Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 18: Tear Me Open, Make you Gone

by Cassia and Siobhan

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The ranger twisted in Tinald’s grip, trying to see back into the cell.

“No!  Legolas...” he protested hoarsely.  He had promised himself he wouldn’t let his friend be hurt again, but here they were and there was nothing he could do.  He turned his burning gaze upon the Witch-king.  “You said your business is with me, leave him alone!”

The Nazgûl laid his hand upon the human’s shoulder, sending chilling shivers of pain and darkness throbbing through the ranger’s body.  “I will do as I please, Slave.  Only when you realize this will your life get easier,” he threatened.  “Your lessons begin again.  Come.”

Tinald almost had to drag Aragorn down the hallway and the slave did not relish doing it one bit.  He didn’t blame the ranger for being angry and afraid.  If he were subjected to what these two were going through, he would have taken Yrin’s offer of an easy death a long time ago.

The Witch-king led them back to his work room.  Aragorn’s eyes searched the chamber as the doors closed behind them.  His gaze roved restlessly over the shelves of bottles along one wall and tried not to light upon the various dark and wicked looking instruments that lay upon the tables.  He tried to catalogue everything, looking for anything that would help them when the time came to escape.  It gave his mind something to focus on besides the way his heart was hammering in his rib cage.

The Nazgûl picked up the pear-shaped gag and walked towards the ranger, his boots clacking menacingly against the stone floor.

Instinctively, Aragorn backed up a pace, his jaw muscles tightening, unfortunately backing him up right into Tinald.  The servant placed his hands on the ranger’s shoulders, as much to steady him as to restrain him.

The Witch-king nodded at Tinald.  He did not need to voice his command; his slave knew what he wanted.

With a barely audible sigh, Tinald kept one arm wrapped around the ranger’s chest while his other slid up to Aragorn’s jaw.  The ranger’s stubbly beard scratched Tinald’s fingers as he firmly gripped each side of the man’s jaw, pressuring him to open his mouth.  Aragorn started to struggle when Tinald’s grip tightened.  The position they were in held his mouth close to the ranger’s ear.

“Please don’t make me force you, Strider,” the slave whispered sadly.  “He will only make it worse for you if you do.”

It went against Aragorn’s grain to acquiesce, but he knew what lay ahead and it was better not to make it any worse than it had to be.  Closing his eyes, the ranger tried to relax and allowed Tinald to manipulate his jaw open.

Aragorn’s eyes flew open again and he nearly choked when the cruel gag was pushed too roughly into his mouth.  His already abused jaw muscles ached fiercely and he had to resist the urge to retch as the thick, leather ball pushed too far back against his throat.

The Nazgûl calmly fastened the straps of the device behind the ranger’s head, holding the gag in place.  The Wraith leaned close over Aragorn’s shoulder, the edges of his dark hood brushing the ranger’s hair.  The sharp ridges of his metal gloves dug into the soft flesh of the ranger’s throat as the Nazgûl cupped the chin of his muzzled captive.

“I grow tired of your pointless resistance.  When I give you your tongue back, you had better have something useful to say to me today,” the Dark One hissed in the ranger’s ear.

Aragorn shuddered involuntarily.  A moment later the dark hood followed, covering Aragorn’s head and blocking out all light.  This time, an additional hood was placed over the normal one and the ranger’s senses suddenly started screaming in panic.  The second hood was thick and tightly woven.  It was tied off around his neck and the ranger realized he could not breathe through the heavy fabric.  He started thrashing wildly, but the Witch-king’s hard hand clamped on his shoulder stopped him.

“I wouldn’t waste your breath that way if I were you, Slave.  You’ll kill yourself if you keep struggling,” he informed calmly.

Aragorn quieted, knowing it made more sense to conserve air, but still unable to quell the shaking panic burning in his chest as he had to struggle painfully for each breath.  The air in the wicked hood had quickly become thick and warm.  The ruthless gag in his mouth already made breathing difficult.  The added impediment of the second hood made his knees weak and his head swim.

