Escape from Mordor

Chapter 4

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Please come now, I think I’m falling
Holding onto all I think is safe
Seems I’ve found the road to nowhere,
And I’m trying to escape.

I yelled back when I heard thunder,
But I’m down to one last breath
And with it let me say...

Hold me now, I’m six feet from the edge and I’m thinking
Maybe six feet ain’t so far down...


The orcs surrounding the human began fighting amongst themselves, angry that their fun and games had come to such a quick end.  Purtang was shoved roughly back into a knot of the dark creatures as the older orc pushed Aragorn away from him and followed the underling.  In moments the tangle of orcs had erupted into an all out brawl, their prisoners mostly forgotten. 

Legolas’ guard left the elf unattended and rushed into the melee.  It was not often that they got a good fight going amongst themselves and he wasn’t about to be left out. 

Legolas pressed himself up on his hands and knees, breathing in deeply and filling lungs that had been starved for air.  He glanced to where Aragorn lay only a few feet away.  The man was unconscious, lying on his side.  Blood pooled down from a cut to his head and he was covered in dirt from the press of the orcs.  His clothes were torn and the skin that the elf could see was scratched and bleeding. Amazingly it appeared that the orcs had only taken to beating the young human with their fists and boots; not one of them had produced a whip to help subdue him.  That much was a mercy. 

Dragging himself over to the prone ranger, the elf carefully rolled Aragorn onto his back and pulled the human into his lap, holding the man’s head gently against his chest as he rocked them both back and forth.  The chain that held them bound together made movement difficult but the elf would not let that stop him.  He needed the contact as badly as his friend did.  He was shaking and unable to control the trembling that wracked his body.  The adrenaline in his system had had no outlet and tears streamed down his face as he tried to deal with the relief that his friend was alive and the guilt that he had been able to do nothing to help him. 

Graghnak watched his men for a few moments and sighed deeply, shaking his head.  They were always provoking one another and this had been brewing for some time.  He simply watched them beat on each another until Gortag, his second in command, walked up to him. 

“Shouldn’t we stop them?”  the smaller orc eyed his commander through slitted gaze. 

“Why?  They have been waiting for this, let them fight.  Maybe it will cull out some of the trouble makers.” 

Gortag’s harsh laugh caused the captain to smile darkly. 

“And what of them?”  The orc turned and glanced at Legolas and Aragorn. 

Graghnak looked back at the two prisoners dispassionately.  “What of them?” He shrugged, catching an orc that stumbled in their direction and shoving the creature back into the fray with a laugh. 

“They might try to get away again,” Gortag cautioned. 

“The elf is almost dead; you can see it in his eyes.  With the weight of that human holding him down, he’s not going anywhere tonight.”  The manacles they had been using on the elf had gotten damaged somehow when he escaped and were now useless.  Probably the work of that meddling human. 

“Then I’ll put them in collars.” Graghnak’s second-in-command was not comfortable with the idea of leaving the two troublemakers not completely secured. 

Graghnak growled.  It was a good idea; unfortunately it wouldn’t work.  “We don’t have any more.  Our allotment of slaves was too great this time and that fool Rasbag didn’t bring enough.  We’ll keep a sharp eye out and they’ll be all right for the moment; we have nothing to worry from that little elf or his human friend, do we?”  Graghnak turned and kicked at the fair being that was watching them closely, but Legolas stared back into the foul creature’s face unflinchingly, his hands protectively covering the human he held.  His desire to live had returned to him a little, if not fully, now that Aragorn was near and they were together.  He knew he could not give up with his friend depending on him and they would have another chance to escape, of this he was sure.  He would not let them torment and kill the human; Aragorn’s body could not withstand the orcs’ torture as well as that of an elf. 

“What are you looking at?”  Gortag growled at the elf. 

“I am looking at a dead orc, spawn of Mordor,” the elf spat back at his captors in elvish.  He knew full well the orcs couldn’t understand him, but the tone and the defiance were easy to read. 

“Why you...” The orc stepped forward but was stopped by Graghnak. 

“Leave him.  We’ll teach him how to talk to his betters later. Right now we best break this fight up. I see we’ve already lost Toks and Gretnayz.”  Pulling a whip off his belt the commander and his second waded into the sea of orcs beating them off one another and calling for an end to the brawling.  In moments the camp had stilled and the orcs sat in small groups muttering curses at each other under their breaths and tending their own wounds, laughing about what had just happened. 

