Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 17: Walking the Edge

by Cassia and Siobhan

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I walk to the edge again, searching for the truth
Taken by the memories of all that I’ve been through
If I could hear your voice, I know that I would be okay
I know that I’ve been wrong but I’m begging you to stay,

Won't you stay...
Will you be here?  Or will I be alone.
Will I be scared?
You'll teach me how to be strong
And if I fall down will you help me carry on?

I cannot do this alone.

-- 12 Stones

After many long minutes of fighting the impossible gate, Aragorn sank to his knees, pressing his head against the bars.  His strength was gone, his head spinning.  Black and yellow spots danced before his eyes.  His body was too weak for him to force it through this much strain, too weak to deal with the heart-stopping horror and heartbreak pounding through him... too weak.  Aragorn balled his fists.  The Nazgûl was right.  He was always too weak and now his greatest fear about this whole situation was coming true.  Tears slid down his face and he sobbed softly in defeat.

The Nazgûl chuckled darkly.  There was a soft ‘snick’ sound followed by a loud thump.

Aragorn looked up quickly and found that the Nazgûl had cut Legolas down.  The elf lay on his side on the floor, gasping for breath.  His numb, fumbling fingers pried the rope away from his neck.  He convulsed, his shoulders shaking.  For a little while the prince had thought he was actually going to die.

“You are lucky that, for the present, I think he may still be of some use to me alive, human.  But remember, it is only my will that keeps him so.  Life is a gift I can revoke at any time, for both of you.  You would do well to remember that,” the Wraith threatened.  “Take them back to their cell.  The ranger has much to think about.”

Five orcs slowly raised the heavy iron gate via a pulley.  Legolas was not able to stand right away and one of the orcs moved to sling the elf over his shoulder.  Aragorn pushed the foul creature roughly out of the way and scooped the elf up in his own arms.  In his current state the weight was almost too much, but he would not let these evil beings touch his vulnerable friend.

Legolas insisted on being put down halfway back and Aragorn was not sorry to relinquish the burden.  He fingered the ugly rope burn around the prince’s neck gently as the two friends limped back into their cell.  The orcs yanked them apart, snapping them back into the chains on the wall.

“Legolas... I’m sorry... I couldn’t... I wasn’t....” Aragorn’s voice was soft and miserable as the orcs forced him back into his restraints.

“No one could have,” the elf’s voice was roughened from near strangulation, but firm.  “It was an impossible task, he knew that.  He only wanted to break you and steal your hope.”  The prince winced as the heavy collar was closed around his aching neck.  His windpipe ached fiercely and had swollen as a result of the abuse.  The elf had some difficulty breathing.

“He’s succeeding,” the ranger whispered.  The door shut behind the orcs.

“No,” Legolas’ scratchy voice was adamant.  “He cannot.  You must not allow it, Estel.”  The elf sighed, seeing the complete exhaustion written all over his friend’s face.  Aragorn was dying from the inside out, a little more every day.  He wondered how long it would be until... No!  He could not think that way.  Yet the relentless, redundant cycle of torment was slowly wearing away at both of them.  He wondered for a moment if Yrin was right and there really was no way out of this situation but death.

“Rest, Estel.  Get some sleep,” the elf said wearily.  He wished he could tell the human he would feel better later.


Elrond looked out over the edge of the library balcony, but did not see the view spread out before him.  His mind was literally a thousand miles away.

//”Your heart is troubled,”// Galadriel’s voice spoke in his mind, proving that she still had a knack for stating the obvious, as well as the hidden.  //”You have not contacted me thus in a very long time.  Yet I am not surprised.  I have felt evil stirring for some time now, since before Imladris was attacked, but I did not know what it was I sensed.  Something is in motion, I feel it from afar.  The shape of the future is changing, and it is not in favor of the foes of shadow.  This is about Estel, is it not?”//

Elrond’s hands were tight on the edge of the rail.  //”It is.  He and Legolas have disappeared.  You know I would not ask unless I felt it was of utmost importance, but...”//

//”I have already looked.”// Galadriel spared him from asking the question.  //”Elrond, he is hidden from me.  Great evil masks his presence.  I cannot see his present, or his future.”//

Elrond closed his eyes.  //”Neither can I,”// he admitted sadly before letting the connection between them fall away.  His eyes focused slowly back on the present and he saw figures hurrying across the courtyard below.  His head snapped up quickly.