The ranger was dragged across the room.  His hands were cut free and his shirt was removed.  After that, his hands were pulled before him and bound again.  He could not see and only barely heard what was happening.  Aragorn was too intent on the struggle for air to notice much at first.  When he was nearly yanked off his feet, suspended by his arms stretched painfully above him, he noticed.  His shoulders screamed in protest and his injury flamed hotly.  The ranger cried out, only to be muffled and choked by his unforgiving gag.  The sudden expelling of air from his lungs was too much.  Aragorn couldn’t replace it fast enough and bright yellow lights flashed before his eyes as his chest heaved wildly.  He was suffocating.

Tinald knew he could not even flinch unless he wanted to share the prisoner’s punishment.  So he only cringed inwardly as the ranger thrashed weakly in the cruel bonds.  The harsh, gasping sounds from behind the mask were hard to endure.  The ranger was in real trouble and the Nazgûl did not seem to care.

“Master... I think he’s suffocating,” Tinald said quietly.  He bowed as he spoke and hoped it sounded like an observation, rather than a fear.

The Wraith murmured his agreement in an unconcerned fashion.  When the ranger’s thrashing ceased completely, he tugged the outer hood off the man’s head.

Barely conscious, Aragorn felt the air flowing about his face and into his lungs once more.  His chest expanded spasmodically, sucking air greedily into his starved body.  He gasped so hard he nearly hyperventilated.  His mind cleared momentarily.  Then he felt the suffocation hood slide down over his head again and the panic began anew.  He moaned a desperate protest as the hood was tied off again, but tried to maintain better self control this time, conserving his oxygen as best he could.

Aragorn felt hot points of agony suddenly springing up across his skin, burning his back, sides and chest as if he were being touched by a million tiny flaming coals.  The pain caused his heartbeat to speed up, demanding more oxygen he could not get.  Terror and pain made his world spin out of control as the ranger sobbed for air behind his cruel mask.

The Witch-king deliberately sprinkled the dark liquid from the vial he held across the ranger’s exposed flesh.  It burned like white-hot iron and left small, red marks wherever it touched the human, yet inflicted no serious damage.  Pain and terror were the Witch-king’s goal, not death... not yet.

Again, the Wraith removed Aragorn’s hood just before the ranger could pass out, allowing him a few moments of air before plunging him back into a dark, airless world once more.

Slowly the evil creature drew lines of exquisite agony across the ranger’s exposed flesh with his painful tonic, eventually making the human scream around his muzzle.  Still, the Nazgûl was not satisfied.  He pushed Aragorn very hard today, continuing the slow, deliberate torture until the ranger could not cry out anymore.

Then he untied the bottom of the suffocation hood to allow some air inside, but left it on the ranger’s head.

Aragorn’s whole body was trembling.  His thoughts were one long, confused blur of pain.  His shoulders burned like they were being pulled out of his sockets, and his mouth was so sore from clenching around the gag that it felt raw.  He was drained and breathing was still a desperate struggle.  He waited in fear of what the Nazgûl would do to him next, but nothing happened.

The uncertainty was almost as unbearable as knowing what was coming.  Aragorn’s head rolled back as he struggled to keep breathing and was left to wait, dangling and choked, for the Nazgûl’s next whim.  He could hear the sound of movement in the room and knew he was not alone, but no one spoke and no one touched him.  As time dragged by, he began to realize that the Wraith simply intended to leave him there for a time, as he had before.  The ranger resisted the burning tears behind his eyes.  He knew that if he started crying, the congestion would choke him.

Tinald stood uncomfortably on the far side of the room as the Nazgûl busied himself with something on another table, ignoring the ranger still dangling painfully in the corner for the time being.  The slave had not been dismissed so he had to remain.

Presently there was a knock at the door. With the Nazgûl’s permission, Tinald admitted the newcomer.

