27. A Light in Dark Places
Aragorn crouched down low behind a large boulder, peering up the dark slope toward the dim outline of the cave entrance and listening intently to the nighttime sounds around him. Beside him, Gandalf also crouched silently, staff gripped tightly in one hand and sword clutched in the other. About fifty yards further down the steep slope, Gimli and the hobbits waited soundlessly, watching the dark shadows of their friends and waiting for Aragorn to signal them forward. All was quiet but for the distant chirping and buzzing of insects as the world lay peaceful in the dark blanket of night.
After several minutes of tense silence had passed, Aragorn at last turned and signaled to the others. Gimli and the hobbits immediately began making their silent way up the hillside, creeping from shadow to shadow with enough stealth to make an elf proud. They reached their companions quickly, and several more minutes passed as all seven waited breathlessly to see if their furtive movements had been spotted from above. When there was no shout of alarm, Aragorn turned to the others.
“There are two orc guards near the entrance,” he whispered quickly, silently drawing Anduril from its sheath.
Gimli grunted softly. “How can you tell?” he asked wryly, but still in a whisper. “It is as black as a dragon’s heart up there.”
Aragorn merely shook his head slightly in response to Gimli’s words. “There are more senses than just the eyes, friend dwarf,” he replied quietly. “As a ranger, I learned to make use of all my senses in scouting out possible danger, and you may rest assured that my observations are correct. However, if there are more orcs further back in the tunnels, I do not know.”
Gimli nodded in concession, never really having doubted Aragorn.
“So what do we do now?” Pippin asked somewhat shakily, staring up the slope with wide eyes, obviously reluctant to move any closer to the large opening that led into Malek’s lair.
Merry, standing close by his friend, laid a comforting hand on Pippin’s shoulder, while both Frodo and Sam smiled at him encouragingly.
Aragorn also spared a small smile for the brave young hobbit. “I suggest that Gandalf and you four remain here, while Gimli and I go and clear the way before us,” he said slowly, glancing at Gandalf for the wizard’s brief nod of approval. Gandalf had no arguments. He knew that his play in events would come later. Now was the time for warriors, not wizards.
Gimli grunted again, yet this time it was a different sound, for he also had no argument with Aragorn’s plan. In fact, he was actually looking forward to it. All the silent creeping about, flitting from shadow to shadow and carefully masking each footfall, was something better left to the light footed elves or experienced rangers. Bashing and slashing, now that was something better suited for a dwarf’s heavy axe, and there was nothing that Gimli liked to slash and bash more than orcs.
“Let us be off, then,” Aragorn whispered. “The orcs have most likely already fallen into the first trap, and we must move quickly if we are to be completely ready when our turn in the chain of events comes.”
Gimli nodded grimly, shifting his axe on his shoulder and nodding for Aragorn to lead the way. The two companions slipped silently from the cover of the boulder, bending down close to the ground to mask their movements and creeping steadily forward.
The two orc guards never even knew what hit them. The first fell with a soft thud to the ground, blood bubbling from its torn throat, and the second only had time to widen its eyes in horror before Gimli’s axe neatly sliced its head from its shoulders. Gimli caught the orc as it was falling and carefully lowered the body to the ground, peering into the darkness of the tunnel and trying to discern if there was any movement. He caught Aragorn’s eye and shook his head slightly.
Aragorn nodded, then silently motioned for Gimli to remain where he was before slipping into the dark corridor and moving soundlessly from view. Gimli scowled after him, then turned and glanced back down the steep slope. He could barely make out the dim outline of the boulder behind which his friends hid, but he knew that they would be growing more anxious with each passing moment. He hoped that Aragorn would not be long.
Only a few minutes passed before Aragorn once more appeared, this time carrying a lighted torch. He shook his head at Gimli’s questioning look, then used the torch to signal the others up to them.
“I only went in a short way,” Aragorn explained when they were all together once more. “I believe that these two may have been the only ones left behind, yet we must still be careful.” He glanced over at Pippin. “Can you show us the way to the main cavern?”
Pippin nodded glumly. He had not doubts that he would be able to lead his companions correctly, for the orcs had taken a direct route when he and Legolas had been brought there as prisoners. Swallowing back the fear those memories brought to him, Pippin started forward, Aragorn right beside him, lighting the way with his torch. The stillness and silence within the tunnel was almost overwhelming, sending the slightest shuffle of feet against stone echoing for what seemed like miles. The companions moved forward uneasily, hands tightly gripping weapons and eyes darting around.
