Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 15: Arachnophobia

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Yrin thought he could hear his heart stop beating.  Oh stars, the elf was gone and he was dead.  What had happened?! 

Aragorn was no less alarmed.  He turned to Yrin, his face darkened by fear and misgiving.  “Yrin, what is going on?  What has been done with him?” 

“I-I don’t know, I swear!” Yrinvan shook his head.  “If he’s escaped...” he could not finish the thought. 

Aragorn interrupted Yrin adamantly, “He would not have left without me.  Something’s wrong!”  He wished he could believe that escape was the reason for Legolas’ disappearance, but he knew otherwise. 

Yrin raised his hands, trying to get the ranger to calm down.  “Strider, I promise you I do not know what’s going on anymore than you do.  But I will find out.  Wait here.”  The servant let himself out of the cell quickly, locking the door behind him. 

Aragorn leaned against the closed door.  Twining his hands around the grate near the top, he pressed his forehead against the cool wood.  The sudden uncertainty and concern was nauseating.  Mixing the unexpected, sickening worry with lack of sleep and poor physical condition, caused the ranger to feel ill.  He had to battle to keep his stomach from heaving. 

Yrin strode quickly down the hall, looking for someone to question.  Almost everything that went on in this place did so under his supervision.  To suddenly be in the dark about where one of his prisoners had gone, was enough to make him ill.  He pulled up short when he was confronted with Retzhrak’s large form, lurking in a doorway.  The orc straightened up when he saw the human, greeting him with a feral smile. 

A cold, sinking feeling settled in the pit of Yrin’s stomach. 

“Retzhrak, the elf is not in his cell, did you remove him?” he demanded.  The keys had been in the hall; anyone could have opened that door.  Usually, no one would have dared, but someone obviously had this time. 

“Master sent for him,” the big orc growled.  “Got some big plan for him, he does.  You weren’t handy, so Master asked us to fetch him.” Retzhrak gestured behind him with his misshapen head, indicating several of the orcs that stood just behind him in the shadows. 

“Funny thing when we went to get him.  He was unchained... and alone.”  The orc’s yellow eyes held maliciously gleeful condemnation.  “Master says they’re never to leave the cell unless he sends for ‘em.  This morning, all he wanted was the elf.  Leave the human he says.  But there was no human to leave.  Where was he, I wonder?  Everyone knows there’s only one person besides Master who has the keys for prisoner chains.  Who do you think that would be, Slave-man?  I’m thinking that would be you.” 

Yrinvan scowled at the orc, refusing to let the creature see the bubbles of fear churning in his stomach.  He wasn’t afraid of the orc, but he was very afraid of what the creature would tell the Nazgûl.  After last night, Yrin knew he was walking on thin ice.  The Wraith would not forgive him another trespass or even the hint of a trespass right now. 

“I believe you think too much,” the human said with cold disdain.  “You should not attempt tasks that are so ill-suited for you.  The Master put these prisoners in my care.  If I judge they need to be out of the wall restraints for awhile, then that is my business.  The door locks are just as effective.  The human is right in the cell where he belongs, and I dare you to prove otherwise.” 

“I’m sure he is now, wormie,” Retzhrak sneered.  “But it’s our word against yours that he weren’t earlier.  And there were plenty of us to see that empty cell.  I bet some of your precious slave friends would agree, if asked properly.  I think this is one you won’t be able to squeal yourself out of so slick.  Master will be very interested in our side of the story.” 

Yrin’s heart was pumping in his throat as he tried to consider his options.  The Nazgûl would take his word over that of an orc’s most of the time, but his against all of them?  Especially after last night?  His stomach clenched.  The other slaves were loyal to him, but if their own lives were on the line he knew they would admit to having seen him and the ranger together.  The thin ledge of leeway he had been surviving on thus far had just run out. 

Yet he knew, that if Retzhrak were only interested in getting him killed, the Witch-king would already have been informed of his disobedience and he would be hanging from a gibbet in one of the Wraith’s torture rooms.  The fact that the orc was still threatening him and not yet acting out those threats told him there must be some room for negotiation. 

“What do you want, Retzhrak?” Yrinvan asked coldly.  He was not an easy man to blackmail, but at the moment it would seem he had no choice. 

“I want to put red-hot maggot holes in your belly, slave scum,” the orc replied, viciously candid.  “But I can wait for that.  Master won’t need you forever and when he’s tired of you, you’re mine.  Right now... I want the elf.  If you can have your way with the prisoners, so can I.  We have business with that one that we never finished.” 

