24. Battles in the Dark
Everything was cold and dark. He floated alone through a world of nothingness, where the only sensation was one of intense suffocation. The darkness pressed in on him, filled him, until he was no more than a tiny particle within a massive river of black ice, the uncaring current sweeping him away to oblivion. He did not fight against it. He did not know how. The blackness and cold was all he knew, all he would ever know, and he lay quiet and meek within its icy embrace.
All thoughts and memories of who and what he had once been were overcome by the cold, the shadow resting over him refusing to allow any link between mind and body. Deep within the blanket of darkness, physical sensations were as lost to him as his mental sensations, stolen as surely as light and warmth. There was nothing, and he was lost.
This was the world into which he had been banished. A world devoid of any light or warmth, any life or hope. For an elf, who so cherished these things, this world was a place of ultimate suffering and agony that went far beyond physical sensations. A world in which any thought would freeze and then shatter into a million shards before the mind could grasp it.
He was completely unaware of anything outside of this darkness. Unaware of his friends, who even now crowded close beside him, calling to him and urging him to fight against the black nothingness he was quickly becoming. He was unaware of the gentle hands that touched him and cared for him, unaware even of the presence and voice of his deepest and dearest friend. It was all lost to the blackness.
Yet slowly, very slowly, the darkness seemed to ease around him, its suffocating grip lessening a little. This change was so minute that he barely noticed it, and even if he had, even if his mind had comprehended the meaning behind the sudden relief, the remaining darkness would have quickly flushed all thought away. Yet a rift within the darkness had opened and could not be shut again. The blackness continued to slowly loose its tight grip upon its captive, and as its embrace grew weaker, the first dim flickers of life reappeared.
Time flowed on, if there could be such a thing as time in this place, yet something was different. The flicker of life within him was growing, ever so slowly, while the darkness retreated. Pinpricks of thought began to return to him, just as the cool pinpricks of returning blood to an arm or leg that has fallen asleep. The thoughts brought with them a gentle reminder of warmth and light, and he clung to them as a drowning man would a piece of driftwood. The blackness, as if sensing the new spark of life within its prisoner, attempted to encompass him once more, closing in like a suffocating wave.
He would have been overcome then, but for a single word that penetrated the blackness around him, echoing throughout his mind and bringing him a sudden surge of warmth and strength. The word came to him as if through a great distance, seeming both strange and familiar to him. He repeated it over and over within his mind, using it to fight off the darkness and finding a new strength within himself.
‘Legolas’ his mind screamed, and though he did not yet understand the significance of the word, he knew that it was the key to the battle he now fought. The battle against the cold and dark. The battle that would become one of the longest and hardest he would ever fight.
“Legolas,” Gimli called softly, reaching out and gently touching his friend’s shoulder. “Legolas,” he repeated, searching desperately for some stir of life within the elf. Behind him, Aragorn and Gandalf stood silently, watching in sympathy the dwarf’s continued efforts to rouse Legolas. Gimli had been calling to his friend for the last five minutes and though he had yet to receive any response, he was determined not to give up. Aragorn and Gandalf saw the efforts as futile, but neither said anything, realizing that Gimli’s actions were as much for the dwarf’s own sake as for Legolas’.
Arwen had just left with Pippin and the other hobbits, leaving Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf to think over the news the brave young hobbit had brought them. The emotions of all the fellowship were mixed. Joy and relief at the return of Legolas and Pippin were combined with worry, uncertainty, anger, and even a hint of desperation. One thing they all knew for sure; something had to be done about Malek, and soon if the city was to have any hope of survival.
Several more minutes passed in silence but for Gimli’s soft calls. At last the dwarf slumped back, sinking into the chair Pippin had just vacated and letting out a long sigh. He was not used to feeling so helpless, and the frustration within him was growing to dangerous heights. He glanced toward Aragorn, trying to hide his worry over Legolas and failing miserably. “Is there nothing more we can do for him?” he asked hopelessly, already knowing the answer.