It was Rhzaq.  The small orc shifted uncomfortably in the doorway, obviously uneasy around his Lord.  “Master, they... they, the others... wanted me to tell you that we can’t reach the lower levels.  Everyone who goes down to get the shiny plant doesn’t come back.  They say the... the thing is awake.”  Fear was palpable in the creature’s voice, although it was hard to tell if it was over his bad tidings, or because he was the one to have to tell the Nazgûl.

Tinald felt a little sorry for Rhzaq.  The other orcs always made him be the one to give the Master bad news.  The slow-witted orc had received the brunt of the Nazgûl’s displeasure more than once as a result.  He had good reason to be afraid.

The Nazgûl’s presence darkened into his version of a scowl.  “Fool!” he fumed.  “Your filthy friends had no business awakening that which should be slumbering!  Too long you have already delayed.  You,” he addressed Tinald now.  “How fare the other slaves?”

Tinald licked his lips nervously.  “Most are well, Master.  But some have not had any antidote in quite awhile.  They... they need it soon, if it pleases you.”

The Wraith was not satisfied with any of this information.  He turned back to Rhzaq.  “Tell those slobbering idiots who sent you that they had better get me what I need by tomorrow, or I’ll feed you all to the cave trolls!  Do you understand me?”

Rhzaq gave a frightened little squeal and backed further out the door.  “Yes, Master!”

“Wait,” the Wraith commanded, halting the orc’s flight.  He glanced at the ranger, knowing the human could probably hear them.  “How fares the elf?”

Rhzaq studied the ground.  He had not taken part in his comrades’ torment of the elf, but he had been present.  “He does not scream much, but Retzhrak says his blood tastes sweet.”  There was no emotion in the words.  Rhzaq’s limited mental capacities did not leave him with the same ravenous appetite for pain as the rest of his species and he didn’t really understand the other orcs’ joy in brutal pastimes.

Aragorn’s ragged breathing hitched visibly at the report and the Nazgûl’s rumbling hiss was pleased.

“Good... now go!” he brusquely dismissed Rhzaq who left without delay.  “You too.”  The Nazgûl indicated that he meant Tinald.  “Find Yrinvan.  This shortage has gone on too long.  Tell him to prioritize the servants.  Cull those with lesser uses; they shall receive no more treatment.  If he wishes to ease their passing I will allow him a small amount of death water for them.  But only IF he does not take too long with the list.”

“Yes, Master.”  Tinald swallowed the bitter lump of horror in his throat and bowed obediently.  Only after he had quietly shut the door behind him did Tinald allow his fists to clench and his face to darken.  Not another purge... the slaves dreaded times like these.  They were rare, but Tinald could still remember the last one.  Yrin would be devastated to hear this news.  It was the hardest for him because he was the one who had to choose.  The one who had to try to figure out what life was expendable in order to meet the Nazgûl’s cruel quotas.  It had nearly crushed Yrin last time.  Tinald wasn’t sure how his friend would handle having to do it again.

Back in the laboratory, Aragorn was stunned by the callous cruelty of the order.  His body trembled in agony and his heart ached for Legolas, and for the slaves.  This was a dark, dark world they were in, and he feared he would not survive it much longer.  They had to act soon... if only he could figure out how.


It was hours later that the Nazgûl finally cut Aragorn down and removed his hoods.  The ranger rolled painfully onto his side, panting as he was finally allowed to breathe unrestricted.  With ungentle fingers, the Wraith removed the unbearable gag.  Aragorn found he could barely close his mouth now, his jaw muscles had seized.

“Now, think carefully about your answer, mortal,” the Witch-king warned.  “What are you hiding from me?”

Aragorn’s body was still trembling.  He could not take much more of this treatment.  The dark force of the Evil One’s strong will wrapped itself around his consciousness, pressing him for an answer.  He felt his defenses wavering... but there was nothing there to reveal.