Elladan and Elrohir were home.  Estel was not with them.

 Elrond forced himself to remain on the balcony.  The bad news could come to him just as well here.  He knew already that whatever tidings his sons brought it would not be good.

The twins’ faces confirmed that knowledge when they approached him.  Wordlessly, they held out the ring of Barahir.

Elrond accepted it slowly.  “He is gone?” he asked quietly, amazed that his voice could sound so calm.

“We don’t know,” Elladan answered, his own voice low and soft.  “We could find no trace of them save the ring.”

Elrond turned back to the balcony rail, Barahir clasped firmly in his palm.  It was not the first time he had stood here, holding this ring and wondering about Estel.  The last time, the human had left them by choice.  This time...

“He’ll be back, Ada, we will find him.  Won’t we?” Elrohir broke the oppressive silence, but it was more of a question than a statement.

Elrond’s head sank a little farther forward, but he did not reply.  He did not know.  Valar help him, he simply did not know.


“Legolas?”  Aragorn’s soft voice drifted to the elf through the semi-darkness of their cell.  Night had fallen and the small lamp that sat high above shed minimal light in the dreary room.

Looking across to where the ranger sat chained against the opposite wall, Legolas answered quietly. “Yes, I’m awake.”  His voice was no longer hoarse and he seemed to be recovering well.

“Tell me something.”

The elf laughed softly at the odd request.  “Tell you what?”

“Tell me what it is like to never get sick.”  The request was almost childlike in nature.

Legolas closed his eyes, resting his head against the rock wall behind him.  The chains on his manacles rattled quietly as he tried to move into a more comfortable position.

“I fear I’m hardly qualified to speak on that subject anymore, but what would you like to know?” Legolas answered with a question of his own.  He tried to keep his tone light and cheerful.  He could tell that his friend’s spirits were very low.

“How does it feel?”  Aragorn’s soft voice held a hint of sorrow.

Legolas wasn’t sure how to answer that question, for, to him, it was like trying to describe breathing. “Why?” he asked, hoping to understand what the man was really asking.

“I was remembering how it felt when you shared your life with me,” the ranger explained, a little hesitantly.  “It was almost more than I could comprehend.  It was like being made of light.  It was wonderful. They say sometimes that... that it’s like that when you die.  They say you never get sick, or hurt... I thought it sounded a little like being an elf.  I just wondered...” The man turned his head away, realizing he sounded incredibly foolish.

“You wondered what it felt like,” Legolas finished his friend’s statement gently.  The elf’s heart ached, but when Aragorn hesitantly nodded and raised his gaze, he could see only compassionate understanding in his friend’s blue eyes.

“I’m sorry,” the human whispered quietly.

Legolas shook his head.  They had faced many things together.  If and when it came, they could face death together with the same strength.  It was not a foe to be feared and Legolas did not begrudge the ailing human his question.  “You have nothing to apologize for.  I simply wish I could give you a better answer.  What is it like to never be sick... It - it’s hard to explain to someone who has never felt it before.”  Legolas struggled to find the right words.  “You should ask Glorfindel when we return.  He would know how best to answer you.  He has died, been to Mandos and returned.  He would have a good answer.”

Legolas could see the open gaze that the ranger laid on him.  His keen sight pierced even the gloom of their cell.

“I may not have that chance,” Aragorn whispered.  “Besides, you died and came back.  Just tell me the best you can.  I just want to know.”

With a small laugh, the elf nodded, conceding the point.  “I do not remember anything about it beyond passing out and waking up again!  However, you are correct I did.  Very well then, I will try my best.” 

For several minutes no one spoke as Legolas thought through what he would say and how he could interpret his feelings so the human would understand.