Aragorn shook his head gently. “Arwen and I have already tended to his physical wounds and he is as comfortable as we can make him. Now we can only wait. Perhaps he will wake soon.”
Gimli let out a loud grunt. “Yes, and when he does, will he be the mindless zombie that Pippin described? Will he even recognize us?”
Again, Aragorn merely shook his head. “We will just have to wait and see,” he responded quietly. Despite his calm words, Aragorn was troubled and deeply worried for Legolas. The elf had been a close companion and a dear friend for many years, and it pained Aragorn when he thought of the shadow lying so heavily over Legolas. Moreso because of the heavy responsibility he felt toward his friend’s present condition. He was desperate to help Legolas, but from the moment he had touched the elf, he had know that the shadow over him was beyond his ability to heal. He and Arwen had done all they could, both healers of no small talent, but now all they could do was wait.
“I hate waiting,” Gimli muttered, then turned his eyes on Gandalf. “And what of you?” he asked gruffly. “What do you think of the hobbit’s tale?”
Gandalf was deeply lost in thought and barely heard Gimli’s question. He turned his gaze briefly to the dwarf, one hand absently stroking his beard and his eyes distant. “Interesting,” he at last replied before turning back to his own private contemplations.
Gimli glared at him, mumbling loudly beneath his breath. “For a very wise and learned wizard, I would expect you to be able to come up with a slightly better word than ‘interesting’”, he huffed, switching his glare to Aragorn when the man let out a wry chuckle. “I meant,” he continued loudly, after clearing his throat to gain Gandalf’s attention, “what do you think of what Malek did to Legolas? If the physician can’t come up with any answers, perhaps the wizard can!” His voice was harsh and sarcastic, and he realized remorsefully that he was unfairly taking out his frustration on Aragorn and Gandalf. He was somewhat amazed that he had refrained from burying his axe deep into one of the few pieces of furniture in the room, and guessed that all his time with Legolas was rubbing off on him. His friend seemed to contain an unending patience, and Gimli found himself more and more often holding himself in check, whereas before he would have lost his temper.
Both Aragorn and Gandalf understood all too well the dwarf’s raging emotions at the moment, and neither took offense at his harsh words.
“Malek has cast some sort of spell over Legolas,” Gandalf finally answered slowly. “A very dark and ancient spell from the sounds of it and how he went about it.” Gandalf stepped forward, looking down at Legolas’ chest intently, even though the bloody scratches left by Malek were hidden from his eyes by a thick patch of clean bandages.
“So how do we go about getting rid of this spell?” Gimli asked impatiently. “You’re a wizard, can’t you do something to help him?”
Gandalf sighed heavily. “I am afraid, Master dwarf, that to know even where to begin to help him, I would have had to have been present when Malek cast the spell. Dealing with another’s magic is harder than you might think, and with my weakened abilities and sketchy information, I could end up doing more harm than good.”
Gimli sank back into the chair, his shoulders drooping and his face desolate. “Then it is hopeless,” he whispered. “Even should he wake, he will not know himself, let alone any of us. He shall be forever lost within his own world of darkness.” Gimli’s voice was filled with despair and weariness, and his apparent surrender came as somewhat of a shock to his two companions. Gimli was not one to give up, no matter what the odds against him.
“Do not give up on him yet, dear friend,” Aragorn replied comfortingly. “You are forgetting a very important detail within Pippin’s tale.”
Gimli cast Aragorn a tired glance. “And what is that?” he asked unenthusiastically.
It was Gandalf who answered. “Malek never finished the spell,” he answered matter of factly, his voice soft but firm.
Gimli gave a derisive snort. “What he did manage is quite enough, don’t you think,” he asked wryly, pointedly glancing toward the still form on the bed.
“True,” Gandalf replied slowly. “However, unfinished spells have a tendency to…” the wizard paused as if searching for an appropriate word, then shrugged and finished, “unravel.”