“I-I’m... I’m not...” he rasped with difficulty, his abused mouth giving him trouble speaking.  At the moment it was the truth.  He had taken Legolas’ advice to heart and his mind was blank.  Whatever secrets he had were back in their cell, in the elf’s care.  He had nothing to give the Wraith.

The pressure on his reeling mind intensified and Aragorn squirmed on the floor, trying to tuck his head into his chest as if he could protect it from the painful mental assault.  The Nazgûl was not content to batter his body, but assaulted the ranger’s mind with equal brutality.

“Then you have not learned your lesson yet,” the Nazgûl said coldly, pulling Aragorn’s head up to re-gag him.

The human struggled weakly against the strong grip on his hair, panic consuming every inch of his awareness.  “No!” he protested, no longer above pleading.  “No!  I-I don’t know what you want!  I can’t... there’s nothing to tell... Don’t!  Not again, please not again...” he begged, almost sobbing as his body betrayed him.

The Wraith saw his wavering resolve, and for the first time did not entirely doubt the human’s words.  Perhaps he had been wrong after all.  There may be nothing more to them than he had already discovered, or at least there may be nothing more that he could discover from the human until the ranger had completely given himself over.

“Then will you serve me?” the Nazgûl whispered low, pausing with the gag hovering in front of the ranger’s face.  His probing consciousness tugged at Aragorn’s, asking the ranger to bare his mind to him, to accept him as Lord.  To become immersed in his will as surely as Yrinvan, Tinald and his other serfs.  “Will you end all this pain?”

Aragorn hesitated, frozen between two different choices that both led to terror.  But the Wraith saw the rejection in Aragorn’s eyes, felt the tenacity with which he was hanging onto his mental borders.  He knew what the human was choosing.  He was still unwilling.

“Very well then,” the Nazgûl said darkly.  Replacing the gag and hoods upon the human who was too weak to fight him now, he dragged Aragorn back to his feet.  “Then I see you still have much to learn.”

Aragorn couldn’t stop the tears behind the mask this time, even as he felt the dangerous congestion making breathing even more difficult.  He was spent.  If the Nazgûl wanted to wear him down and break him, it was finally working.


He didn’t remember when the Wraith had grown bored with him.  In fact Aragorn didn’t remember much of what had happened when he felt Yrin’s hands lowering him to the ground.  The hoods were removed and the servant eased the gag out of Aragorn’s mouth.  Reflexively the ranger tried to breathe in deeply and swallow.  His body reacted violently as a coughing fit took hold of the man, nearly choking him.  His throat was too dry and parched and his mouth was severely bruised from the long day of enduring the gag.  He nearly retched but there was nothing for his body to expel.

Yrin eased the ranger slowly to his feet.  Aragorn was anything but steady.

His knees gave out and the ranger pitched into one of the Nazgul’s tables, dumping the contents onto the floor as he tried to maintain his balance.

Yrin grimaced and quickly began picking up the fallen items strewn about the lab, placing them back on the table exactly as he remembered them being.

Aragorn pressed himself up onto his hands and knees.  His fingers brushed a long, thin, metallic tine.  Glancing up he noted that the attention of the Wraith and the headservant were not on him at the moment.  Quickly he slid the spike into his boot before slowly regaining his feet.  He had no idea what uses the Nazgûl had for the tool, but he knew exactly what he was going to do with it if he were ever given the slightest chance.

Yrin’s hands grabbed him around the waist and pulled him up, helping him to walk back down the hall to the cell.  The Nazgul followed closely behind them, gauging the prisoner.  It was painfully obvious that the ranger was nearly broken.



So tell me why you’ve chosen me?
Don’t want your grip, don’t want your greed!
I’ll tear me open, make you gone
No more can you hurt anyone
And the fear still shakes me
So hold me, until it sleeps...

-- Metallica

Legolas hung forward, suspended by the chains around his wrists.  The orcs had finally departed, but they left the blindfold in place and he could see nothing.  He had been in worse pain in his life, but he could not deny that the foul creatures had been very thorough.  They seemed to have a lot of practice inflicting maximum amounts of non-lethal pain and the elf wondered dully if the Witch-king let them practice on disobedient slaves.  Judging from things that Yrin had said, he suspected that was indeed the case.