Yrin’s fists balled at his sides.  “Don’t be ridiculous, Retzhrak!  The elf belongs to the Master.  He’d have both our heads if I let you play with him.” 

“Then talk to the Master,” the orc growled.  “Tell him we want our due.  That filthy elf killed a lot of my people when it came here.  We have our blood rights.  He won’t listen to me, but you tell him and he’ll listen.”  Retzhrak proved that he was, unfortunately, much smarter than most people expected. 

Yrinvan glared at the orc.  His heart twisted.  After what Strider had just done for him, granting Retzhrak’s cruel request felt like quite a betrayal.  Unfortunately he did not see what other options he possessed. 

“All right, I will speak with the Master about it when he has time.  I’ll relay your request, but that is all.  I am not about to stick my neck out for you,” the slave said heatedly.  He hated having to do this, but at least he would make sure the Nazgûl set limits on whatever the orcs had in mind. 

Retzhrak grabbed the front of Yrin’s tunic.  He pulled the man close until the slave was almost overpowered by the orc’s foul breath. 

“Oh you better do better than just ask, wormie.  We get our request, or we go to the Master with our own little story.  Then maybe we get your woman back and your brats too.  I like the little ones.  Tender meat they have and they squeal so well when you pluck out their eyes.  Oh, we’d have a lot of fun with them.  Keep that in mind!” He released Yrin with a brutal shove. 

Yrin could not catch himself and fell hard against the wall, sinking halfway to the floor.  He pulled himself up again quickly, his glare tinted with ice, yet realizing that this time his domination would not win.  He slowly straightened his tunic. 

“Touch me again, Retzhrak.  I dare you,” he hissed.  “Touch me again and I will tell the Master.  Then it will not matter what you say.  Don’t you ever DARE to threaten my family again!  Remember you’re not the only one who has things they could tell the Master,” the headservant threatened darkly. 

Turning on his heel he stalked away.  He would, unfortunately, have to do as the orcs asked.  Despite what he said to Retzhrak, he knew that the orcs’ damaging testimony could get his family into trouble too deep to escape.  He cringed inwardly.  What was it that Strider had said last night?  Not everyone in this world will betray you?  The slave shook his head sadly.  The man did not yet understand the cruel reality of this place.

At least he knew where the elf was now.  Although going back to tell Strider that his friend was with the Nazgûl for reasons he did not know, was not going to be the best news he could have delivered. 


“What is it?  What did you find?” Elladan called as he ran lightly across the snow clad earth towards the forest’s edge.  Elrohir was not far behind him.  Their breath fogged and hung upon the frozen air. 

They had found the area where Beoma described the battle taking place and continued on to the branch in the river where the Beornings had separated from their missing friends.  From there, it was difficult to decide where to go next.  Time and heavy snows had effectively erased or buried any tracks that might have helped them.  They had been searching for several days now, but were not sure what exactly they hoped to find.  It was obvious no one had been here for a long period of time.  Whatever tracks there had been, were long ago buried under a blanket of snow. 

Shouts from across the river brought Elladan and Elrohir hurrying to rejoin their wood-elf companions.  The twins jumped lightly across a broken line of stones that loosely bridged the river.  Ice on the stream’s bank crackled underfoot. 

Raniean was kneeling by the base of a gigantic, hollow oak tree.  The mammoth giant was bedecked with glistening icicles.  A strange symbol seemed to have been etched into the rough bark of the tree.  The oak’s trunk was frosted along one side with a thin layer of clinging snow.  One of the two wood-elves had brushed the snow away from the etching, making it stand out even more. 

“What are those marks?” Elrohir asked as he and his brother came to a halt. 

Trelan ran his fingers over the chipped bark.  “It’s a sign.  Our warriors use them to mark paths.  This is Legolas’ sign.  Due to the way it’s situated, Raniean thinks he left something here.” 

“And that would be?” Elladan leaned over Raniean’s shoulder as the wood-elf rose to his feet. 

Raniean sighed, his fingers tightly closed around something in his palm.  “You aren’t going to like this,” he warned.  Opening his hand he passed Elladan a little leather pouch, such as was often used by the brothers to carry herbs.  There was a hard, round object inside the pouch. 