“Unravel?” Gimli repeated questioningly, unsure of the wizard’s meaning.
“Dissipating,” Gandalf clarified, “fading away,” he waved one thin hand in the air as if brushing away an invisible strand of smoke. “Slowly,” he added as an afterthought, when he noticed the excited glint reentering Gimli’s eyes. “And if this is truly the case with Legolas, then our friend has a very long and hard fight before him. He will need all the help and support that we can give him.”
“And he shall have it,” Gimli stated boldly, “whenever and whatever I can give!”
“He will carry many scars from this,” Aragorn said sadly, his eyes locked on the pale form of his friend. Gimli and Gandalf both knew that he spoke of more than the physical scars that Legolas would carry on his back and chest. “He may never be the same after this.”
Aragorn’s statement hung heavy in the small room, and though none of them wished to dwell on it, they all knew the truth of the words.
The door opened and Arwen entered, the slight smile of amusement on her face at odds with the tenseness in the room. Aragorn gave her a questioning look as she passed by him to the bed, and her grin grew wider.
“I trust our brave new hero is resting comfortably?” Gandalf asked softly, also watching Arwen closely.
The elf maiden shook her head, her eyes twinkling. “Nay,” she answered, “he is attending to a more important matter at the moment.”
Aragorn frowned. “He was exhausted,” he protested. “He needs rest in order to recover. What could possibly be more important than…” he trailed off suddenly, realization dawning. “Oh,” he said simply, shaking his head wryly.
“I hope they leave some food for the rest of us,” Gimli grumbled from across the room, having come to the same conclusion as Aragorn. “I wouldn’t mind a bite to eat myself.” Despite his gruff voice, Gimli couldn’t suppress a small smile at the mental picture of all four hobbits up to their ears in food.
The tense atmosphere in the room had eased a bit, and the four companions found themselves able to relax slightly. Aragorn turned to Arwen and pulled her into his arms for a quick embrace. “I am going to go and find Faramir,” he informed her softly, gently kissing her cheek before releasing her. “Take care of him,” he said, glancing over at Legolas, “and send word if he wakes.”
Arwen nodded, her eyes shining unnaturally bright. “He will be well cared for,” she promised softly.
Aragorn turned to Gandalf and Gimli.
‘I will accompany you,” Gandalf said, but Gimli shook his head.
“I think I will remain here for a while longer,” he stated. “Have no fear, I will be there for the night’s battle.”
Aragorn nodded, and he and Gandalf turned to leave, but Gimli suddenly called out to them. Aragorn turned back, arching a questioning eyebrow.
“Pippin and Legolas’ escape from Malek was quite a blow to the creature, wouldn’t you say?” Gimli asked slowly, his eyes narrow and thoughtful.
Aragorn merely nodded, not quite sure where Gimli was going with the question.
“He will want revenge, no doubt,” Gimli continued, a strange expression on his face. “He may even openly confront us during the battle tonight.”
Aragorn frowned, nodding once more. “I expect he might,” he answered slowly. “We will have to remain alert and watchful.”
Gimli nodded, turning back to the bed, a satisfied expression flitting quickly across his face. Aragorn noticed this, just as he noticed one of Gimli’s hands absently stroking his axe. He guessed that the purpose behind Gimli’s statement had more in it than simple worry over the fellowship, and he decided that he would have to keep a sharp eye on the dwarf during the coming battle.
They came in waves, howling with the anticipation of fresh blood and spurred on by the rage of their master. The very heavens seemed to echo their charge, the sky alive with flashes of lightning and the almost continual rumble of thunder. The earth shook beneath their feet and all creatures fled before them.
They charged onto the field before Calembel, screaming at their enemies, their voices taunting and filled with hate and bloodlust. Malek led them, appearing in his natural form, the darkness of night wrapping about him and cloaking him in protective blackness. All who looked upon him saw only a shadowy outline, indistinct yet horrible to look on all the same.
