Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 11: Revelation of Royalty

by Cassia and Siobhan

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There was no mistaking the sound of cries coming from beyond the closed door today.  Yrin tried to calm the elf, but Legolas would not be pacified. He jerked and tugged against his bonds, nearly ripping the iron sconce he was bound to out of the wall. 

Estel’s cries from the other room shredded the elf’s heart.  He glared at Yrin because the human was the only one around upon whom he could vent his wrath.  

“How can you do this?!  How can you just stand there?  Help him!  Let me go,” the elf raged.  He released a shower of dust upon them both as the sconce pulled a few more inches out of its moorings.  

Yrin backed away a few paces.  He was beginning to be alarmed about what would happen if the elf got loose.  He was about to summon some of the orcs to help him when the dark door before them opened. 

Legolas stopped struggling for a moment, battling the dread that oozed out of the room.  

Yrinvan knew the summons for what it was and didn’t know if he should be relieved or apprehensive.  He grabbed the elf’s wrists and gave him a small, firm shake.  “Do not give me any trouble,” he warned as he swiftly unbound the prince from the wall, escorting him towards the menacing gateway.  

Every sense in the elf’s body screamed to run away from the darkness flowing from between the open doors.  He knew it and he feared it more than almost anything.  One thing kept his feet moving steadily forward: Aragorn was in there.  

Once they were inside, the door shut behind them without being touched. 

The elf forced his gait not to falter when he saw the Nazgûl standing in the center of the room.  What did cause his blood to rise and his steps to halt, was the figure that lay at the Nazgûl’s feet.  Aragorn lay curled on his side, facing away from Legolas.  His chest was heaving and his whole body trembled.  His hands were bound in front of him with a thick twist of rope.  His exposed flesh was covered in a multitude of crisscrossing red lines. 

Legolas’ heart raged at seeing his friend like that and he tried to rush forward, only to be held back by Yrin’s iron grip on his upper arms. 

The Nazgûl looked from Aragorn’s shaking form to the elf that had been brought to him.  He shook out the flail end of his rod, now stained dully with the ranger’s blood.  “Your friend does not know how to answer questions, elf.  Do you, I wonder?” 

Legolas was silent, his attention focused on Aragorn.  He could really only see the man’s back, but the ranger looked bad.  Very bad.  

The Wraith kicked the ranger roughly, rolling Aragorn over so that he was facing Legolas.  With a start, Legolas was caught by his friend’s hurting gaze.  Aragorn’s eyes, although dulled by overwhelming pain, were almost fever-bright with awareness.  They locked onto Legolas like a lifeline and the elf felt his throat swell shut.  The ranger’s shoulder wound was bleeding freely.  The black, poisoned blood staining his friend’s pale skin turned the elf’s stomach.  

“I have been trying to figure out what you two are hiding.  Why is it that this man, this mortal ranger, inspires the loyalty of elves and wizards?  Either he holds a great secret, or you are all part of some conspiracy against my Master.  Do you wish to answer this riddle for me, elf?  Either for your sake or his?” the Nazgûl inquired, almost conversationally. 

Legolas’ lips tightened as they always did when he was upset.  “I find it useless to answer questions when the person asking them will never be satisfied,” he replied bluntly.  “I am certain Strider told you everything there was to tell.  If you are not satisfied, I can add nothing more.”  The elf did not know what his friend had said and could not risk contradicting the human.  They should have worked their stories out ahead of time, but the thought came too late to help them now. 

The Nazgûl put his foot on Aragorn’s side, holding him to the floor as he pressed his cruel wand against the flat of the ranger’s stomach.  

Aragorn cried out and turned his head harder against the stone floor.  Crushing the side of his face against the clammy stones he clenched his eyes closed.  He had no strength reserves left with which to fight the pain.  His body was worn down and exhausted.  

“What are you hiding, ranger?” the Nazgûl questioned, his voice showing how much he enjoyed what he was doing.  “If you won’t tell me, perhaps your friend will, for your sake.” 

Aragorn’s back arched and he whimpered in intense agony.  He twisted helplessly on the floor as the cruel rod struck him again and again.  

“Stop it!” Legolas jerked out of Yrinvan’s grip on his arms.  The slave scrabbled desperately to hold him, but he was no match for the elf.  Throwing himself forward, Legolas dropped to his knees, wrapping his body protectively around Aragorn’s shuddering frame.  “Leave him be!” 

