Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 9: Ice and Terror

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Next

Aragorn heard the door bang shut and found himself surrounded in darkness.  The orcs themselves seemed a little fearful and that did nothing to alleviate the ranger’s concerns. 

Sure-footed in the darkness, the beasts pushed him forward into what felt like a cold, grey sea.  The ranger knew it was a room of some kind, but he could discern no visible features.  He could not distinguish walls, furniture, or even the floor.  Not even his ears could help him.  The feet of his captors did not ring against the floor, nor did their harsh breathing create any kind of echo.  It was as if the darkness around them was absorbing all the sound, as well as the light.  The pitch black was so total it was disturbing... It was unnatural.

A voice that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere wrapped around the ranger’s senses. 

“So you have come...” the voice said.  It was toneless, metallic. 

Aragorn turned his head sharply, looking around for the source of the voice.  It seemed to come from inside his own head.  Goosebumps chased themselves up and down the ranger’s arms and his flesh crawled.  There was a gnawing terror here, the kind of fear that could drive men mad.  It reminded Aragorn vaguely of being trapped in the barrow after the fight with Kaldur’s bandits.  Yet it was different.  The evil there had exuded a nameless fear meant to strike terror into anything that lived.  The presence here was purposeful and focused... focused on him. 

“Who are you?” Aragorn demanded.  He spoke boldly, but his voice sounded small and hollow in his ears, swallowed up in the immensity of the evil cloud. 

The voice laughed.  “You know who I am.  I am the one that will destroy you.  The question, mortal, is who are you?”

Aragorn squared his shoulders.  Yes, he did know who it was that had lured him here.  And he refused to be intimidated.  The ranger defiantly glared into the darkness.  He couldn’t even see the orcs.  He could only feel their hands on him.  Some part of him knew this wasn’t real.  It was an illusion inside his mind.  He would not let the evil one see his fear.

 “I?  I am the one who sent you flying away in flames, and if I ever get the chance, I shall do it again.  Is that why you hide from me, in the darkened shadows?”  The answer was bold, foolhardy even, but Aragorn was hardly worried about his future at the moment.  He had been a dead man since the attack by the river. 

The darkness intensified for a moment before suddenly clearing and fading away, like mist burning up under morning light.  Aragorn found himself standing in the center of a large room.  Scrolls and bottles lined one wall and various tables sat about them at random angles.  A man in slave-garb stood quietly in one of the corners.  He was so still and quiet that Aragorn was startled to realize he was a living being. 

A vent in the ceiling above penetrated the rock face of the mountain that the castle was built into, admitting a cold, pale ray of light that shone down upon the human.  It was not a friendly glow and its harsh cast fell upon the ranger like fingers of ice. 

Before Aragorn stood a figure completely robed in black.  He had seen the Lord of the Nazgûl before, but never quite like this.  The ragged black robes were thrown back, revealing powerful arms swathed in thick armor plating that rippled like dragon scales.  The steel hauberk was covered from the elbow down by the spiked, multi-jointed gauntlets that the Wraith favored.  A pale, silver armband like a ravenous serpent snaked up his right arm, disappearing under his black robes, and a red-gemmed ring glowed dully visible on his hand.  The cowl of his robe covered the dark area where his head should have been, but the faint glimmer of a pale crown showed in the shadows of the hood. 

This was the Witch-king of Angmar, at home in his own realm of old.  Power and terror flowed freely from him. 

Aragorn met the empty gaze of his dark hood without wavering, but inside, his blood ran cold. 

“You are foolish to challenge me, mortal,” the Wraith hissed, his voice both quiet and frightening at the same time.  “You will pay for that.  You will not find me a forgiving master.” 

“That is well, for I am not your slave,” the ranger retorted with a greater level of calm in his voice than he truly felt. 

The Nazgûl laughed, walking forward slowly to tower over the human.  He was a little surprised that the man was feeling strong enough to be this much of a nuisance.  He would have thought the poison had taken care of sapping excess strength.  Obviously, he had miscalculated.  The human needed to be brought down in tone a few notches before anything useful could occur between them. 

“You think not?  All who are in this mountain are my slaves...” The Wraith ran the back of his ribbed knuckles down the side of the man’s face.  “You have accepted my hospitality, partaken of the life-saving measures that only I can give... your gratitude is sadly lacking, ranger.  But no matter, you shall learn better with time.  I had it in mind to question you, but I find you in an unreceptive state of mind.  Instead I shall teach you what it means to serve me.”