A thick, black, heady mead was brought out and passed around.  Soon the orcs were toasting themselves long into the night until most of them began to doze, intoxicated and worn out.  

The sentries were set and a scowling orc waddled over and dropped down near where Legolas sat holding Aragorn.  “Don’t even think about trying anything, elf, or I’ll send you to join the other maggot!” he growled before settling his chin forward to rest on the handle of his axe which he leaned against the ground.  

After about a half hour, however, the guards’ eyes closed and his head fell forward on his breast.  The other sentries were not far behind.  

Legolas could hardly believe the dark creatures were so foolish, but then orcs had never been renowned for their cleverness.  Plus, the fact that he had run twice now, and both times they had recaptured him without much trouble seemed to bolster their confidence.  Still the sentries nodded only fitfully, and any sudden movements would awaken them.  Legolas knew that if he gave even the slightest sign of causing trouble the orcs would beat him senseless if that kept him still enough for them to safely sleep off the rest of their grog.  Drunk orcs were dangerous orcs.  

After a little while, he began to slowly inch farther away from the encampment, pulling Aragorn with him, until his back touched the blackened wall that he had been manacled to earlier that day.  Their guard stirred and glanced at him crossly, but Legolas just leaned his slumped shoulders against the stone wall and closed his eyes as if a more comfortable resting place was his only aim.  

The orc grunted and stopped scrutinizing them, his eyes soon glazing over once more.  Legolas bent over the ranger and whispered softly to the still unconscious man. 

“Estel.”  The elf brushed the dark locks of tangled hair away from the bruised face. “Estel, wake up.”  He spoke softly in elvish, not wanting to disturb their guards.  Gently he felt the ranger’s chest and arms for breaks or fractures, but it seemed that Aragorn had survived his beating only badly bruised, save for the cut on his head.  The crush of the orcs around him had actually saved the human from being more severely wounded than he was.  For that Legolas was glad.  

Legolas’ hair brushed across the ranger’s face; the gentle touch and the sounds of the elvish language bringing him slowly around.  Aragorn started slightly, breathing quickly and glancing about them, his eyes wide and his body immediately tensing as his mind remembered the last few moments of consciousness. 

“No, it is well.  They have forgotten us for the night.  Shhh...”  Legolas gently stilled his friend’s movements. “Relax.  You were beaten badly but there are no broken bones.”  The elf redirected his gaze from the sleeping orcs that shifted in their slumber back down to the face of the human that he still held in his arms.  He smiled slightly, careful of his split lip and Aragorn noticed that the faint light the elf gave off naturally brightened just a degree. 

Returning the smile, Aragorn relaxed against his friend and let his breathing calm down as he took in their surroundings. 

“We are not staked down?” the ranger asked quietly as he moved his chained wrist, trying to see the lock.  The metal clinked dully and he stopped moving. 

“No.”  Legolas bent close near the ranger’s ear and spoke softly, his eyes watching the plain before them for any sign that their captors were awake. “I do not believe they thought you would recover this soon.  They do not know how hard your head is, my friend.” 

Legolas was rewarded with another tenuous smile. 

“They may have meant to do more, but these creatures cannot even keep mind together long enough to see to their own ends,” Legolas whispered with quiet disdain.  “Too much brawling and drink has taken care of that.  Our guard is sleeping off his portion of both.” 

Slowly, and with help from the prince, Aragorn sat up and untangled the length of chain that connected them, moving quietly so that the elf was on his left. 

“I suspect they thought you were much more seriously injured,” Legolas offered when Aragorn glanced back at the prince, one eyebrow raised in question upon seeing the sleeping camp.  

The ranger found it hard to believe the orcs hadn’t been more careful.  As though reading his thoughts Legolas continued, “Aragorn we are in Mordor, where would we go?” 

“How about out of Mordor, and now!”  the ranger whispered back. “Whether intentionally or by accident, they will kill us before we reach Barad-dûr. We cannot remain here any longer.” 

“What do you suggest?”  Legolas glanced back at the area in front of them; it was strewn with the hulks of sleeping orcs. 