The Witch-king glowered, both irritated and amused.  He jabbed the blunt tip of his rod between Legolas’ shoulder blades.  The elf cried out into Aragorn’s hair, gripping his friend’s shoulders tightly as pulsing agony swept through his being.  The Nazgûl kept the wicked prod in place, turning it in a slow circle and making the elf cry out helplessly as he punished the prince for interrupting him.  

When the Wraith finally pulled it away, Legolas slumped forward against his friend’s body, trembling lightly.  Valar, was this what Aragorn had been enduring all this time?  The very thought made the elf want to weep.  He should have been here. 

“What, and let you take his place?  Is that what you want?  Your valiant concern will get you nowhere with me, elf,” the Nazgûl warned darkly.  “You forget how well I know you.  Your own pain means nothing to you.  But I will crush him slowly before your eyes and we’ll see which of you breaks first.” 

Aragorn felt Legolas’ body tensing defiantly against his own.  The ranger realized with sinking certainty that the elf was determined to steer the Nazgûl’s attention away from the human and focus it upon himself.  His friend had done it for him before, in other situations, but the ranger could not allow it now.  The price Legolas usually paid for such action was far too heavy.  Aragorn’s pain-fogged eyes sought his friend’s face in agonized concern.  He was too gone, his system too overloaded from the Wraith’s wicked torture to even speak, but his eyes begged his friend not to get in the way, not to put himself between the Nazgûl’s wrath and its intended victim.  

That was one plea Legolas could not honor.  The elf panted raggedly for breath, still reeling.  “Leave him be,” Legolas gasped out after a moment, when his voice came back to him.  “You think you know everything, but you are a fool!  He is not the one who’s hiding something from you.” 

“And you are, my rebellious little slave?” the Wraith purred, his voice suggesting that that was not a surprise. 

“Yes,” Legolas nodded, straightening up a little.  Aragorn tried to shake his head, his eyes widening as he vehemently protested what his friend was about to do.  The elf ignored him.  

“You ask who he is, but you miss the point.  Why not ask who I am?  Or do you suppose because you owned my body for a time that you know me?  You do not.  I am Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil, Elven-king of Greenwood the Great,” Legolas confessed his own identity without reservation.  Of the two of them, he had less to lose from a revelation of royalty.  “If my friend is hiding anything, he was doing so on my behalf.” 

Aragorn’s heart sank.  Dol Guldur had long been attempting to swallow Mirkwood whole.  The wood-elves and their allies were the only reason the Wraiths and other evil things that dwelt there had not yet succeeded in making another Mordor out of the once fair woods.  The knowledge that one of the most deadly servants of darkness now held the prince of those wood-elves in his clutches was no small thing.  

The Witch-king chuckled darkly.  “Well my little princeling, you have been holding out on me... but you think I did not already know that?  I know so much more than you think... but I am glad to hear it from you.”  

Legolas couldn’t tell if the dark creature was telling the truth, or lying to manipulate their fear of him, but it barely mattered.  Legolas knew the Wraith would try to use him against his people, but he also knew that he would die before he would betray them.  His father loved him and would bargain for his life if he could, but he was a king first and foremost.  No matter how much it would hurt Thranduil, Legolas knew his father would choose the good of his people over the life of his son if it had to come down to that kind of choice.  That knowledge relieved the prince, who would have had it no other way. 

The Wraith circled them.  “But the question still remains... who is he?” 

“He told you,” Legolas snapped slightly, irritated by the constant return to that question.  “He is Strider, one of the Dunèdain.” 

The Wraith shook his shrouded head.  The answer did not please him.  “Yes, yes, so he has said over and over.  So you both told me many years ago.  Then, I believed you, but now... No.  I am certain that is what he is... but it is not all he is.  The fire in his eyes has grown.  I cannot get into his mind and he refuses to fade... you cannot tell me he is merely another mortal, even a normal West-man.  What is Imladris up to, breeding mortal elves?  What do they hope to prove?  For what mission have they molded him?  Who or what is he?” the dark being inquired again, stroking the tip of his rod down Legolas’ spine.  The prince’s clothing did nothing to dull the pain of the contact.   

The elf could not muffle his gasping cry as he hunched sharply forward, clinging tighter to Aragorn’s body.  

“What are you both so desperate to hide from me?” the Nazgûl demanded, rotating the cruel instrument down around Legolas’ ribs and then back up the elf’s back, pressing it hard against the side of his neck.  “Who is he, that a prince of the Eldar would face torment and death to protect him?” 

Legolas almost screamed, but didn’t.  A white-hot haze of pain enveloped his consciousness and for a few moments he knew nothing else but the searing agony pulsing from the touch of the Wraith’s rod. Legolas sobbed for breath when he was finally released.  All his senses were screeching and he could see nothing, hear nothing and feel nothing but the searing aftershocks of the Nazgûl’s torture. 