The defenders of Calembel watched the orcs rushing toward them with a calm determination that could only come from men who had experienced this all before and who were resigned to whatever grim fate awaited them. They stood ready in two different defense lines on the field with a third, mostly made up of archers, on the wall. Aragorn led the soldiers on the field, Faramir and Gimli at his side, while Gandalf, Merry, Sam, and Frodo remained on the wall. The presence of their king at their head gave new courage to the weary defenders. They stood tall and proud, the light from the firepits glinting along their drawn weapons and bathing their grim faces in an almost holy light as they waited for the first wave of orcs to reach them.
They did not have to wait long. With a bright flash of lightning, the two armies met, the resounding clash of sword upon sword meshing with the loud boom of thunder. The soldiers of Gondor fought with bravery and a ferociousness that matched their enemies, and though they were outnumbered, they brought the orcs advance to a screeching halt.
Aragorn, Anduril gripped tightly in his fist, was a blur of movement, each step and swing a dance of death for any orc who drew near. He slashed at one creature, then without waiting for it to fall, he pivoted neatly and drove his blade through the throat of yet another orc. Dancing back several steps, he raised his sword to block an overhead blow, then gracefully lifted his leg and snapped his heavy boot into his attacker’s exposed midriff. The orc doubled over, then fell dead to the ground as Anduril slashed down at the exposed neck.
Beside Aragorn, Gimli was also a blur of movement, and though his fighting was less a fluid dance, and more the angry charge of a wild bear, the results were the same. His axe was covered with the dark blood of orcs, and he was busy at the moment fighting off three of the creatures at once, bellowing his war cry, his eyes alight with the furious passion of battle. Two of the creatures turned and fled, deciding to find easier prey than the enraged dwarf. The third was not so lucky, loosing his head to Gimli’s axe.
Minutes seemed to turn into hours as the battle raged on, the sheer number of orcs and the force of their charge finally pushing the first line of defenders into a slow retreat. Each step was given up grudgingly, and the ground was soon littered with bodies.
The first and second lines merged, and the orcs advance was once more brought to a halt. This time, the battle had drawn close enough to put the fighters in range of the archers on the wall, and soon a hail of arrows were falling on the back ranks of orcs, further aiding the defenders’ courageous stand.
A mighty flash of lightning temporarily blinded all those on the field, followed by a deafening crack and the horrified shrieks of a group of unfortunate orcs who had just watched a group of their companions incinerated by the bolt.
A cheer went up from the defenders, but it was only halfhearted, for they all knew that the next bolt could very easily find its way into their own ranks. However, the unexpected event did cause the attacking orcs to hesitate slightly, glancing uncertainly at the sky and calling out fearfully to their captains. Orcs were a superstitious lot for the most part, and the defenders now took advantage of their fear and hesitancy, even managing to push the orcs back several paces before the creatures could regroup under the horrible threats of their captains.
The battle was going well for the defenders, and this fact caused the soldiers to fight even harder, not backing down an inch. The orcs were becoming confused and frightened, every flash of lightning causing them to flinch or even to throw themselves to the ground. Still, there were many of them, and they knew the rage of their master should they fail. Slowly, they began to press forward once more, their thirst for blood overcoming even their fear as they once more began pushing the defenders into a slow retreat.
Pulling Anduril free of the last of a particularly persistent group of orcs attacking him, Aragorn heard a sudden shout off to his right. He turned just in time to see Gimli take off at a run, slashing his way through any orcs that stood before him. Aragorn stared after the dwarf in confusion, wondering what his friend could possibly be doing, for Gimli was not running back toward the city, but forward, further into the ranks of orcs.
“Gimli!” he shouted, trying to get his friend’s attention. Gimli continued forward, either not hearing the call, or ignoring it. Aragorn frowned and followed the dwarf’s path with his eyes, trying to figure out where his friend could possibly be going.