Elladan hesitated to open the bag.  It was tied off with a semi-distinctive type of slipknot he liked to use.  He had been attempting to teach his little brother how to do the knot before Estel left Rivendell.  The knot had been loosened enough to let the mouth of the bag gape open.  Raniean had already seen whatever was inside the pouch.  Taking a deep breath, the eldest twin emptied the bag into his hand.  His heart sank. 

The ring of Barahir shone dully against his skin.  The green stone winked dimly in the fading light. 

“Oh no...” Elrohir voiced the emotion for both of them.  “Not again.  Not Estel.” 

It was not the first time finding Barahir had been a harbinger of ill tidings for their little brother.  Nor was it the first time in the past year or so that they had had a loved one disappear and been left with only a token that told them that wherever they were going, it was not good.  

What would have caused Aragorn to abandon such a historic and personal item?  Elrohir closed his eyes tightly and Elladan squeezed his shoulder comfortingly. 

Raniean and Trelan exchanged worried looks.  Legolas and Aragorn had both been here, but the signs said it was months ago.  Where were they now?  Where could they even begin to look? 


Legolas gave the manacles around his wrists an experimental tug.  Unfortunately, they held quite firmly.  Resigning himself to the fact that he could not escape, he stared up at the ceiling above him and tried not to think too much.  He knew all too well that, in situations like this, your own mind could be your worst enemy.  It conjured up horrible possibilities with which to fill the empty minutes.  His own long history of such experiences had given his mind plenty of references upon which to draw.  

Held flat on his back on the floor, Legolas waited to find out why he had been brought here.  He looked from side to side, but all he could see was the wooden frame onto which he was chained.  His ankles were fastened directly to the floor, but his arms were locked inside iron cuffs that were connected to the wooden frame on either side of him.  The orcs had removed his tunics, chained him in place and left him.  

He was neither pleased nor surprised, when the door opened and he felt the dark swirl of the Nazgûl’s presence enter the room.  Lifting his head, he watched the Nazgûl place a large metal chest of some kind upon a rough stone ledge built into one of the walls.  The elf’s sharp senses picked up the sounds of movement from inside the casket.  

“Where is Strider?” the elf demanded coldly. 

The Wraith seemed amused at being interrogated by a person who was chained to the floor.  “He is not my interest today.  You are.  Some of my underlings are concerned about how much his fragile human body can take.  I had thought to give him a day to recover, unless you displease me, in which case I shall resume his lessons immediately.  Do you want me to do that, Slave?” the Wraith inquired harshly. 

“No.”  Legolas lay his head back against the floor.  He would be the Nazgûl’s amusement for the day if it bought his friend a little much needed time to recuperate.  

The Witch-king laughed.  “Still so willing to sacrifice yourself for others, Slave?  Even when you served me, I never understood this about you.  You did not make a very good slave then.  It will be different this time.”  The Wraith slowly worked the latches on the iron chest in the corner of the room.  

“I erred last time,” he continued in a toneless voice.  “I thought I could subdue the will of an Elda by force.  It was successful for a time perhaps, but ultimately futile.  I will not make such a mistake again.  When you come to serve me, it will be by your own choice.” 

“Then it will never happen,” Legolas said bluntly, still staring up at the ceiling.  

“We will see.”  The Wraith seemed unconcerned.  “Time changes many things, and you and I have that time to spend, do we not?  Unlike your mortal friend.  I judge you will learn slower than he, but even so, in the meantime, you can still be useful to me, your highness.” 

Legolas shifted in his bonds.  He did not like the way the Nazgûl chose to use his title.  “If you think I will betray anything about my people to you, then I severely overestimated your intelligence.”  His tone was flat, a compromise between resignation and defiance. 

“I didn’t expect that you would.  However, I do not need your compliance for you to help me,” the Witch-king assured, ignoring the elf’s insult for the moment.  The prince would be paying for his misconduct soon enough.  “You see, I received something very special from Dol Guldur recently.  Something I think you will recognize.” 

The Wraith opened a small door in the side of the chest, exposing the dark interior.  For a moment nothing happened and the skittering sounds inside halted.  Then a few long, thin, dark legs appeared around the edges of the opened hatch, testing the air. 

Legolas’ gaze fixed on the opening in a mixture of confusion and apprehension as he realized what was inside the container. 

Two black-bodied spiders, a little bigger than a man’s fist, crawled hesitantly out of the chest.  Presently they were joined by a few more.  Continued sounds of movement inside the trunk suggested that these creatures were merely a few of many. 