The Wraith’s soft voice hissed though the fog of his agony, seductive and soft this time.  “Who is he?” 

“He is my brother,” Legolas gasped out hoarsely, picking his head up with difficulty so he could glare at the Witch-king.  Not even the evil one could deny the fire of honesty in the elf’s burning gaze. 

The Nazgûl hissed in anger.  The elf seemed to be speaking the truth, but it was not possible.  “Do not take me for a fool.  This human is no relation of yours.” 

Legolas smiled defiantly.  “Once again, you are wrong.”  He clasped his left hand with Aragorn’s right, letting the almost faded scars on their palms press together before pulling them apart to show the Wraith.  “His blood runs in my veins, and mine in his.” 

The Witch-king’s aura darkened.  He did not like the way the elf challenged him.  “I will break him,” he promised. 

Legolas’ eyes sparked and crackled with an inner flame.  “Never,” he said with certainty.  He knew his friend would die before allowing darkness to devour him.  

At a nod from the Witch-king, Yrinvan took Legolas by the shoulders and pulled him away from Aragorn.  The elf reacted violently.  Yrin fought to hold him for a moment before he was knocked back sprawling.  A second later the prince’s struggle was sharply checked by a jolt of burning pain that froze him in place as the Nazgûl’s rod connected with the back of his head and neck.  

As the yellow haze before his eyes cleared, the elf found himself being snapped firmly into a set of wall-mounted manacles.  Yrin would not meet his eyes as he clicked the cuffs in place.  The servant was only doing his job.  That didn’t mean he liked what it entailed. 

Yrinvan flinched, but did not seem surprised when the Nazgûl snapped the blistering thong on the top of his rod across the servant’s shoulders, delivering a blinding shock of pain even through his clothes.  The servant endured several more such blows without sound or movement before the Nazgûl shoved him to the side.  “Control the prisoners, idiot!” 

“Yes, Master,” Yrin’s voice wavered only slightly, his hands clenched at his sides.  He was obviously working to control his breathing.  His stoic reactions suggested long and painful familiarity with this instrument of punishment. 

“Now...” The Nazgûl turned back to Aragorn.  “I give you another chance to speak the truth to me.  If you chose to ignore it, I will rescind that opportunity until after your next lesson.” 

Aragorn turned his face to the floor and closed his eyes.  He would tell the Nazgûl nothing.  His fate would not lighten if the Wraith learned the true answer to his puzzle.  It could only get worse.  The ranger had no desire for a personal meeting with Sauron himself.  He was sure the Witch-king would turn him over if he knew he held the last Heir of Isildur.   

“Very well.”  The Nazgûl almost sounded pleased.  It was enjoyable to face a challenge.  His slaves would perish in terror at the mere hint of their Master’s displeasure.  Sometimes he tormented them to amuse himself, but they presented him no obstacles and there was no sport in such pastimes.  The ranger and the elf were a different story. 

Dragging Aragorn to his knees again by a hand in the ranger’s hair, the Wraith shoved him into the arms of the waiting orcs.  Striding over to one of the tables, the Nazgûl sorted through the various wicked looking items strewn across the top.  When he found what he sought, he returned to his waiting prisoner.  

“The refusal to speak gives you a control of this situation, Ranger, is that what you think?” he inquired casually.  “Many think so.  They believe silence is their weapon...” The Nazgûl dangled a strange looking contraption of leather straps and rusted buckles from his right hand.  Something that resembled a medium-sized pear was visible among the other trappings.  “But they are wrong.  It is my weapon.  When you are silent, you are mine.  When you are silent you are offering me nothing that will ease your torment.” 

Before Aragorn realized what the Wraith was up to, the Nazgûl put one hand on the back of the ranger’s head and forced the hard pear into the human’s mouth.  The oddly shaped ball was covered with leather, but seemed to be fashioned out of wood or metal underneath because there was no give to it as it was forced between the human’s jaws.  Aragorn gagged and tried to spit the intrusion back out, but the Nazgûl’s hand clamped roughly on his chin, holding the gag in place as he pushed the straps behind the human’s head and pulled them tight.  

The ranger tossed his head, trying to dislodge the gag, but it was very secure.  One end of the pear was connected to a thick leather strap that covered Aragorn’s lips and wrapped around his head, fastening in the back.  The pear was too large to fit comfortably in the ranger’s mouth and his jaw protested being stretched so hard.  He gagged again, almost throwing up when the wicked device pressed too deeply into his throat.  He could make no sound around the gag; he could barely breathe around it.  His eyes watered and stung.  He couldn’t swallow and ended up bruising the roof of his mouth painfully when he tried.  Panic made his heart race.  