And then he saw him. Malek. Standing within a ring of orcs, his wide muzzle dripping with blood, his sword slowly twisting through the chest of one of the soldiers. He stood only a few yards in front of the charging Gimli, and Aragorn suddenly had no doubt of his friend’s intent.
“Gimli, no!” he screamed, racing forward after the dwarf, cursing his friend for his rashness and cursing himself for not keeping a closer watch. “Gimli, wait!” he cried, as he watched the dwarf break through the ring of orcs surrounding Malek, charging forward with raised axe, his bellow of rage echoing above the sounds of battle.
Aragorn felt his stomach sink as Malek turned to meet the charging dwarf, a wicked grin crossing his face as he pushed the dead soldier from the end of his sword. Aragorn stumbled forward, slashing his way through the melee, desperate to reach his friend before it was too late.
Only his battle instincts and lightning reflexes saved him from being split in two, as three very large orcs suddenly materialized in front of him, cutting off his path to Gimli and slashing at him with their wickedly curved swords. Aragorn went the only direction open to him, back and down, hitting the ground hard and immediately rolling to the side as two blades chopped deep into the ground where his head had been only a second before. However, he was not quite fast enough to miss the third blade, which cut deep into his shoulder, opening a gash down his left arm. He shrugged off the blow, ignoring the pain as he fought to regain his feet.
When he had at last pushed himself from the ground, he found that the orcs had fanned out, flanking him on each side and slowly moving forward, leering evilly. They were huge, perhaps the biggest he had ever seen, and Aragorn knew that he was in trouble. If he waited for the orcs to charge him, he would surely be overcome. So instead, he attacked first, leaping forward toward the nearest orc, sword outstretched before him.
The creature, startled by his bold move, halted its advance, squaring its feet and preparing to meet Aragorn’s attack. The attack never came though, for when Aragorn was still several feet away, he suddenly pivoted, turning smoothly and slashing instead at the orc charging his back.
The second creature had expected Aragorn to be busy with its companion and had hoped to surprise the man from behind. It, however, was the one surprised as Anduril cut cleanly across its face, blinding it. A return swipe of the sword bit into the creature’s neck, slashing the windpipe and killing it with one clean blow.
‘One down, two to go,’ Aragorn thought grimily. He quickly sidestepped over the fallen orc, turning just in time to meet the charge of the remaining two. It took all of his talent and strength to keep the creatures’ weapons at bay, and he seemed always a mere step in front of their attacks. Anduril rose to meet one block, then swept down and to the side to meet another, the ring of metal against metal filling the air.
Aragorn went on the defensive just long enough for him to gain his footing, then suddenly switched to the attack, using both his sword and his body to help throw his attackers off balance. He watched carefully for any opening in either of the orcs’ defense, praying it would come soon, for he was quickly growing weary. He had not completely recovered from his previous injuries and the fight was fast draining him.
A group of struggling orcs and men stumbled past, brushing close to the three combatants and briefly distracting his two attackers. It was the opening that Aragorn was looking for, and without warning he leapt forward, his sword a mere blur, slipping beneath the first orc’s weapon and digging deep into the creature’s ribs. At the same time, Aragorn punched out with his uninjured hand, his fist slamming painfully into the throat of the second orc. This creature stumbled back, gasping and choking for air, his sword arm lowering.
Aragorn would have finished it then, but the first orc, blood pouring from its injured side, reached forward and grabbed Aragorn in a bear hug. The ex-ranger’s arms were trapped at his side, and he found himself suddenly gasping for air as the orc’s grip tightened about him. His injured ribs screamed in protest, but once more Aragorn pushed aside the discomfort. He struggled wildly, fighting against the black dots that threatened his vision and trying desperately to drag air into his tortured lungs.
He was surprised when the orc suddenly released him, a strange gurgling sound emitting from its mouth. He stumbled away, just as the creature toppled forward, a knife buried deep into its back.