Aragorn was eyeing the encampment intently.  He spied the slaves still picketed on the far side, trying to sleep in the awkward positions that their metal collars held them.  The orcs were asleep now, but they were everywhere, blocking all foreseeable means of escape.  Movement was risky, especially with the heavy, clinking chain that now connected them.  The ranger’s gaze continued to roam, seeking to light upon a source of inspiration for how they were going to get out of this.  

Near the fire the orcs had piled their cache of supplies.  He could just see by the light of the dying embers his knapsack and leaning against it were his sword and what looked like Legolas’ bow and quiver. 

“Do you think you could handle your weapons at need?” Aragorn asked softly, kneeling into a crouched position, his eyes still surveying the encampment.  He knew Legolas was weak, but he wasn’t sure how weak. 

“Perhaps, but they are long gone. The Corsairs took them.”  Legolas leaned against his friend for a moment, his weariness stealing back over him as his body began to ache once more now that the fear of losing his friend was over. 

Aragorn turned quickly to the elf and knelt beside him, a little alarmed by the elf’s actions.  “Legolas what is it?” 

“I am weary, Aragorn.”  Tired blue eyes stared up into the silver ones. 

“I know.” 

“No, I am not sure you do.  This is no normal weariness, it is more.  We are in Mordor and the evil is heavy... so heavy.”  Legolas touched his heart lightly with the fingers of his free left hand.  He knew the human could not fully understand or appreciate the way the weight of the evil here hung upon the sensitive immortal heart; especially one that had been wounded.  

“And that, my friend, is why we are leaving tonight.”  Aragorn shifted in front of the elf and held the prince’s gaze, knowing that Legolas was nearing the limits of his strength.  It was a bad time to attempt a second escape, but Legolas’ health was not going to improve under the orcs' captivity and they would likely never get another chance like this. 

“We are going to go to that pile of supplies and retrieve my knapsack and our weapons. I ransomed yours from the Corsairs, but the orcs took them with mine.  Once we have them, we shall set the slaves free,” Aragorn explained his plan.  

“The orcs will hear, we cannot!” Legolas gripped the man’s arms and held him tightly.  He hated his own momentary flash of cowardice, but as much as he wanted to help the others he feared being caught more.  He had suffered through it once and been spared the full brunt of it this time only because they had taken their rage out upon Aragorn and each other.  The same would not be true of a third time.  If the orcs beat him again, Legolas knew he would not survive. 

“Exactly.”  Aragorn smiled down into the worried face and braced his hands against Legolas’ shoulders. 

“Has anyone told you lately that you are insane?” Legolas whispered fiercely. 

“Not since Pelargir, no.” Aragorn laughed softly and explained himself. “Yes the orcs will hear, my friend, and that is good.  The camp will be in chaos, the fire has burned out and we can slip away in the darkness.  With everyone running in every direction our chances of being detected will be minimal and, even if we are followed, it will not be by half that horde, but only one or two.  Besides it will give the slaves a fair chance to escape as well, the only one I am able to offer them.  If everyone runs, there is a better chance that more will escape.  I made a promise to do what I could for them and I’ll keep it.” 

He smiled slightly as the elf caught on to his plan, nodding slowly and glancing around the ranger’s shoulders.  “You are right as usual, mellon-nín,” he whispered softly.  “Forgive me.  I am not myself.” 

Aragorn’s heart ached.  After what his friend had been through he had no reason to apologize for anything.  However, when he answered, his words were light and meant to make the elf smile.  “Obviously you are not, or you wouldn’t be admitting I was right.” 

He lifted the chain between them and held it up where the elf could see it, “We have to go together and thanks to this it will not be easy.  I know you are tired my friend, but do this with me and I will see that we get out of here.”  Or die trying.  The mental note was not added aloud.  

“I cannot use my weapons bound to you as I am.” Legolas stared hard at his friend.  These feelings of helplessness were not something the elf was used to or enjoyed as far as emotions went.  It seemed to him that he had been dogged by nothing but fear since they had entered Mordor’s borders. 

“You can. I’ve been thinking about that and I will show you, but not tonight.  I’ll carry your bow and you take your quiver.  Your knives are still in it you will not be defenseless,” the ranger promised. 

Legolas still hesitated, his stomach tight.  He had never felt this uneasy about anything before and he cursed himself for it, but it seemed so hard to overcome the weary apprehension that was attempting to nail him to the spot.  “Strider...” 