Thankfully, it did not take them long to reach the main cavern, more brightly lit with torches and seemingly less oppressive with its high ceiling and wide walls. All of the companions breathed out a sigh of relief as they exited the cramped passageways and moved into the vast cave, their eyes roaming about as they familiarized themselves with their surroundings.
Aragorn moved to the center of the large cavern and turned in a slow circle, his sharp eyes taking in every detail of his surroundings. Gimli moved around the walls, running his hands over the smooth stone and muttering beneath his breath. Gandalf began to systematically explore the entrances to each of the branching tunnels, also running his hands over the stone. The four hobbits remained near the main entrance, grouped together and watching their companions anxiously.
“What now?” Gimli finally asked, glancing toward Aragorn. His voice echoed eerily throughout the cave, causing everyone to flinch slightly.
“Now we set our own ambush,” Aragorn replied calmly. “If everything goes according to plan, the orcs will be trapped within the canyons soon. Faramir and Kenson must hold them there till sunrise, for I have little doubt that seeing his army routed and dawn approaching, Malek will have no qualms about abandoning his orcs to save his own hide. He will return here, and we must be ready for him when he does.”
“What do you want us to do?” Frodo asked.
Aragorn opened his mouth to answer, but a sudden exclamation to his right, followed by a low rumble and then a loud crash caused them all to spin, raising their weapons and tensing for an attack. Their eyes widened as Gandalf calmly stepped back from one of the tunnels, the entrance now completely blocked by a large pile of stones. The wizard turned, and then smiled slightly when he noticed them all staring at him.
“My apologies,” he said simply. “I should have warned you before doing that.”
“What are you doing?” Sam asked tentively, eyeing the old wizard as if he had gone mad.
“I would think that that would be obvious, master Samwise,” Gandalf responded lightly. “An effective trap is not one that has multiple escape routes. I am merely cutting down Malek’s options, that is all.”
“Will you collapse them all?” Merry asked, alarm in his voice, for they would not only be blocking in Malek, but themselves as well.
“All but the main entrance and the passageway that Pippin and Legolas used to escape,” Gandalf answered. “Have no fear, for we will still have an option if something goes wrong.”
Merry nodded, unable to contain his sigh of relief, and Gandalf smiled at him. Pippin pointed out the tunnel that he and Legolas had used, and the old wizard continued making his rounds, collapsing the many passageways. The others watched him for a moment before Aragorn called them to him.
“We only have a few hours to come up with the best plan,” the ex-ranger told them carefully. “We must be completely prepared for anything. Malek must not be allowed to escape us!”
Cries and screams of terror, the clash of metal on metal, and the tangy smell of blood filled the night air as chaos and confusion wreaked havoc throughout Malek’s trapped army. The trap had been sprung perfectly; the results more devastating to the orc ranks than even Aragorn could have predicted. Numerous attempts to break free from the canyons had all ended in disaster for the orcs, and more and more of them fell dead as the warriors of Gondor lifted their voices in a song of victory and hope.
Near the center of the bowl, Malek stood motionless as his army disintegrated into madness all around him, his calm features hiding his murderous rage and hate. A dozen of his largest and most disciplined orcs stood around him watched him carefully, waiting for his commands and ignoring the desperate cries of their companions around them. They knew that their only hope of escape lay with their master, and they would not abandon him.
A faint snatch of the Gondorian warrior’s song lifted above the clang of battle and drifted to where Malek stood, causing him to hiss in anger and his orc guards to flinch.
“So, you think you have won?” Malek growled into the night. “Perhaps this battle, yet it shall only make my final defeat over you that much sweeter!” He strode forward suddenly, making toward a section of the western canyon wall that was not as steep, his orc guards hurrying behind him. Confused orcs scattered before him, and any not quick enough to move out of his way were cut down by his sharp talons.
As soon as he reached the canyon wall, Malek began climbing upward, his sharp claws and flexible body making the steep incline easy for him to navigate. His orc guards had a more difficult time, and when Malek at last reached the top, they were less than a quarter of the way up the steep climb. Malek considered leaving them, but decided against it. Perhaps some of the orcs in the canyon below would manage to break free and escape, but they would be scattered and defenseless. At the moment, these few loyal creatures were all that he had left, and however pitiful, Malek would take any advantage he could get.