The elf wiped the blood running down the corner of his mouth on his shoulder because it was the only thing he could reach.  He hurt, but he was more worried about Aragorn right now.  The ranger was the one that the Nazgûl was trying to break, and Legolas knew what that was like.  He was afraid for his friend.  Very afraid.

The elf lost track of how long he sat in artificial darkness, but it must have been most of the day.  Aragorn was not returned and he received no visit or word from either Yrinvan or Tinald.  Legolas’ anxiety mounted.

When the door finally opened, the elf looked up out of habit, even though he could see nothing.  He did not need to see to know that the Nazgûl had entered.  The dark chill the creature carried with him was one that the elf could never forget or mistake.

The blindfold was pulled from his eyes at last and the elf could see that the Nazgûl was not alone.  Aragorn was slumped in the Wraith’s grasp.  Yrin stood quietly in the doorway with several orcs just behind him.

Aragorn looked terrible.  His bound wrists were bloody.  His disheveled tunic hung open.  His lips were swollen and his face flushed.  Worse than anything else though, was the glazed and semi-vacant look in his eyes. 

The ranger’s weary gaze slowly fixed on Legolas.  A small flicker of anger and pain flashed through Aragorn’s bloodshot eyes as he saw the new cuts and bruises marring his friend’s body.  Yet when Aragorn looked into the elf’s eyes, all he read there was concern for him.  It was wrong, so wrong... This was what Aragorn feared most.  What he had feared all along.  The ranger had accepted he might not survive this situation, but he dreaded taking Legolas down with him.

“The human is almost as stubborn as you, elf,” the Nazgûl said calmly.  He knew Aragorn was near breaking, but he wanted to make sure that the elf was there to see it happen.  “Almost.”  The cruel smile that was not visible became evident in the Wraith’s tone.

Pinning Aragorn roughly up against the wall, the Nazgûl pressed his palm against the ranger’s wound.  Rubbing back and forth in small, agonizing movements he increased the flow of sheer evil flooding the ranger’s senses.

Aragorn’s face creased with agony.  His mouth opened in a silent scream, but a small whimper was all that escaped his lips.

Legolas surged against his restraints.  He yelled for the Nazgûl to stop, even though he knew he wouldn’t.  He couldn’t stand seeing Estel hurt this way.  His heart thudded with anger and terror.  The terror came because he could tell from the distressed waves radiating from Aragorn’s body that the Nazgûl was dangerously close to the truth.  Aragorn was breaking.

Lasto beth nin, mellon-nín!  Ú-caro leithiach estel-lín!  Listen to me, my friend!  Don’t let go of your hope!” Legolas called out to Aragorn.  He risked having to endure the bridle again for speaking Elvish in the Nazgûl’s presence, but at the moment he did not care.

Aragorn’s head lolled to the side.  It was too hard to fight anymore. The Nazgûl’s abuse and the poison that raged in his system were wreaking havoc with his resolve.  He could hear Legolas yelling, calling to him, and fighting against his bonds.  He couldn’t stand to see the elf tormented any further, there had to be a way out of this... at least for one of them.

In an instant he knew what that way was and chose his path without giving it a second thought.  He had no strength for second-guessing.

The Witch-king’s fingers tightened on the ranger’s shoulders as he held the human up before him.  The Wraith shook the man hard, watching carefully as the Dùnadan’s defenses literally crumbled before him.


“Will you serve me now, or shall we keep going with your ‘lessons’?  Or perhaps the elf has more to learn,” The Wraith whispered seductively, turning the human around so that he faced Legolas.  One metal-gloved hand held Aragorn’s chin, forcing him to look upon the beaten elf. “His tongue is still untamed.  I have much more to teach you both.”