Aragorn bit his lip.  Legolas was right; he was not acting like himself.  He couldn’t fault the elf, and yet he longed to have his confident friend back once more.  It hurt him to see the prince so lost.  

“Legolas... I know you are... wary, and that’s all right.  You would be crazy not to be, I am.  But we’ll make it out of this.  Somehow.”  The ranger could tell that the elf felt vulnerable and afraid, although he was careful not to use those words so as to avoid damaging his friend’s pride.  

Elves seemed to think they should be invulnerable to fear and second-guessing, and maybe they were more resistant, Aragorn didn’t know.  But those emotions were ones that the ranger had become used to as a human; ones that came and went frequently with the situations he had often found himself in throughout his life.  Lord Elrond had spent a lot of time when he was younger trying to convince him that there was nothing wrong with that, and it was your response to the fear that mattered.  It was odd to find himself on the other side of the argument this time, the one giving the encouragement, but he was not about to let the elf fall back into despair. 

“Now, are you ready?” 

Legolas smiled wearily and nodded.  “So long as you have hope enough for both of us, my friend.  Faerthoniel,” he whispered in elvish.  “Spirit kindler.” 

Aragorn leaned forward and rested his forehead against the elf’s.  They sat that way for a few moments, resting in the cool night air.  He could feel the way the prince trembled slightly and knew that once they were free they would need to find safety, and fast.  

“You think I need any more names, my friend?” he whispered.  

Legolas chuckled.  “No, you certainly do not.” 

Pushing back from the elf, Aragorn smiled before twisting on his boot heels and standing quietly to his feet.  Next to him Legolas rose as well.  The prince’s sharp sight even in the darkness gave him the advantage as he stepped forward, intending to step over their guard who had sunk down until he was lying on his side. 

The heavy-set orc moved in his sleep, turning towards the two friends who dropped quickly back to the ground.  The dark creature’s eyes opened, mere slits as he gazed unseeingly at the duo, his mind still fogged with sleep and not awake.  With a groan he stretched and turned back over, falling into a deep sleep once more. 

“That was too close.”  Aragorn let out a heavy sigh and stood to his feet again, resting his hands on his knees as Legolas stood shakily next to them. 

“Shall we try again?” the elf whispered. 

With a nod Aragorn motioned for the prince to continue and they stepped lightly over their sleeping guard, threading their way quietly through the camp. 

In moments they crouched by the mound of supplies.  Aragorn quickly retrieved his sword, strapping it on awkwardly as he tried to move around the chains and be fast, yet silent, about their escape.  Shifting his knapsack over his head and right shoulder he passed Legolas his weapons.  The prince threw the strap over his neck and eased into the harness while Aragorn picked up the elf’s bow and slung it over his back. 

As they stood to leave, the ranger snagged a flask of water and shoved it into his pack.  He had no idea of the lay of the land and was not even sure Mordor had drinkable water. 

Nearing the slaves, Aragorn held his right hand out to the elf.  Legolas placed one of his perfectly balanced knives in the upturned palm.  The ranger grasped the picket line that the slaves were all connected to and quickly cut the thick rope.  The bright eyes of the human nearest Aragorn gazed at him in fright and the people did not move when the rope that held them fast together slipped from the rings at their necks and dropped to the floor of the canyon. 

“Go.” Aragorn whispered to the bearded man that crouched in front of him, watching the ranger intently.  When they did move, Aragorn stood to his feet, pulling Legolas up with him and running lightly away before calling back: “Run!” 

An orc near the slaves stirred and rolled over.  One of the captive women screamed and leapt to her feet.  Pulling a teenaged child with her, they ran into the night, calling to the others. 

In moments the camp was in chaos as the slaves went fleeing into the dark in every direction, stumbling over and into their captors and waking the orcs.  The dark creatures, sluggish from the alcohol they had imbibed, responded slowly at first, trying to understand what all the commotion was. 

Gortag, however, had woken quickly and saw the ranger and the elf fleeing northward.  He called out to Graghnak, waking his captain.  The orc captain, seeing the slaves disappearing into the night, began kicking his underlings, waking them quickly.  The snap of his whip could be heard as it licked the backs of the sleeping orcs. 