Legolas twisted uneasily in his bonds.  It seemed an age since Aragorn disappeared through those doors.  Every so often, he thought he could almost hear something that sounded like a scream in the distance.  He didn’t know if it was real or an illusion coming from the darkness, but in either case, it filled the elf’s heart with dread.  He fidgeted restlessly, tugging at the ropes holding him and testing the strength of the wall sconce to which he was fastened.  Both were unfortunately more than adequate.

Yrin shot the elf a glare that told him to be still, but he could not blame the elf for his restlessness.  The slave did not enjoy this waiting game either.  However, his long time under the Nazgûl had taught him patience.  The results of impatience were painful at best, deadly at worst. 

Legolas stopped fidgeting and fixed his gaze intently on the door once more when the dark portal suddenly swung open.  It was eerily silent, not even creaking upon its hinges.  Yet an invisible vapor flowed out that turned blood to ice in one’s veins. 

A man stepped out of the darkened portal, dressed in a grey slave tunic of the same style as Yrinvan’s.  This man was a little shorter than the head-servant.  He made his way quickly to Yrin’s side and whispered something into the other slave’s ear.  Legolas heard them, but did not understand the tongue they used. 

Yrin nodded, a sad, resigned look coming over his face.  “Very well, Tinald.” 

Legolas’ anxious eyes watched the two humans closely, begging them to tell him what was happening. 

Yrin unbound the elf from the wall.  “Your friend has upset the Master; he will not see you today.  You must go back to the cell and wait.” 

Legolas’ heart clutched.  “No!  Where is Strider?  What’s happening?” he protested in alarm. 

With a sigh, Yrin signaled the orcs to take the elf into custody.  The Master required his presence, so he was forced to turn Legolas over to them.  “The orcs will see you back to your cell to wait.  Don’t fight them and they won’t harm you,” the servant tried to reassure. 

Legolas shuddered as the orcs pulled him into their midst, but right now his overwhelming concern for Aragorn was more pressing than his loathing of orcs.  Suddenly a deep, dark shiver made the elf freeze. 

He was here. 

The Witch-king entered the hall with Aragorn before him.  The human looked bad.  Blood ran down one side of his face and his steps fumbled slightly. 

“Strider!” Legolas called his friend’s name, struggling against the orcs that held him.  He refused to have a visible reaction to the Nazgûl’s presence, focusing on his friend. 

Aragorn looked up, his gaze instantly searching out the elf.  He nearly fell when the Nazgûl shoved him from behind, pushing him into Yrin and Tinald’s hands. 

“Take him!” the Wraith commanded. “Put the elf back in his cage.  I will see him later.” 

The two servants accepted their charge obediently, seeming to already know what their master wanted. 

Legolas thrashed, fighting the orcs dragging him bodily away.  “Stop!  Where are you taking him?!  Strider!” 

The Nazgûl did not turn or slow his steps.  “To learn prudence,” he answered coldly.


Aragorn struggled with the two servants holding him and they were forced to manhandle him down the hallway.  He tried to glance behind him but the Nazgûl blocked his view.  He desperately needed to see for himself that Legolas was all right but even that small comfort was denied him. 

The servant on his left smacked the ranger hard alongside the head as Aragorn struggled against them. 

“Stop it,” Tinald growled darkly.  “It will go easier if you come with us willingly.” The last statement was barely a whisper, meant for the captive’s ears only.  He was frustrated that this man seemed insistent on bringing the Nazgûl’s wrath down upon himself. 

The unexpected note of fear under his guard’s gruff voice gave Aragorn pause and he glanced at the man that dragged him along.  The servant would not return the ranger’s gaze but his fingers lightened up slightly on Aragorn’s arm. 

After a few turns, they stood before a large wooden door.  A small window had been built into it and was covered by a steel plate that could be opened to view the interior. 

Neither of the men holding Aragorn would look him in the eye; instead they turned him around to face their lord.  The Nazgûl watched, pleased to see the fear that shadowed the ranger’s gaze. 

“Prepare him.”  The black lord’s voice whispered seductively; a soft hissing laugh accompanied the command. 

Every one of the servants who lived in the palace had spent time in this very room and each one knew exactly what they could expect.  Reluctantly, Aragorn’s guards stripped the ranger’s coat and outer tunic from his body, hanging the clothing on pegs beside the heavy door.  They allowed the man to retain his light undershirt.  His hands were pulled in front of him and bound together before being manacled by heavy metal cuffs placed over and around the ropes. 

Feelings of helplessness edged into Aragorn’s mind and he began to fear what the Nazgûl had in store for him.  The anxiety released adrenaline into his system and, before he had thought through his options, he kicked out at the man on his left, bringing Tinald down and leaping over the fallen slave, trying to get past the servants.  He had no idea what they had in mind for him but the servant’s hesitancy spiked a fear through his system that he could not explain.  The slaves tried to keep hold of the ranger but Aragorn was faster than they were, even bound.  Escape was the only thing he had in his mind. 