He waited, watching as the human archers along the opposite cliff noticed the escaping orcs and reined down a hail of arrows on them. Many of the arrows found their marks, and ten minutes later, only eight of the original dozen orcs pulled themselves over the final rim. One of the creatures sported an arrow in his back, and with a casual backhand, Malek slashed out the creature’s throat and sent him toppling back into the canyon. He had no time for injured or weak servants that would only slow him down.
With one final scan of the battle going on down in the canyon, Malek whirled, and, followed by his seven faithful orcs, began making his way back toward the high peaks of the Ered Nimrais and the safety of his lair.
Kenson and Faramir fought side by side, their blades soaked in enemy blood and their voices lifted in song. Both warriors carried numerous minor cuts, yet their movements had not slowed in the slightest, and neither seemed to feel their injuries. They had just finished throwing back yet another wild group of orcs trying to push past them, and they both paused long enough to share a grin at how well the plan was going. A shout from behind them caused them both to turn just as a soldier raced down the passageway toward them, waving his arms and shouting frantically to get their attention.
“My lords, my lords,” the man shouted repeatedly until he saw that Faramir and Kenson had broken away from the front ranks and were moving back toward him.
“Do you think he has something to tell us?” Kenson asked wryly, gaining a chuckle from Faramir.
“Good or bad news I wonder,” Faramir responded.
“Both, I am afraid, my lords,” the messenger responded, having overheard the Steward’s last comment.
“Tell us the good news first,” Faramir bid him. “I am in too high of spirits at the moment to have it ruined so soon.”
“I have received a message from the archers along the cliff face,” the soldier said quickly. “They say that Malek and some of his orcs have escaped the bowl.”
Faramir nodded at the news, sharing another small smile with Kenson “He is all yours now, Aragorn,” he whispered grimly.
“And the bad news?” Kenson asked.
“I bring word from the general blocking the southern passage,” the soldier exclaimed, glancing at both of the warriors before continuing. “He says that a large force of orcs, less than a hundred, yet more than half that, managed to breach his defenses long enough to break free. He has managed to close the gap, but he believed you should know.”
Kenson and Faramir both frowned, this time exchanging worried glances.
“They will cause problems,” Kenson stated softly, and Faramir only nodded before turning back to the messenger.
“Things are under control now?” he asked, letting out a relieved sigh when the soldier nodded. “Well, nothing can be done about it now. Perhaps the orcs will flee and never look back.”
Faramir dismissed the soldier, who bowed to them both before turning and racing back the way he had come. Faramir and Kenson glanced at each other once more, shrugged, and then turned and made their way back to the front lines of soldiers, their smiles replaced now with worried frowns.
Malek knew immediately that something was not right as he neared the entrance to his lair. There was no sign of the two orcs who he always left as guards, and though he guessed that they might have just wandered off, he could not shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. He let out a long hiss and stared into the passageway, his sharp eyes searching for anything out of the ordinary. Behind him, his seven orcs shifted nervously, having stepped into too many traps this night to be willing to charge forward into possibly yet another one.
Malek glanced upward to the heavens, toward the early pre-dawn glow on the horizon, then with a growl he plunged forward into the passageway, barely aware when his orcs reluctantly followed. This was his lair, the nighttime his domain, and he could not be defeated!
He strode forward down the passageway and into the main cavern, fully expecting an ambush and actually looking forward to it. It was time he wet his claws in the blood of his hated enemies.
Despite these thoughts, Malek still found himself somewhat surprised when he entered the large cavern and found Gimli and Aragorn standing calmly near the center, waiting for him. He stopped his advance to stare at the two incredulously, his orc guards crowding in close behind him.
“Ahh, he has finally arrived,” Aragorn said coolly, stretching and letting out a loud yawn. “I was beginning to think that you were right, friend Gimli, and that the cowardly creature would be too afraid to return here.”
Malek let out an enraged hiss, his teeth bared in a grimace of hate, but the two companions completely ignored him.
“Aye, I was wrong,” Gimli commented with a grin. “I should have known that he is too stupid to be afraid. Shall we kill him now?”
Malek sneered at them, his anger overcoming his surprise. “Fools,” he grated, his eyes twin burning flames of hate. “I would think that you would have learned by now that I cannot be defeated. No matter. Your stupidity will provide me with wonderful entertainment as I slowly kill you both!” Malek stalked forward, leaving his orc guards to mill around restlessly, unsure whether they should join in the battle or not.
Aragorn and Gimli watched his approach calmly, weapons raised before them, neither face showing any hint of fear. Malek was not daunted by their show of bravery, and only laughed in anticipation as he approached, still certain that he could not be defeated.