“No.” The word barely slipped from Aragorn’s parched lips. “If you want me this much, you can have me.”  With that pronouncement the ranger went limp in the Nazgûl’s grip.  He stopped fighting and gave in to the toxins in his system.  Aragorn’s eyes glazed over.  He slid to the floor of the cell when the Wraith released him, slumping against the wall behind him, wrapped in a dark stupor.

The Nazgûl’s dark consciousness rushed to envelop his vulnerable mind.  It wrapped around the Dúnadan’s memories, fingering through and discarding them one by one... all but the one that remained safely in Legolas’ keeping.

Aragorn jerked convulsing under the mental ravaging.  He curled himself into a tight ball in the back of his mind and hid himself away behind a thinly veiled memory of the time he had found Legolas in the Witch-king’s grasp.  He knew the Wraith wouldn’t bother sorting through those memories - the Nazgûl had lived them.  His conscious thought was shredded and torn under the evil assault.  Closing himself off, he waited and concentrated on breathing.  Legolas held his most intimate secrets.  The rest, the Nazgul could have, save for the ones of his love for his family, the ones that kept him alive.  Those he held onto possessively, waiting out the evil tide that tore through his mind.

The Nazgûl hissed slowly.  So... this Strider really was just a ranger, the adopted son of Elrond of Imladris.  The Wraith still really couldn’t understand why a powerful Lord would take on such a burden, but something from his distant memory told him it had to do with a foolish emotion called love.  With malicious satisfaction the Witch-king withdrew from his victim’s mind.  It may not have been the most satisfactory answer, but still... holding captive the offspring, or at least foster-offspring, of the Lords of two of the most powerful Elven realms was not a small thing either.  He would make them both useful to him somehow.

Aragorn slumped to the floor, released from the evil presence that had held his mind captive.  His body was unresponsive to him for a few minutes and he simply lay against the cool stone, trying to still his pounding heart.

Legolas stared at his friend silently, in shock.  He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.  The ranger stared straight ahead, barely even blinking, his breathing was shallow and slow.  There was no life in the grey eyes that stared out at the elf.  The human was hollow... gone.  The elf shuddered.  Was that what he had looked like when the Wraith had him years ago?  It certainly represented what he had felt like.

When the Nazgûl spoke, it startled Legolas.  He flinched, trying to pull away from the black apparition that moved to stand between him and his friend.

“You are next, elfling.  I know what I am up against in you, but I am patient.  The two of us... we’re not like the human.  We have all the time in the world.  Even if it takes years, I will have you again as I once did.  The choice will be yours, whether you will be a formidable warrior against my enemies, or just a broken thrall good for training the orcs.  It depends on how far you push me,” the Nazgûl taunted, crouching down in front of the restrained elf.  Legolas jerked away from his touch, trying to see around the evil creature and catch Aragorn’s eyes again.

“Don’t worry about your friend, he has found his true calling,” the Nazgûl said with cruel amusement.  “Slave!”

Behind the Wraith, Aragorn stirred and came groggily to his knees.  It was strange really, how they always knew who he was speaking to, considering the Nazgûl usually called all his thralls by the same title.  Yet when he was speaking to someone, there was no doubt in their mind as to whom he was referring.

The Nazgûl’s attention never left Legolas.  “He has learned his lessons.  You have yet to accept yours.  I believe I forbade you to speak that loathsome tongue again... yet you defy me.”  The Wraith rose and pulled the wicked bridle off the peg by the door where it hung.

Legolas glared at the evil being with pain-filled defiance.  He did not fear what the Wraith could do to him.  And he could not believe that Aragorn was truly gone.

The Nazgûl did not bridle the elf himself, but handed the contraption to Aragorn after he cut the binds around the man’s wrists.  “I believe you have seen how this goes on.  Do it.  Give our rebellious friend the tightest setting possible.”

The ranger accepted the harness and knelt in front of the elf.  The Nazgûl watched his every move like a hawk.