Yrin and Tinald reacted a trifle too slowly.  In the black lord’s home no one resisted when told where to go or what to do, even if it was to a punishment cell such as this.  The Nazgûl was simply obeyed. 

The ranger was far from compliant. 

In moments it was obvious that the household servants were not going to be able to control Aragorn.  The Witch-king was growing impatient; he had other things he needed to attend to and this diversion was slowing his plans.  Moving swiftly, the black-robed Wraith hooked his gloved fingers in the ranger’s hair and forcefully pulled the human back.  With his left hand, he pressed the tip of the metal spike on his forefinger into the wound in Aragorn’s shoulder. 

The slightest pressure by the dark lord spiked the latent poisons and the ranger dropped to his knees, crying out under the paralyzing pain.  Bands of agony wrapped his body in steel bonds and the breath left his lungs in a rush. 

“Now get him in the cell,” the Witch-king commanded darkly, shoving Aragorn back towards his servants.  “Remove his shirt as well.  That can be his punishment for his foolish resistance.”  The dark lord hissed. 

“ lord...” Yrinvan shifted nervously as he gently helped Aragorn to his feet.  The ranger was too dazed to put up much opposition now.  “It was my understanding, My Lord, that you wanted him to live.  He will not survive without some protection.”  The servant winced as he softly protested.  It was not wise to cross the Nazgûl, but the headservant could not help pointing out the obvious.  Sometimes when the Wraith was provoked, he did things he later regretted.  Usually that meant that whatever he had done instantly became Yrin’s fault as he expected the chief slave to see to his concerns even better than he saw to them himself.  It was a difficult and dangerous edge for the underling to navigate. 

“You question me.”  The dark, hissing answer was a statement, not a question. 

“No, My Lord. I would not deign to cross you, ever.  Forgive me my simple mind.  I just thought you wanted him to live until the morning.”  Yrinvan glanced at Tinald.

The other servant was shifting nervously; his fingers hesitantly fumbled to unbutton Aragorn’s shirt while his friend talked to their master.  He hoped Yrinvan knew what he was doing, his friend took far too many risks and he feared what would happen.  If the Witch-king was in a bad mood he could order them all into the cell.  He knew for certain he would never survive the night there again, he barely had the first time his lord had thrown him in there.  Conditioning they had called it.  A little discomfort went a long way in garnering obedience. 

Aragorn slumped against Yrinvan, falling to his knees as Tinald bent over him, removing the light shirt he wore.  The ranger was trying to catch his breath, trying to still the pain that was still keeping him nearly paralyzed in the dark lord’s presence.  A soft sob escaped his lips and he bit back the tears that formed.  Just the touch of the evil Wraith was enough torment; he could not understand what the servants feared so much. 

“Of course I want him alive, fool,” the Nazgûl answered as if that were obvious.  He glared at the ranger, the heat of his hatred an almost palpable wave of anger in the passageway.  “Sometimes I forget how little your pitiful mortal bodies can withstand.  Very well, you can give it back to him at midnight.  IF I do not change my mind.” 

Tinald sighed softly; closing his eyes as he quickly unbound the ranger’s hands, removed the shirt completely and refastened the ropes and manacles.  Eru, that was close.  Their master must really want this prisoner for something. 

“I’m sorry,” Tinald whispered softly to the ranger as Yrinvan opened the door and he pushed Aragorn over the threshold. 

As soon as the wooden hatch was opened, a blast of icy cold air barreled down the tunnel, blowing the robes of the Nazgûl about him like a dark whirlwind.  With a sudden shock of clarity Aragorn realized why the servants had been so afraid for him. 

He glanced up to where the ceiling of the small cell should have been and instead saw the bright, clear, starry night high above.  The room, no larger than ten paces in any direction, looked as though it had been bored straight down through the rock of the mountain itself.  The shaft had a grate that enclosed the top of the vertical tunnel, keeping out any predators or large animals.  The wind blew down viciously into the cell without impediment however, bringing with it liberal showers of the snow and ice that collected against the outside of the grill. 

Loosed by the draft created by the open door, a freezing cascade of white fell down upon the ranger, coating his shoulders and hair.  Aragorn flinched, shaking the snow off him and onto the ground that was already thick with the frozen precipitation.  The snow stung his exposed flesh like a million painful needles.  It clung to him when he tried to shake it off, burning like frozen fire.  He wished he could brush the snow away, but his bound hands did not allow it. 

The door clanged shut and the small window opened.  Yrinvan glanced in hesitantly.  “Try to keep moving.  Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep,” he cautioned quietly, his tone even and emotionless in front of his Master.  “I’ll be back after midnight.” 