Aragorn finished off the orc he had punched in the neck, then turned and saluted Faramir as the steward bent and retrieved his knife. Faramir smiled back grimly and returned the salute, but Aragorn was already gone, racing forward once more toward the last place he had seen Malek and Gimli and praying that he was not too late.
Gimli was not faring too well. He was not dead, a miracle in and of itself, but countless wounds covered his stocky frame, blood covering his armor and matting his beard. He was presently working at pushing himself from the ground, a task that was more difficult the ninth time than it had been the first. He knew that Malek was merely toying with him and that the creature could finish him off whenever he pleased, but the rage and pride of the dwarf would not allow him to back down. He had sustained blows that would have knocked any ordinary person flat, yet he continued to battle on, determined to fight to the last.
Malek stood a few feet away, watching as Gimli struggled to his feet, a crooked grin on his face. It seemed as if the creature was impressed with his show of strength and determination, but Gimli knew that it was only a matter of time before Malek would tire of the fight. The evil creature was plainly enjoying waving the dwarwf’s mortality before his eyes.
Still, Malek’s actions only served to further infuriate Gimli, which in turn, gave him strength. A slow plan had been working its way through his head, and as Gimli at last gained his feet, he decided that it was time he put it into action. He swayed dangerously, appearing on the verge of swooning while all the while watching Malek from the corner of his eyes. He saw the creature’s disappointed frown at the thought that the battle might be over, yet another sign that Malek was enjoying this fight immensely.
‘Let’s see if you are still enjoying it by the time I get through with you!’ Gimli fought to hide the grim smile that this thought brought to him.
He at last seemed to regain his balance, and lifting his axe, he stumbled once more toward Malek. The creature grinned evilly, excited the fun was not yet over, yet not the least bit concerned with the dwarf’s stumbling approach. He did not even lift his sword in defense, certain that Gimli would not have the strength to actually strike at him.
“I am going to have to kill you soon.”
The words caused Gimli to pause for a second, breathing heavily and glaring at Malek. It was the first time that the creature had spoken since the fight began.
Malek grinned back at him, his razor sharp teeth glinting in the moonlight. “Have no fear,” he continued in the same low and mocking voice. “I shall make sure you die slowly and painfully. Your continued resistance only makes the game that much more fun.”
Gimli growled and continued forward, his steps even more slow and unsteady than they had been before, causing Malek to laugh mockingly.
“You are finished, dwarf. Even you must see this.”
That was exactly what Gimli wanted Malek to believe. He advanced until he was only a couple of feet from Malek, then suddenly collapsed to his knees, all strength apparently seeping from him.
Malek laughed again, taking an ominous step toward his apparently helpless victim, his sword rising.
It was just what Gimli had hoped he would do. With a final surge of his remaining strength, Gimli brought his axe up and swung with all his might.
Malek saw the blade swinging toward him and jumped back quickly, but not in time to avoid Gimli’s axe cutting a deep groove through the dark flesh of his side. He hissed in pain and fury, glaring down at the dwarf he had thought defeated.
It was Gimli’s turn to grin, and he was once more on his feet and advancing with no sign of stumbling, enjoying the enraged expression on the creature’s face when Malek realized that he had been tricked.
“Time to die, dwarf,” Malek hissed, raising his sword and beginning his own advance.
Gimli had little doubt that he was about to die, for the wound on Malek’s side was already beginning to close in on itself, and the creature’s movements were as swift and graceful as ever. Still, he managed to lift his axe proudly, spitting at the feet of his advancing enemy in a last show of defiance. He tensed his body and prepared to spring forward to meet Malek, determined to do as much damage as he could before the end.
He never got the opportunity however, for a sudden blinding flash of light roared past him, its force actually picking him up and flinging him several yards backwards to land in a dazed heap. A thousand dazzling lights exploded across his vision, and the roar that filled his ears was deafening. Pain assailed all his senses and as he slowly slipped toward blackness, his last thought was one of intense remorse.‘Lightning! After all this, to die from lightning! Such a pity…’
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.