin to pain, anguish... but the deadness quickly took its place once again and before Aragorn knew what had happened Legolas lashed out sharply, striking the young ranger so hard that the world swirled black before the Dùnadan’s eyes and he fell back in the arms of the orcs that held him, unconscious.