The sharp crack of leather thongs spurred Aragorn and Legolas on.  The shouts of Graghnak echoed through the canyon spiking fear through the two escapees. 

“Find the elf and that human! I want them brought back alive so they can know what it means to cross me!  Find them!” he yelled, kicking at a pack of orcs and pointing in the direction the prisoners had escaped to. “FIND THEM!!”  He threw a bow at one of his men to urge them on faster; his anger peaked as he spun around taking in the empty, disheveled camp.  This had never happened under his watch before and he would not tolerate a slave break-out.  

Gortag stood to his left and he growled at an underling.  With a sharp nod the orc ran off into the dark, chasing after the pack that was hunting the ranger and the elf.  The orc knew it would go badly for them if they returned empty-handed. 

Arrows whistled past Legolas’ head, flying blindly in the dark.  The elf ducked and shied to his right, stepping into Aragorn and causing them both to stumble off balance. 

Aragorn grabbed Legolas and righted the elf, pushing him forward and ducking as a second volley rained down about them. 

“We have to get out of sight!” Legolas shouted at his friend. 

Only sparing time to nod, the ranger increased his speed, forcing the elf to keep up with him as he frantically took in the darkened landscape about them.  The stars could not penetrate the thick haze that hung over Mordor and with the new moon all he had to guide them by was Legolas’ faint brightness. 

Aragorn swerved midstep, dragging Legolas with him as he headed for a low, dark ridge that rose on their left.  The face of the cliff was pocked with holes and caves, their yawning openings a deep black against the night.  Without thinking the ranger ran for a large opening in the rocky wall.  They needed to lose their pursuers and he had an idea... idea that did not sit well with his companion.  Seeing where the ranger intended to lead them, Legolas stopped running and yanked backwards hard on the short chain that connected their manacled wrists. 

Aragorn nearly stumbled as his forward motion was stopped so abruptly and he swung around to see what had become of the prince.  The look on the elf’s face was nothing less than complete belligerence. 

“Legolas, come on!” Aragorn glanced nervously behind them. He could hear the orcs closing in; it would be mere seconds before they rounded the corner and came in full view of the two prisoners.  He knew this time they would never live through their punishment for escaping. “We can hide in the caves.  We can lose them there.  This land is too flat and there is nowhere to hide.  It’s our only chance!” 

“We are in Mordor!” the elf nearly shouted. “Do you have any idea what may live in a cave in Mordor?” 

“I know that our pursers don’t.”  Aragorn jerked hard on the link that bound them together, dragging the unwilling prince forward a few steps.  “Now come on!”  He was nearly frantic.  “Legolas, what do you fear more?  The cave or the orcs?  We must go!  I swear I am NOT going to stand here and have this argument with you again!  Trust me!  Come!” 

“I cannot go in there.”  The elf’s eyes were wide and dark, the sheer terror of evil that weighted down his soul just from being in the twisted, forsaken land of their enemy wreaking havoc on the prince.  Being injured, and faced with going into places he hated at the best of times, made it almost too much.  It was true, he feared being recaptured by the orcs more than he had ever thought it was possible to fear anything... but going into that yawning dark hole before them and being buried alive by the pressing weight of Mordor’s evil terrified him almost the same.  As much as Aragorn loved his friend, he truly could not understand what Legolas was going through, nor appreciate the torment their situation caused.  A human never could. 

Even though they were not as far north yet as Gorgoroth, the elf could feel the evil as though it were the very air he breathed.  It skittered down his spine in eerie patterns, he heard it on the haunting winds that blew through the wasted canyons, and when he breathed in the foul air of Mordor it caught in his chest and choked him.  The terror of the place gripped the elf’s heart and he was afraid that the dark, whispering voices were right and he would never make it out alive.  The darkness clouded his heart and his mind, fogging his reason.  

The burden Legolas felt did not weigh so heavily on his human companion.  Aragorn did not have the sensitivity of the elven race to the terrible oppression of evil that permeated in the land Sauron had claimed, yet even he was aware of a deep, vague dread that had constantly echoed in his heart from the moment he had crossed the westernmost mountain-fence of Mordor in search of his friend.  

From not very far away the brutish language of the orcs rang clearly in his ears, shattering the two friends’ impasse.  

They were out of time.