He was only a few feet away from the two, when Aragorn suddenly shouted, “Now Frodo!”
Malek skidded to a halt, his eyes flying off to his side where five figures emerged from the shadows. He only had time to let out a low growl before a sudden blinding white light filled the cavern, rushing over him and around him like a flood, causing him to shriek in anguish and throw his arms up in a feeble attempt at a shield. He was unsure of where this light came from, only that it pained him as nothing but the sun could, robbing him of his strength and blinding him momentarily. He stumbled back, putting his arms up before his eyes and trying desperately to regain his balance. He blinked rapidly and tried to peer through the blinding light to find his enemies.
He saw them at last, a moment before they were upon him.
Aragorn and Gimli attacked with ferocity unmatched, and only Malek’s quick retreat saved him from being cut down immediately. He fell backwards and rolled to the side, feeling the sting of either sword or axe, he was not certain which, bite into the flesh of his thigh. He gained his feet quickly, his eyes at last adjusting to the sudden light, even though it still pained and weakened him. Blood ran down his leg, and this time, the wound did not heal.
“That is for ruining my wedding,” Aragorn stated coldly, advancing once more, the black stain of blood tipping his sword.
For the first time, Malek felt a thrill of fear run through him as he realized that all his advantages had been swept away by the horrible light. He retreated back, watching his two foes closely and ripping his own sword free from a scabbard at his side.
“Kill them,” he shrieked to his orcs, seeking their aid.
The seven creatures stood dumbly for a few seconds, also distressed by the elven light. Two in the back turned and fled, and for a second, it seemed as if the rest would follow. Finally, showing uncharacteristic bravery for orcs, they rushed toward the five companions standing to the side, sensing that the key to the battle rested in destroying the horrible light that blinded them. Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf moved forward to meet them, forming a protective ring around Frodo, their faces grim and determined as they met the rush head on.
Malek saw none of this, however, for he was too busy fighting off a second flurry of attacks from Aragorn and Gimli. Despite his weakened state, Malek was still a formable foe, his movements remaining swift and his desperation lending him strength. Instead of merely retreating, he met this second attack head on, fighting back with all the desperation of one who is cornered and has nothing left to loose. Aragorn and Gimli soon found themselves hard pressed to stand against him. However, they still managed to land several minor blows, and were encouraged when the wounds did not heal themselves.
Malek ducked one thrust from Aragorn, then barely had time to twist away from Gimli’s axe. He raked out with his claws as he darted away, howling in glee as he felt them dig into flesh. Still, his two opponents came on, never pausing or hesitating.
Malek worked himself back toward the cavern wall, positioning himself so that Gimli and Aragorn would have to approach him directly rather than circling around to flank him.
“Did you think I would be so easy to kill?” he howled, raising his sword and suddenly lunging forward to attack.
He feinted at Aragorn, then swept to the side and slashed at Gimli instead. The dwarf blocked the sword blow, but stumbled back slightly, off balance. Malek attempted to press the attack, but Aragorn charged in on him, pressing him away and giving the dwarf the time he needed to steady himself. Gimli rejoined the battle, and soon the three were joined in a dance of death, their movements smooth and swift.
Malek was unsure how long the battle had been going on, but he did realize that he could not last against the combined might of the two warriors facing him. More and more of their blows were knocking through his defenses, and though the injuries were minor, they were also beginning to add up. He began to search desperately for a way to escape from them. He spotted the main entrance of the cave only a few yards to his left, and with a howl of pure hate and rage, he leaped forward, his movements furious and desperate.
He knocked Gimli completely off his feet with the force of his charge, raking a nasty gash down the dwarf’s torso with his claws, while twisting and swiping his sword awkwardly to keep Aragorn far from him. Unfortunately, Aragorn seemed to have anticipated the blow, dancing around it and moving forward to once more block Malek’s escape.
“Your game is ended, Malek,” Aragorn said evenly, despite the sweat and blood covering his body.
Malek howled in rage and charged forward once more, intending to knock Aragorn from his feet just as he had the dwarf. He slashed outward with his sword, more to throw Aragorn off balance than any hope that he would connect with his target. Aragorn met the thrust smoothly, using his own sword to sweep it out wide, then pivoted gracefully, somehow reversing the direction of his own blade and swinging it straight back in, directly into Malek’s path.
Malek tried desperately to reverse his momentum, yet it was too late. He felt the sword enter his stomach and slide upward towards his heart. He screamed and threw himself sideways, managing to dislodge Aragorn’s grip and stop the deadly thrust. But, by this time, Gimli had recovered from behind him, and the dwarf’s axe swept in with deadly accuracy.