Legolas’ heart clenched tightly in his chest as he realized that his friend was going to be the one to do this to him.  No, he told himself.  It wasn’t his friend; this was not Aragorn.  No one understood that better than Legolas.  Aragorn no longer had a choice.  The elf tried to hold onto that knowledge as the ranger slipped the leather straps behind his head.

Legolas searched his friend’s face, his eyes, pleading to find something he recognized there.  Aragorn’s empty gaze would not meet his as the ranger slid the front of the bridle down over the prince’s face.  He pushed against the elf’s lips to get them to admit the sharp bit.  Legolas was in too much shock to resist and allowed the ranger’s thumbs to guide the barbed piece of metal over his teeth and into his mouth.  The bit settled much farther forward than it had the last time he had been forced to wear it and it clanked painfully against his teeth.  It seemed the ranger was fumbling slightly trying to cope with the abuse he had just endured.  Legolas could feel the way Aragorn trembled through the ranger’s fingers that rested on his cheek and jaw.  The human’s body was still reeling.  Sadly, Legolas had to hope that now that the Wraith had what he wanted, he would at least allow Aragorn to return to health.

Once the bit was in place, the ranger cinched the side straps of the harness.  Dutifully obeying the Nazgûl’s orders, he ratcheted the clasps a few notches, increasing the pressure on the bit. Legolas tensed with a small moan of pain as the unforgiving, barbed metal dug into his tender flesh.  He tasted blood in his mouth.  His eyes filled with tears and he turned his head away to hide them.  It was not because of the pain, it was because of who was causing him the pain.  He knew it wasn’t Estel’s choice.  He knew he had once done much worse by the ranger under similar influence, but it still stung. 

The Nazgûl was pleased.  The elf’s reaction to these events was better than he hoped.  “You serve me well,” he purred in Aragorn’s ear, crouching behind the ranger so he could look over his shoulder at the elf.  “I think, elf, I shall let him see to all your instructions from now on.  With the proper training he could be a very formidable disciplinarian.”  The Witch-king noted the pained, horrified expression that darted through the elf’s eyes faster than it could be stopped.  The Wraith reveled in the torment.

The Nazgûl too, could tell that Aragorn was still shaking.  Pulling a small vial from inside his robes, he administered a partial dose of antidote to slow down the human’s decline.

“Prove to me I can trust you, and you will be given more, until you almost don’t feel the poison anymore, like the others,” the Wraith promised as Aragorn sank shakily back against the wall.  His body was still trying to recover from the breaking process.

“Now, stay here, but do not touch the elf.  I just want him to see what you have become, so he knows what will happen to him,” the Witch-king instructed.

Smiling in satisfaction at the broken ranger, the Nazgûl rose and left the cell, slamming the door shut.  Humans were not as resilient as the Eldar.  He had known he would be able to break through the Dùnadan’s defenses; it had only been a matter of time and patience and he had plenty of both. Through the ranger he would be able to break the elf as well, given more time.  This newest achievement pleased him and he anticipated the prospect of spending more time exploring the ranger’s mind.  He would doubtlessly know many very interesting things about the Rivendell elves that could be used against them.  Once he had the elf’s submission, the same could be true for Mirkwood, although he would do that only at the last.  An elf’s mind was not as easily penetrated as a human’s and it would leave scars that would impair his elven slave’s abilities.  That was why he hadn’t done it in the first place when he had him years ago... but he hadn’t known whom he held then either.  Perhaps, when the time was right, he would share these two with his own Master, a gift of appeasement until that which he and the other Wraiths searched for, was found.

Stepping out into the hallway, the Nazgûl ignored the servant that stood waiting for him.  Yrin could be seen just outside the door, a pained expression on his face before the entrance banged closed.

“Leave them alone until I return.  Perhaps now the elf will realize that there is no use fighting me anymore,” the Wraith instructed as he stalked down the hall, leaving his servant and his newly acquired slave behind.