“You see?” the Nazgûl patted Aragorn’s head as if the ranger were a disobedient dog he was training.  “Silence is now my weapon.  You can not make a sound, not even to scream, until I release you.  You couldn’t stop me now even if you would.” 

The Wraith pulled a long, black hood down over the human’s head, covering Aragorn’s face.  The ranger was engulfed in complete darkness.  The air in the hood quickly became stuffy, making breathing around the gag even more difficult.  Now mute and blind, the ranger was dragged to his feet and made to stand in the center of the room.  

Legolas watched with apprehension as Aragorn’s bound hands were pulled over his head.  A large hook on a chain dangled from the ceiling.  The orcs forced it between Aragorn’s wrists, snagging the ropes.  Several of the creatures grabbed the other end of the chain and pulled.  The chain slid around the beam it was slung over with a groan of protest, lifting the ranger off his feet.  

Aragorn moaned softly around the gag as his wounded shoulder was strained.  The pressure on his lungs did not help his breathing.  

“Now,” the Nazgûl’s voice spoke to the ranger from beyond the darkness confining him.  “You are mine.  I control all your senses, and I choose to allow you only one...”  He ran the tip of his rod along the strong curve of the ranger’s spine.  “Pain.” 

Aragorn jerked, nearly choking himself when he bit down too hard on the gag in his mouth.  He dangled helplessly in a vacuum, devoid of light, speech and sound.  He could do nothing but feel the blazing waves of agony sweeping through him.  The hood and gag could not account for his entire sense of isolation.  Some part of his mind that was still clear enough to think rationally knew the Nazgûl was clouding his perceptions again.  The Wraith continued running the prod up and down the human’s spine until everyone in the room could hear the soft, strangled cries half trapped behind the mask and gag.  

“Strider!” Legolas cried out his friend’s name, twisting violently in his bonds as he was forced to watch the cruel scene playing out before him.  Aragorn’s body dangled from the ceiling, tensing and arching under the Nazgûl’s relentless torture.  The elf could feel the dark cloud emanating from the Wraith.  It was not directed at him, but it still made him shudder.  It burned his heart to know that that malevolent darkness was being focused upon his friend.  

Aragorn did not seem to be able to hear the elf.  The only voice he could hear in the darkness was that of the Nazgûl, constantly whispering in his ears.  The words became almost as much a torment as the pain wracking his body.  He wanted to scream, to get away... but he could not make a sound.  His throat constricted and his heart raced.  In desperation, he tried to scream Legolas’ name around the gag. 

The word came out an indistinguishable whisper, but the elf tensed in his bonds.  He recognized the syllables of his name, even if the ranger could not form the exact word.  

“I’m here!  Estel, I’m here!” Legolas replied, his heart aching.  He twisted his wrists harder, but to no avail. 

Aragorn did not respond, it sounded as if he were still trying to choke Legolas’ name over and over, although it was quickly turning into incoherent sobs and gasps.  

The Nazgûl turned towards Legolas for a moment, and the elf could swear the creature was smirking, even though such a thing was impossible to see.  “He can’t hear you elf.  He’s in my world and nothing and nobody can reach him.” The Wraith turned back to his work, snapping the supple tip of his rod under the ranger’s chin.  Aragorn’s head jerked back, but the Nazgûl did not let him escape, delivering another blow, this one lower down across the man’s collarbones.  “You are alone,” the Nazgûl hissed in the ranger’s ear as the man’s head fell forward, his chest heaving.  “You are alone in the dark, and you are mine.” 

Legolas’ eyes blazed.  “Pêd ú-thenid!  He lies!” The elf’s voice was just under a shout.  “Lasto beth-nín, Estel.  Pêd ú-thenid!  Le ú-erui!  Im sí.  Im sí!  Listen to me, Estel.  He lies!  You are not alone!  I am here.  I am here!” 

The elvish words seemed to penetrate the darkness that Aragorn was trapped inside.  He turned his head in Legolas’ direction, latching tightly onto the elf’s presence. 

The Nazgûl’s aura darkened as he whirled around to face the elf.  “Silence!” he thundered in his own dark tongue.  He was incensed at having anyone interfere with his work.  The elf’s bond with the human was strong, but he would tolerate no interruptions. “You will not speak that tongue again in my presence!” his voice was a deadly hiss.  