“I cannot say what it is like to die, but I can tell you what it is like to live.  I do not need to sleep in the same way that you do but, when I do rest, when I get up I have all the energy and strength I need for the day.  Except in extreme situations, I usually do not sleep too much or too little.  My strength comes from Arda, from all living things.”  Legolas’ voice trailed off as he thought through his next words. “Imagine waking up and never being tired for a whole day.  Never aching or getting a headache, like I know you do at times... Strider, I fear I can only tell you what it is not, I can’t tell you what it is. It’s hard to explain.”

“You’re doing a good job of it,” the man replied contentedly.  Aragorn had closed his eyes and was simply listening to the elf’s voice.  A small smile crept up his face.  “Go on.”

“Only a few times in my life have I truly been able to sympathize with what you mortals go through when you get sick.  Once, on the way here after sharing your illness; once, when I was bitten by a lhyguan in Rohan and once, when I first met Taradin and was poisoned with the dragon water.”  Legolas continued talking, encouraged by the ranger’s reply.  “And perhaps a few more occasions that I have forgotten or wish to forget.  In any case, I believe that even three is far too many times.  I remember what it was like.  It was awful.  I wanted to die and couldn’t.  I believe I even threw up once.”

“You did!”  Aragorn opened his eyes and gazed at his friend.  “Oh, I remember that.  That was bad.”

“Well then my friend, you should be glad that I understand your plight a little more than most of my kin.  Even if being poisoned is as close as I can ever come to being ‘sick’ in a way you can relate to.”  Legolas smiled at the man who was watching him.

“I feel that way now,” Aragorn confessed.

The elf simply nodded.  There was nothing more to be said.  He had thought that the ranger was looking worse.  It was well past the time for Aragorn to be given more antidote.

“He’s wearing me down, Legolas.”  Aragorn closed his eyes and leaned his head against his right arm, letting the manacles hold his weight up. “I don’t know how long I can withstand him.  He says things...  He twists my thoughts until I don’t know what’s true anymore.  He wants to know who I am.  I’m not even sure why I’m fighting him anymore.  There is a part of me that just wants to give in, even as there is a part of me that fights.  It’s so hard to balance them both; they tear me in two.  I’m so tired.  Do you know how many times I’ve almost told him everything?”

“Listen to me.”  Legolas strained against his bonds, leaning forward and speaking very slowly.  “Estel, you can’t give in to him.  You cannot tell him that which he seeks.  I don’t know how it could make things any worse than they are, but somehow I know it would.  You must keep the secret close and never let him suspect.”

Slowly opening his eyes, the ranger glanced wearily at the elf.  “How do I do that?  He’s everywhere now, in my mind, my thoughts... he reads me like an open book. ”

Swallowing hard, the elf thought intently, trying to come up with a way to help his friend.  An old memory surfaced, crashing immediately to the forefront as those memories were wont to do.


He had had to conceal his identity in Dorolyn and to his credit he had done so very well until the last.

“It’s not always easy.” Legolas answered softly.  “But I’ve done it before.  I was forced to do so in Dorolyn.”

Aragorn shifted his weight off his arms, straightening slowly up and paying closer attention.  It was hard to focus and becoming even harder to maintain his thoughts.  Even close as they were, Legolas almost never spoke of that chapter in his life.  If the elf was bringing it up, then whatever he had to say was important.

“You simply tell yourself that that information must never come forward.  Don’t even allow it in your mind.  Banish it from your thoughts and wall it up deep inside your heart where it cannot be reached.  As soon as you even start to think about it, immediately force yourself to think of something else.  It doesn’t matter what, just pick something.  It is a secret kept between you and I, and left here within these four walls when he comes for you.  I will guard it for you until you come back.  Do you understand?” Legolas tried to explain.  Reaching out with his mind as well as his words, he touched his friend gently with his consciousness, trying to show him what he meant. 

Nodding slowly, Aragorn repeated the instructions over and over again.  His soft words filled the darkness as he took the lesson to heart.  “You will guard the secret for me while I’m gone?”

“Yes, mellon-nín, I will,” Legolas confirmed, his eyes locked on the human's.  “I always will.”

Footsteps could just be heard outside the door, accompanied by a jangling of keys.  At the sounds of approach Aragorn visibly panicked.  He tried to control his breathing, but he was too afraid.  Fear of who was on the other side of the door and what lay in store for him blocked all else from his mind.  He turned a frightened, wide-eyed gaze on the prince.