The Wraith saw the recognition in the elf’s eyes.  “You are familiar with our spiders, I think?  As you can tell, these are only babies, but we have high hopes for this brood.  They are being specially trained.  When they grow up, they will not be merely an irritating menace.  They will be highly skilled assassins with a taste for elf blood.  Correction, your highness, thanks to you, they will have a taste for royal elf blood.” 

Suddenly, as if with unspoken consent, the spiders surged forward.  A dark wave of small, scuttling bodies streamed out of the opened gateway from all angles.  They poured out of the hole in their previous prison and down the wall like a liquid wave.  The Nazgûl’s will guided their small minds, driving them forward.  

Legolas’ body tensed as the spiders swarmed towards him.  As soon as they hit the floor he could not see them anymore, but he could hear them: a thousand small, sticky feet pattering around him.  He felt them through his leggings as they crawled up his legs and then they reached his naked arms and chest.  The contact made his flesh crawl as their small feet brushed over him, tickling and pricking in a very disturbing manner.  The elf tried to repress a shudder of horror as he felt their barbed legs tangle lightly in his hair, moving about there. 

He didn’t know when the first one bit him; it seemed as if they all started at once.  Small, stinging pricks covered every inch of exposed flesh and nipped him through his leggings.  Legolas bucked sharply, twisting in his bonds and trying to throw the small creatures off of him.  They swarmed over his face and Legolas’ heart raced in helpless terror.  He tossed his head desperately from side to side, but he could not escape them.  

The Witch-king chuckled darkly.  “You see?  You shall help me.  I shall train them to feed on your blood.  Once they have a taste for you, all other food shall seem to them unsatisfactory.  They shall crave elf blood, and most of all the blood of your kin.” 

Buried under the swarm, Legolas emitted a short gasp as he desperately scrubbed his head back and forth upon the stone floor.  The motion got several of the spiders even more tangled in his long blond hair and they bit at him viciously.  The elf was hyperventilating.  Every inch of his flesh was crawling and he could not suppress his horror.  

“Oh yes,” the Wraith purred, reveling in the elf’s distress.  “They aren’t lethal yet, not when they’re so small.  Once they are grown however... they will be ideal killers.  No walls can stop them; no defenses can keep them out.  All it takes is one.  Tell me, does your father sleep with the windows of his chambers open?” 

Legolas’ heart tightened painfully.  He happened to know that Thranduil did sleep with his windows open most of the time.  Valar, no, don’t let this succeed.  Don’t let the Wraiths use him against his father and his people this way! 

The Nazgûl did not expect an answer; he was merely taunting the prince.  “It matters little.  Even if he does not, there are vents, doorways... They will find a way.” 

Legolas wanted to scream.  The pain from the stings had not been particularly bad at first, but as bite layered upon bite and the spider venom flowed into his system, his nerves began to shriek.  The spiders were everywhere.  He had to close his eyes to keep them out, but he could feel them biting his eyelids. 

Their strong legs and stinging fangs probed everywhere.  He could feel them in his hair, his ears, prying at his tightly closed lips, crawling over his nose and hindering his breathing.  Panic engulfed him fully.  He wanted to cry out but he was afraid to open his mouth.  His body twisted in its bonds, squirming painfully against the rough stone floor beneath him.  The spiders crawled under him and he smashed some of them with his body. 

The Nazgûl did not intend to let the elf harm too many of his prodigies.  He nodded to several orcs that had entered the room without Legolas’ notice.  The orcs moved forward, working a wheel mechanism connected to the frame holding the prince’s arms.  The frame creaked upright, dragging the elf into a sitting position.  The change in position effectively removed any hindrance to the spiders’ conquest and any way he had to fight back. 

The prince tossed his head even more wildly, desperate to shake the arachnids.  It did no good.  They surged up his back as well as his chest, crawling over and into his clothing and spreading fire throughout his entire body. 

Legolas struggled fiercely for several minutes, but the more venom entered his system, the more sluggish his movements became.  Creeping numbness spread through his body.  It was a sensation he recognized.  He had been spider-poisoned before and fear made his throat dry as he realized that he was going to be left paralyzed in the middle of this merciless swarm. 

His feelings did not dull.  The pain remained white-hot, a searing irritation that made him want to scratch his skin off.  Presently however, his muscles stopped responding to his brain and he hung limply from the frame.  The spiders continued to feed on him, drinking his blood and injecting their own, irritating poisons as they did.  Many of them stung him with their stingers as well as their fangs purely out of spite.  