Malek had time for one more ear shattering howl, before the tip of Aragorn’s sword plunged into his small heart and Gimli’s axe cut his head from his shoulders.
Sunrise. At that moment, it was the most welcome sight Aragorn could possibly imagine, unless, of course, Arwen had suddenly appeared before him. He stood directly outside of the cave entrance, his head tilted back as he breathed deeply of the early morning air, the sting of his many wounds forgotten in the simple joy of the moment.
A sharp poke to his back brought him back to reality, causing him to lower his head and glance behind him.
“If you don’t mind,” Gimli grumbled loudly, “I would greatly appreciate it if you would move aside and let the rest of us out of this dark hole!”
Aragorn smiled apologetically and moved further out, watching as his companions trailed out of the passageway and onto the narrow ledge. Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, and Sam all sported bloody gashes in various places, and of the four, only Gandalf didn’t seem to need support. The entire group looked a wreck, exhaustion finally wearing them down, and Aragorn thought that they would all need to sleep for a month straight before recovering from this. At least they were all still alive, and for that, Aragorn was more than grateful.
“Can we go home now?” Pippin asked tiredly, his arm wrapped supportively around Merry’s shoulder.
Aragorn smiled at him and nodded slowly.
“I can not believe that it is finally over,” Frodo said slowly, his tired gaze fixed on the rising sun.
Aragorn shook his head. “Malek may be dead, but I have a feeling this is still far from over. We do not yet know how our companions fare within the canyons.”
“Then let us be on our way,” Gandalf suggested, absently wiping at a red stain on his white robes.
Aragorn nodded and led the way down the rocky slope, his movements slow and somewhat jerky. He continually had to fight back a yawn, and his eyes kept attempting to drift closed.
Perhaps if he had been more alert, he would have heard the orcs approach in time. Yet, as it was, the creatures burst over the rise before them, taking the companions completely by surprise as they charged forward, howling.
Aragorn could only stand and stare in disbelief, wondering how such a thing could happen. There were at least fifty of the creatures, and the ex-ranger knew that there was no way the exhausted companions could hope to escape from them. They charged forward madly, covering the distance swiftly, intent upon the destruction of the seven companions standing before them.
Behind him, Aragorn heard the four hobbits let out tired moans, while Gimli released a resigned sigh, lowering his axe from his shoulder and trying to muster the strength to lift the weapon. Aragorn himself felt only shocked disbelief, wondering how they could have all come through so much only to have it end now, in this way. He raised his sword and attempted to focus eyes that had suddenly become bleary with tears.
“Oh, Arwen,” he whispered softly. “If only I could see you one last time, my love.” He shook his head at the hopelessness of the thought, then once more focused on the approaching orcs.
He blinked in surprise as the first ranks suddenly toppled forward, falling to the ground like puppets whose strings have been cut. He closed his eyes tightly, and opened them again, wondering if his weariness was perhaps causing him to hallucinate. His eyes flickered open just in time to see the second rank of orcs drop just as suddenly as the first, while the remainder of the creatures skidded to a confused halt.
“What…” he began, but at last his tired eyes focused enough for him to make out the shafts of arrows protruding from the backs of the fallen orcs. He blinked again, then shook his head in amazement as the last of the creatures collapsed soundlessly to the ground.
“Look!” Pippin suddenly called out excitedly. “Look, on the hill!”
Aragorn lifted his gaze to the high rise the orcs had just poured over and saw a line of horsemen ringing the crown of the hill, their bows in hand and arrows notched in case any of the orcs happened to remain alive. For the second time, Aragorn’s eyes widened in disbelief as he suddenly realized that the ‘horsemen’ were in fact, elves.
His bleary eyes were having a hard time focusing, yet as the horses began moving down the hill toward them, Aragorn suddenly recognized the elf at the front.
“Elrond,” he gasped in disbelief and relief.
Sure enough, it was the elf lord riding towards them, his two twin sons beside him. Aragorn was not sure whether to laugh or cry, yet when he caught sight of the two horses, or more particularly, their riders, coming directly behind Elrond and his sons, he could not stop the sudden flow of tears.
He heard Gimli’s shout of joy, and was tempted to let out his own shout. He wanted to run out to meet the approaching riders, yet all he found himself able to do was watch their approach, silent tears of relief sparkling in the bright morning sunlight.
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.