“Legolas?”  Aragorn’s soft plea tore at the elf’s heart.  “I believe what you say, but I’m not ready.  I-I can’t...”  The ranger stopped speaking as the door cracked open.  His attempts to squirm out of his bonds ceased and he seemed to simply give up as a dark shape stepped into the room.

Legolas’ fists clenched tightly.  He hated how weak Aragorn had become.  It pained him to see the almost child-like fear that the ranger had no control over.

“It is well,” a soft voice called to the two occupants, “It is only I, Tinald.  I bring you supper and something warm to drink.”  The servant glanced at the captives, trying to calm their fears.  He could read it in their eyes and feel it in the air when he walked into the room.  Fear was what the master thrived on, what he lived for.  But Tinald hated it, having seen it too many times etched into the faces of those he loved.  Setting the platter down in the middle of the room, Tinald quickly walked to Aragorn’s position and unlocked the manacles.  Gently he eased the ranger’s arms down, rubbing the man’s hands briskly to start the blood flowing back into them.

When he was satisfied the human was fine, he moved to help the elf.

Aragorn was by the prince’s side before Tinald had freed the fair being.  He easily took Legolas’ hands in his own and gently worked them over, helping the blood flow to return.  His ministrations were somewhat clumsy but the elf welcomed the touch.  He wasn’t frightened of Tinald or Yrin, but it was sweet of the ranger to want to keep strange humans away from him.

Stepping back near the food, Tinald picked up the tray and placed it next to the ranger.  “You need to eat.  It will help you keep your strength up,” the servant instructed.  “Yrin sent the tea especially for you, Strider.  It will help you to sleep and slow your metabolism for a few hours.  It will be enough to give your body a good rest from the poison.”

“Have you brought any antidote?”  Aragorn asked hopefully.

“No.  None was given to me,” Tinald answered guiltily.  “I am sorry.  I am sure the master will give you more tomorrow.  He will not want you to die.”

“It’s all right, Tinald,” the ranger assured the small man, “Thank you for the supper.”

With a curt nod, the servant turned and walked out into the hallway.  Closing the door softly behind him, Tinald’s voice could barely be heard as he reiterated his apology.  “I am sorry, Strider.”

With a small smile the ranger turned his attention to the food before them.  They would have an hour, maybe two, before someone came to put them back in their manacles.  It was best to make the most of the time they were free.  Taking the flagon of water, Aragorn spared some to gently clean the healing abrasions where the harsh rope had gouged his friend’s throat.  Legolas was healing well and seemed to suffer no lasting ill effects from his near hanging earlier.  His body was also slowly recovering from the spiders the Nazgûl had inflicted on him.  Considering that they had only the meager supplies Yrin and Tinald smuggled them to aid the healing process, Aragorn was pleased with the elf’s progress.

Legolas however, was not as pleased with Aragorn’s.  The poisons in the man’s system had lowered his defenses and his many bruises and lacerations were not healing well at all.  The cut to his shoulder had never fully healed and looked worse now than it had in days.  Dark tendrils reached out angrily underneath his skin and it was feverish to the touch.  Legolas realized that when Aragorn had told him he could not hold on much longer, he had indeed been telling the truth.  His spirit was willing and able, but his body was failing him.  The Nazgûl’s cruel game today had almost been too much.

“I will not watch him torture you again.”  Aragorn spoke softly as Legolas finished cleaning and re-dressing the poisoned cut.

Glancing up sharply, Legolas caught the steely glint in the ranger’s eyes.  He may be weakening, but the human had caught his second wind now and his resolve was strengthening.

“There is nothing you can do, my friend.”  Legolas knew the assurance had not worked as Aragorn slowly shook his head.

“No, you’re wrong.  There is always a way.  I simply need to find it, and I will.”  Aragorn’s voice was low and determined.  He looked back down to the tray of food and began dishing out the meager portion as Legolas argued with him.  What the ranger had witnessed earlier in the day had been the last straw for him.  Something inside the ranger had snapped when the Nazgul had played out his deepest fears in such a frightening manner, hanging the elf before his very eyes and taunting him with his own weakness.  This ended soon, one way or another.