Legolas’ head spun dizzily.  He wished he could pass out, but his consciousness lingered painfully.  He could not move.  All he could do was feel as the spiders crawled over him, biting, probing, drinking his blood and returning only pain and poison.  He could have cried at his helpless terror, but even that action was denied him.  

The Nazgûl’s chilling laughter filled his ears.


Aragorn rubbed his wrists absently.  It was good to be able to move, and the antidote Yrin gave him last night had cleared his head a bit.  Tinald brought him his midday meal, but he could barely eat.  His stomach was tied in knots.  It had been hours and Legolas was still gone. 

The pain in his shoulder intensified and Aragorn unconsciously pulled back into the corner of the room.  His body knew when the Nazgûl was near. 

Keys rattled in the lock. 

The door to the cell opened as it had a hundred times before, but for the first time Aragorn was as glad to see it as he was anxious of what lay beyond.  He had hoped that Legolas was being returned, but was startled when the prince’s body was flung into the cell. 

Legolas hit the ground hard and rolled several times.  He came to a stop face down, his golden hair tangled about his head and shoulders.  The elf did not move. 

Despite the dark waves of fear rolling off the Nazgûl standing over the limp elf, Aragorn crawled quickly forward, towards his friend.  The elf’s creamy skin was covered with a swollen, irritated red rash. 

Aragorn rolled Legolas onto his back, smoothing the tangled locks away from his face.  He started in alarm when he saw that Legolas’ unblinking eyes were partially open.  They stared at the ceiling and did not react.  The elf’s face was mottled.  His eyelids were nearly swollen shut, but remained partly cracked.  The blue orbs inside were glassy.  

“Legolas...” Aragorn touched his friend’s hot, flushed cheek gently.  “What did you do to him?!” the human demanded hoarsely, turning his burning gaze upon the Nazgûl standing over them. 

The Nazgûl just gave a low, amused hiss.  Turning, he stalked out of the room, closing and locking the door behind him. 

“Legolas, Legolas wake...” Aragorn shook his friend gently, trying to get some response from his friend.  He had never seen Legolas unconscious with his eyes open before and was alarmed about what was wrong with the elf. 

A shiver ran down Aragorn’s spine when Legolas’ blue eyes moved.  Slowly, almost painfully they turned to fix on Aragorn’s face.  The human’s heart froze as the spark of recognition passed between them.  He realized to his horror that Legolas was awake and completely aware.  For whatever reason, he was simply unable to move or respond. 

“Valar, what has he done to you...?” Aragorn whispered in horror. 

Legolas’ hair was still clinging in matted tangles to the prince’s face and Aragorn tried to sweep them away.  The golden tresses clung to the ranger’s fingers, sticking to his hands as he tried to pull free.  Looking closer he realized that sticky tendrils of webbing coated the elf’s hair and trailed down the sides of his face.  In the dim light, he could see more glittering trails covering the Prince’s red-pocked skin.  

Understanding came to the ranger slowly.  Upon closer inspection, the thousands of swollen blotches that created Legolas’ rash looked suspiciously like bites.  

Legolas must have been in this state for quite some time already for him to be regaining any kind of control back.  

The elf was a captive in his own body.  Legolas could feel Aragorn’s hands upon him, he could see and hear the ranger’s worry, but he could not respond.  His eyes moved at his command again now, but anything more than that was beyond his grasp.  It was maddening.  His body flamed like a searing prison around him.  He itched so badly he wanted to cry.  Without having any control over the situation, a single tear slid from the corner of his eye. 

Aragorn brushed it gently away.  He knew that Legolas must be in intense pain.  He wanted to help his friend, but he had nothing with which he could treat the elf, nothing that could ease his suffering.  The ranger fought to hold back his own tears as he held the elf’s gaze. 

Carefully, Aragorn ran his hands across the mottled surface of Legolas’ arms, back and stomach as he held the elf in his arms.  He hoped the contact would give a gentle distraction to the irritation and discomfort the multiple bites were no doubt causing his friend.  

“Hold on, Legolas...” he murmured into the elf’s sticky hair as he held Legolas upright against him.  “We’re going to make it, my friend.  Somehow...” his voice wavered.  Tears slid down his own cheeks.  “Somehow.”