Legolas scooted as far forward as the chains that bound him would allow.  The manacles bit deeply into his wrists and the collar threatened to choke him, but he would not relent.  The ranger still lay half slumped against the wall, across the small cell from the elf.  Legolas wanted so badly to reach his friend, to try and break him out of what was happening.  He knew it was possible - it had to be!  He had come back once; he had to believe that Aragorn could too.

“Estel?” he fought to speak around the cruel intrusion in his mouth and found that this time he was actually able to.  The bit was not far enough back in his mouth to hamper the formation of words.  It had not been properly placed.  It was painful but not impossible like it had been last time.  The spikes of the bridle cut his tongue as he wrapped it around the cold bar ignoring the blood he tasted when he called to the man.  There was no answer, not even a response from the dull-eyed ranger slumped in the corner.  “Estel!”

Legolas fought the chains that held him fast, silently cursing his helplessness.  It could not be true, the Nazgûl could not have won; Legolas wouldn’t let him.

“Estel, please listen to me.  Listen to my voice as you bade me to listen to yours so many years ago.”  The prince’s words were hampered and unclear, but he struggled to form them anyway.

“You have to hold on, you have to fight, you cannot give in to him for me, or anyone else.  You must fight this!  I know what you are enduring mellon-nín... Estel!”  The elf’s tongue and the corners of his mouth bled freely from pulling against the barbed restraints, but he did not pay attention to the pain.

Outside the cell, Yrin stood and listened as the elf raged against his bonds, begging his friend to wake up.  He knew it was useless, he knew that if the Nazgûl had truly broken the ranger there would be no hope for his recovery.  He had seen such things before, too many times to recount.  Humans did not live as long once they were broken, so the Nazgûl did not feel it necessary to break all his slaves if they could be bent to his will through fear, coercion or other methods.  But those he did break were never the same.  They became like the orcs: brutal and uncaring, delighting in whatever pleased their twisted Master.  It was considered a fate worse than death.

Yrin could not stand to witness this anymore.  He had his own heartbreaking tasks to carry out.  Quietly, he walked away, trying to block out Legolas’ painful, tearful pleading.

Mellon-nín, don’t do this,” Legolas desperately searched Aragorn’s face for some spark of the man he knew, for some sign that his friend was still in there, yet he found nothing but emptiness.  The elf choked back a sob.  “This is not the way it was supposed to be! You made me promise you that I would never leave without you. You made me swear to never give up my life again for as long as you lived.  If you are truly gone and have left me here to the Nazgûl’s desires, I cannot keep that promise anymore.  Estel, please...” Legolas’ voice trailed off in a whisper as the tears rolled down his cheeks.  He could not speak anymore.  His mouth was now too badly torn and it hurt too much to keep fighting the bridle.

The human across from him sat dumbly, unmoved by the words or emotions.

The prince didn’t know how long they sat there.  He didn’t know how long he struggled against his restraints.  How long he fought the biting pain in an attempt to speak, to reach his one-time friend.  How long he alternated between begging and demanding that his friend fight what was happening.  Time had utterly ceased to have meaning for the elf. All Legolas knew was that he was suddenly very alone. He did not think he could bear it if the Nazgûl followed through on his threats and forced the ranger to torture him.  He could endure under any other hand... but not Aragorn’s.

Darkness deepened the shadows of their cell and Legolas shivered uncontrollably as the door to the prison was thrown open and the Nazgûl stepped back inside.  The dark being did not speak this time.  He simply glanced from the elf to the ranger.  Neither had moved and now he was convinced that neither would.  This had been a test.  If the ranger was able to be swayed by his friend, as the ranger had swayed the elf so many years ago, he intended to catch that now.  But it was not so.  The human had not moved a muscle nor even recoiled at his approach.  With a quiet, cruel laugh he left his prisoners alone for the night and retired to his chambers.

With a defeated sigh, Legolas leaned back against the cool stone wall behind him and closed his eyes, unable to stop the tears that streamed down his cheeks.  It was truly over then.  They had lost.