“Do not do anything rash, Estel,” Legolas whispered harshly.  He recognized that look in the ranger’s eyes and feared what trouble his friend might bring down on himself.  “Are you listening to me?” The elf asked when the man simply handed over a platter of food.

“I heard what you said,” Aragorn replied, speaking around a mouthful of bread.  He would not meet the elf’s piercing gaze.


“Eat.  Your food is getting cold,” the ranger replied quietly.  He knew he was treading on dangerous ground, but at the moment he didn’t care.  He felt terrible, both physically and emotionally.  Being forced to watch Legolas tormented by the Nazgûl was too much.  He had already resolved to never let that happen again.

The tray in the elf’s hands clattered to the stone floor, drawing Aragorn’s gaze quickly up.  Legolas sat across from the ranger staring the man down with a hard, piercing look.  His face was set in a way that Aragorn had only seen him use on Thranduil when they were arguing.

Taking a deep breath, the ranger calmly set his own platter down and glared back at the prince, matching the sternness with a scowl of his own.  Elrond had used the ‘look’ on his sons many times and Aragorn, in turn, had learned to use it as well.  He did his father justice with the frown that crossed his face.

The silence between the wills set against one another in the room was palpable.  Finally Legolas dropped his gaze with a sigh of defeat.

“I would that you would not,” Legolas spoke quietly.

The elf glanced back when Aragorn picked up the elf’s tray of food and held it back out to the prince as a peace offering.

“I know, but I am sick of this place and sick of the way that I feel.  I want to go home and if we don’t find a way soon I fear we never will.”  Aragorn smiled gently when Legolas accepted the meager meal.  “Don’t worry, you know how my plans always work out,” the ranger laughed softly.

With a snort of derision Legolas shook his head, a small smile tugging at the edges of his lips.

“Your plans, dear friend, usually involve one of us ending up near death’s door,” Legolas chided.  He ate the fruits and bread they had been given.

Aragorn’s laughter cheered the elf’s heart as the man nearly choked on the mouthful of food he had just taken.  “My plans are good!” Aragorn protested.

“Your plans are horrible and everyone agrees on that.”

“They always work.”

“They always get us into trouble,” Legolas countered lightly, pointing his bread at the human.

“But they always get us out again,” the human shot back.

The banter was interrupted by the scraping of the door as it swung inward.  Startled by the intrusion, both beings quieted and watched as Yrin walked into the room.  Knowing why the servant had come, Legolas placed his plate on the floor and began to move back by the wall.  It was no use fighting the man.  Behind him in the hallway, the eyes of the orcs who had come to back him up glinted in the dull light.

Aragorn’s hand on Legolas' thigh stopped the elf and he glanced at the ranger.

“We are not through eating,” Aragorn quietly informed the servant.  He just wanted a few more moments of freedom.

Glancing back into the passage, Yrinvan closed the door so that the orcs could not see inside.  Crouching down near the two captives he reached into his inner robe and pulled out a small glass vial, similar to the ones Aragorn was now used to receiving his antidote from.  It was only one-third full but there was no mistaking the dark colored content inside.

“The Master decided earlier this evening to see how long you would last with no antidote.  He knows you are near breaking,” Yrin explained quietly as he held out the vial to the ranger, “At least he thinks you are.  This is all I was able to save.  I took a partial portion of my own allotment and saved this out for you.  It will not harm me too much to go with a little less.  Take it.  It will carry you through for at least a day.”  Yrin uncorked the small vial and passed it to Aragorn.  The ranger quickly drank the foul tasting draught, coughing slightly as it burned roughly down his throat.

When Aragorn passed the empty container back, the servant placed the half-empty mug of tea in the ranger’s hand.  “Drink it all.  It will slow your metabolism for a few hours and give you a good rest.  It helps fight the poison and it will hold the antidote in your system longer.”  Yrin glanced nervously at the door.  In moments the orcs would become impatient, wanting to know what was taking so long.  He was doing his best to make right that which he could never right at all.