The Nazgûl pushed his servant aside and glared through the portal.  Hissing laughter issued from somewhere beneath the dark, empty hood.  “I would use this time to think long and hard about what you are going to say to me tomorrow when I question you... I would suggest the truth.”  Slamming the window closed, he turned and pulled the human’s clothing from the pegs near the door.  Stalking down the hallway he followed the passages back to the elf’s cell.

Legolas jumped when the door to his prison scraped suddenly open and he stepped forward, hoping beyond all hope that Aragorn was being brought back.  The small oil lamp on the back wall barely illuminated the four corners of the cell and with the morgul darkness blanketing his senses the elf could not see the Wraith as the Nazgûl crossed the threshold.  He could, however, feel the dark one’s presence and pressed back against the recess behind him.  He was not such a fool that he could not admit his own limitations to himself, and the truth was he was more afraid of this being than anything else on Middle-earth. 

A black gloved hand tossed a wad of familiar looking cloth into the cell. 

“Your friend won’t be needing these tonight.”  He laughed darkly as he left.  The door swung shut ominously behind him and the lock clicked loudly into place. 

Picking up the bundle, Legolas turned it over in his hands.  His heart froze in his chest as he realized he was holding most of Aragorn’s clothing.  Oh no, Valar no... What had they done to him?  What might they still be doing? 

Panic bubbled in the elf’s chest.  He realized that when he came here, he had been afraid of all the wrong things.  He had feared seeing the Witch-king again, he had feared losing Aragorn, he had feared torment in the dark... but the real terror here was helplessness.  All he could do was sit here.  All he could do was wait.  He didn’t even know where Aragorn was or what was happening to him. 

Legolas buried his face in Aragorn’s shirt, clenching it in his hands until his knuckles turned white.  “Bring him back.  Please, I don’t care what’s happened, just bring him back...” he whispered softly into the dark fabric.


When the Nazgûl had slammed the small window closed, it shut out all light save for the bright pinpoints of the stars high above in the heavens.  Aragorn’s eyes adjusted slowly to the dimness.  The room closed in on him, the walls pressing in claustrophobically.  It wasn’t just the cold.  There was evil here, shrouding, choking, terrifying evil, the kind that could whisper in a man’s mind until he wanted to claw his ears off to make it stop.  The ranger glanced around nervously, expecting something, anything.  The servants had been so fearful of this place... it unnerved him.  However, nothing stirred, save the night winds and the snow that constantly rained down on him. 

The stone walls were too cold to rest against and the ground below his feet was thick with snow.  There was no place to sit, no place of comfort, no place to rest his weary body.  Aragorn’s shoulder ached mercilessly and soon his fingers and toes followed suit. 

Voices whispered constantly in his ears.  At first he thought it was the wind, but eventually he realized it was not.  Fell voices murmured maliciously around him, barely audible.  They spoke of defeat, despair, death... they turned Aragorn’s own thoughts against him and shredded at his waning strength.  It wasn’t long before the ranger realized why the servants feared this cell so much. 

He tried walking in circles, running in place... anything to keep himself warm, but as the night temperatures dropped, they sucked away any remaining heat that the room retained. 

To Aragorn it seemed he had been pacing numbly forever, although some part of his sluggish brain was telling him it had only been a few hours at most.  Violent shivering had taken over sometime ago and he could no longer feel his legs or arms.  His hands, bound as they were in front of him, were useless in staving off the freezing cold, he couldn’t even rub them together for what warmth that would create.  What little sweat his body had generated now coated his face and hair in a thin layer of ice.  He stumbled over his own feet, falling to his knees.  It seemed that he vaguely remembered being here before.  Wasn’t almost freezing to death once in a lifetime enough?  Apparently not. 

“What are you fighting for?  Give up, you’ve lost, there is no hope left in the world, just give up...”

Clumsily Aragorn tried to gain his feet again but his body wasn’t listening to him anymore.  He couldn’t stop moving.  He would die, he knew that. 

“Would that be so bad?  The snow is soft and you can just lie down for a minute.  It won’t hurt at all.”  The small thought echoed treacherously in his mind. 

Aragorn nodded slowly.  Yes, that’s what he really wanted.  He couldn’t remember anymore why he was here or where ‘here’ was.  He collapsed in the collected drifts on the bottom of the cell, the compacted snow pillowing his head.  It wasn’t cold anymore; in fact it was oddly comfortable and even warm.  He smiled slightly and sighed through lips that were tinged an alarming shade of blue.  Slowly, the human closed his eyes and his breathing slowed as his body began to shut down.