Legolas flinched slightly at the assault of the Black Speech on his ears, but took a small amount of satisfaction in knowing that the Nazgûl found his own Elvish words nearly as repugnant.  

The Nazgûl turned back to the ranger, and Aragorn whimpered softly, feeling the return of the dark presence crush down upon him.  

Im innas na dínen!  I will not be silent!”  Legolas’ eyes snapped fire.  “Ú-caro lasta, Estel!  Do not listen to him, Estel!” 

The Nazgûl turned quickly, closing the distance between them in a few paces.  “If you cannot hold your tongue, Slave, I will silence it for you,” he promised.  His glare turned and fell upon Yrinvan who almost flinched.  “Bring me a bridle,” the Wraith commanded. 

Yrinvan obeyed, knowing what his Master desired.  He repressed a swell of disgust as he picked up an intricate collection of metal and leather from the same table the Nazgûl had gone to before.  He hated being part of proceedings like these. 

The Witch-king trapped Legolas’ chin in his hand, glaring into the elf’s steely blue eyes.  “Have you ever seen the way a rebellious horse is broken, elf?  His handlers will bridle him, to accustom him to the bit.  If he refuses to submit, they will deny him food and water until the fire has gone out of his eyes.” 

Legolas restrained a small shudder.  He understood what the Nazgûl meant to do to him. 

The Wraith took the bridle from Yrin and handed it to the orcs standing beside him.  “Muzzle the elf,” he commanded. It was an order they were only too happy to obey.  

Legolas pulled back, trying to twist his head away as the evil, gnarled fingers grabbed at him.  The chains left him nowhere to escape and the orcs pinned him brutally against the wall.  Trapping his head, they forced the leather straps of the contraption over his head.  Thick fasteners were tightened around his forehead.  They pried his jaws open with grasping, pinching claws and a sharp, barbed bit was shoved between his lips.  Legolas bucked and fought them, but they pressed the device further into his mouth.  It clanked painfully against his teeth as he thrashed.  Finally it fell into place.  The thick, barbed bar pressed down painfully against his tongue, trapping it to the bottom of his mouth.  The snaffle and horizontal bars leading away from the bit dug deeply into the corners of the elf’s mouth as they curved out to join the leather cheek straps.  The cheek straps connected to the brow-band and to another band running behind the back of the elf’s neck via a series of buckles.  The orcs fastened the last clasp behind the elf’s head and cinched the buckles resting against his cheeks tight, firmly trapping Legolas into the despicable harness.  

When they released the prince he tossed his head from side to side, very much like a wild stallion trying to shake off the stinging bridle placed upon him.  He attempted to speak, but found that he could not.  The bar in his mouth prevented him from forming words and gouged his tongue sharply when he tried. 

The mute frustration and hint of shame in the proud elf’s glare when he finally had to drop his head and admitted defeat made the Nazgûl laugh.  Taking hold of the left cheek strap he gave the prince’s head a vicious shake, making the bit bang against Legolas’ teeth and cut the inside of his mouth ruthlessly. 

The prince tried hard not to let the pain show in his face; he already felt more than adequately humiliated.  He attempted to swallow the blood in his mouth, but the bridle did not allow him to fully close his lips or jaw.  It was a little gesture, but his sheer helplessness to do even such a small, natural motion, ate at the pit of his stomach.  One of the orcs took the opportunity to punch the elf in the gut and Legolas doubled forward.  When he came back up again, bright trails of crimson blood snaked down the sides of his chin, following the line of the bars and straps that were digging harshly into his flesh. 

This amused the Nazgûl greatly.  He patted the elf’s cheek.  “I will have uses for you later, Slave.  For now, my business is with your friend.” 

Legolas watched in agonized, enforced silence as the Nazgûl stalked back to where Aragorn dangled.  The ranger shifted anxiously in his bonds, trying weakly to shake the hood off his head so he could see what was happening. 

Aragorn was confused, disorientated.  When the Nazgûl’s attention turned on Legolas he was able to hear what was going on, but he wished he could see as well as hear.  What he could hear told him that Legolas was in trouble.  The satisfied growl of orcs sent shivers down the human’s aching spine.  Whatever had been done to take Legolas’ voice away was doubtless no less brutal than what had been done to him and he feared for his friend.  When he felt the Nazgûl’s hands brush his back his whole body cried out for escape.  He did not know how much more of this he could take.  The Wraith did not speak to him, but jabbed his rod between the human’s shoulder blades.  Behind the layers of restrictions, Aragorn sobbed.