Glancing at the elf, Yrin sighed deeply and nodded towards the manacles on the far wall.  “I need to get you back into those before those beasts come in to do it for me.”  He hated this part of his job, but he knew the penalty for disobedience.

With a small nod Legolas complied.  There was no use fighting, not right now.  That time would come.

Yrin carefully fastened the manacles about the fair being's wrist and moved back towards the ranger.  The orcs had pushed the door open and one of them moved forward.

“Hurry up!” the dark creature yelled at Aragorn, kicking the ranger in the ribs as the man drained the last of the tea.  The blow sent the man sprawling backwards.  His cup flung across the small room, shattering against the stone wall.  Quickly curling inward, Aragorn tightened into a small ball on the floor, trying to ward off any further abuse.  But it never came.  Yrin’s angry command stopped the orcs in their tracks.

“Get out at once!” the servant shouted angrily, kneeling beside the ranger and gently easing him upright.  “The master said they were not to be harmed tonight.  Do you dare to defy him?”

“You take too long,” the orc grunted as it shuffled out the door, pushing the others with it.  “You think the master would like to know that?”

Straightening up, the headservant pierced the orc with a dangerous look.  “Perhaps we should both go and talk to the master when we are done here?  Hmm?”  His voice held an acidic tone that brokered no good for the orcs.

Realizing they were not in a position to push the human around, the orcs remained just outside the door, muttering amongst themselves.  With a sigh, Yrin crouched back down near Aragorn.  The man was having a hard time keeping his eyes open as the drugs began to work in his system.

“Why are you helping us, Yrin?” The ranger asked, his voice barely above a whisper.  The servant had been surprisingly distant with them since Aragorn had healed Ahnna and the ranger had begun to wonder if the man resented him somehow.  Tonight was a total change in attitude.

“If I had any conscience at all I would simply poison you both, willing or no, and let you die in peace here in this cell,” Yrin answered softly.  He glanced back at Legolas before continuing. “You can thank your friend. He is very persuasive.”

Aragorn glanced around Yrin and smiled slowly at the elf prince.  Legolas had heard the whole conversation and knew what the servant meant.  Yrin was thinking about what he had said and that was hopeful.  Legolas watched as Aragorn slowly blinked, trying to keep the elf in focus as Yrin stretched his arms back up towards the manacles.  The ranger winced painfully at the pull to his wounded shoulder.

“Yrin, please,” Legolas entreated.  “Can you not simply let him sleep?  With that tea in him, he’ll go nowhere tonight.”

The servant shot a quick glance over his shoulder at the elf.  He understood the request but... 

When he returned his attention to the ranger, the man had already fallen asleep, leaning against the servant for support.  Gently, Yrin lowered Aragorn to the floor of the cell and addressed the orcs. “Toss me a coil of rope.  This one won’t make it in the manacles.”

A small orc was shoved forward.  Rhzaq stumbled into the cell, slightly confused.  He held a length of rope in his hands.

“Rhzaq help me.  We need to tie this one up instead of putting him in the steel rings,” Yrin insisted, encouraging the orc to enter.

Limping slowly into the room, the creature knelt next to the man and quickly cut the rope into two pieces.  While Yrin bound Aragorn’s hands, the orc carefully tied his booted feet together.

“Like this?” Rhzaq asked.

“Yes, good job,” Yrin replied with a smile.  “Now run along; I’ll be outside in a moment."

Wadding up an extra blanket, the servant placed it under Aragorn’s head before turning back to Legolas.

“The Master will come for you in the morning.  I don’t know which one of you he’ll take, but he has plans for you both tomorrow.  I – I don’t know what I can do yet, but... I am willing to gamble on a dream if it is better than reality.  We will need to act soon.  Your friend has a strong will but he won’t last much longer. The Nazgûl is growing bored.”  Yrin’s words were barely audible but he knew from past experience that the elf could hear fine.  He reached out and touched the prince’s neck lightly.  The rope burn was just visible around the edges of the collar.  “I fear that next time, it will not be a ruse.”

Legolas’ slight nod of understanding was enough and the servant rose and left without a word, taking the remnants of their dinner with him.  The orcs trailed after their master’s lackey; there was no sense in protecting the two captives.  They weren’t going anywhere tonight.


Aragorn slept deep, but was awakened sharply by the rattle of the door hinges swinging open.  The dark chill that flooded the room told him who had entered, even before he got his bleary eyes to focus enough to make out the Nazgûl’s darker black form among the deep shadows swathing the room.  His heart gave a small jump and the shot of fear that jittered through his body helped him come to full awareness.  Across the room from him, the ranger could see that Legolas was already awake, watching the Witch-king with a cold, silent glare.

The Wraith was pleased to feel the fear level in the room notch up in reaction to his presence.  “Who wants to come with me today?” he invited darkly, his tone hedged with cruel amusement.  With his other servants he might expect no answer, but not these two...

The elf and ranger answered to the affirmative at nearly the same time.  As afraid as they both were of being chosen, they were more afraid of having to watch the other taken away.

The Nazgûl’s rasping laugh chilled the room a few more degrees.  “So eager...”  The dark being stalked to Aragorn’s side of the cell.  “But I think you and I have more pressing unfinished business, wouldn’t you say?”  He hauled the ranger partially up by his bound hands. 

Aragorn winced sharply, trying very hard to keep his heart from pounding out of his chest.  He did not feel up to any more lessons, but he swore to himself he would survive this somehow.

The Nazgûl’s hiss sounded pleased as he felt the fear surging behind the ranger’s resilient mask.

“Yes, I think you begin to learn well.  We must not waste time.  Slave!”  The barked command brought Tinald scurrying into the room.  The orcs in the doorway parted reluctantly for him.  “Don’t linger in corners, make yourself useful!” the Wraith castigated, causing Tinald to flinch.

“Yes, Master,” the human apologized quietly, dropping next to Aragorn and bowing his head to the floor as all the slaves had been taught.  The human quickly cut the ropes binding Aragorn’s ankles and helped him to his feet.

Aragorn felt a bit better than last night because of the antidote Yrin had shared with him and the tea that had let him sleep.  But neither could take away the icy tendrils of fear that rippled through him.  He forced it back ruthlessly, allowing Tinald to help him up and keeping a semi-impassive mask between himself and the shrieking panic that was shredding the back of his mind.

Legolas struggled in his bonds as Aragorn was dragged from the room.  “Estel...”

Aragorn met his gaze for a moment and the ranger’s raw uncertainty was painfully obvious, despite his calm actions.  “I don’t know if I can do this,” the human’s eyes pleaded.  “I’m trying to be strong, Legolas. I’m doing what you told me.  Hold my secret safe with you here for I don’t know if I can.”

Legolas nodded slightly.  He would.  He would guard it with his life.  He gave his chains another violent shake, hating his own helplessness.

The Wraith turned his dark hood in the elf’s direction.  “My business is with your friend, but don’t worry,” he said as he ushered Aragorn and Tinald out of the room.  “I haven’t forgotten you.  My orcs have gotten the impression you don’t like them very much.  They are still upset about how many of them you killed the day you came here.  I never have meted out justice for that, so I’ll let them see to it now.  I told them about the game we used to play.  We will talk again later, Slave.”

Legolas’ jaw clenched.  He did not miss the hint of amusement in the evil one’s voice.  The Witch-king knew very well how much Legolas hated orcs and Legolas knew far too well what old ‘game’ the Nazgûl meant.

The orcs crowded into the cell.  One of them wrapped a blindfold tightly around the elf’s eyes, blinding him.

Legolas pressed his eyes shut behind the blindfold, knowing what came next.  When the Nazgûl had him in thrall so many years ago, this had been a frequent practice, a way of proving his loyalty.  The orcs would brutally blind and beat him, and he was not allowed to move or try to turn away.  If he did, greater punishments were handed down.  At that time he had endured the ritual unbound.  Now, these orcs were lucky he was well restrained or he would have killed them all.

Retzhrak smiled wickedly as he yanked the blindfold painfully tight.  “I’ve been waiting for this,” he hissed in the elf’s ear.  “Let’s see how well you play.”

The Nazgûl allowed Aragorn to watch his friend being prepared before ushering him out of the room.