2. Chapter One: The Fall of The West
"I can not forget that day. However I have tried, I can not. The din of the battle and the smell of decay, there through the whole desperate struggle. I did not notice then, but in my memory the scents and sounds are clear; the smell of rotten weeds and dead things from the Marshes mingling with the blood and sweat and fear on the plains, the din of sword striking on sword, shaft on shaft and the screams of the dying drowning the grunts of efforts from those fighting.
Then silence came, and I heard.
The flapping of the eagles' wings, the breath of the men around me and the beating of our hearts. The wind blowing, hissing between the jagged stones, the humming of the earth silenced in one breathless moment when all we could do was wait and hope.
Wait, one endless heartbeat.
Then darkness fell, and all our hopes with it. I sensed more than saw Gandalf falling beside me, untouched. The first lines were swept away in the new rush of enemies. The sons of Elrond separated by the throng, and the Dúnedain scattered. I saw Imrahil fall from the blow of a club and his men slaughtered. The second line held just long enough for me to gather my wits and call a standard-bearer to me, and prepare to meet the onslaught. I could only hope that Éomer would understand my thought and seize the chance if my plan failed.
And why would it not fail, when all other plans had?
The only thing left now was to die in battle, and take as many of the enemy with me as I could. Or so I hoped, for death would now be better than life; we had failed. I had failed, and I would fall into shadow with the rest of my kind. And so I lead the White Tree and the Seven Stars down into the dark water crashing against our small island, to drown in the overwhelming wave. No ships to bear us, not through this.
It closed around us. I do not know how many men were cut down bearing the banner; a new bearer would pick it up whenever it was felled, until the last one planted it in the ground before he fell. I could not see if any remained fighting. I stood alone. The only tree to be seen the White one, the only stars: the Seven above.
They knew I could not stand against them. I knew that I could not; death should have come quick. Instead they jeered and played with me, though those that came close enough did pay the price, and for a time a cry sounded over the field, echoing in my mind, sounding and resounding over the jeers.
They kept back, unwilling to brave my blade. Surrounded in the growing dark, I would rather face the last light, and as the evening wind hissed over stone and dust I turned towards the West. Day shall come again, but who should live to see it come?
Then the Nazgûl returned and the wave swallowed me."
Few reliable testimonies can be found regarding the fate of the lord Elessar and those that did not escape the battle of the Black Gate. This account, given by King Elessar himself, is one of the few that have survived, and one of the few from his own mouth. Despite the difficulties of such sparse material, I have been able to piece together the events following that day, and the tale of the King's fate from his capture and through the ten years that followed. The latter proved easier, for the Enemy, it seemed, recorded much, and the Steward too gave accounts of what he knew. Other testimonies as well, I have gathered; most valuable of those the King's own renderings, come to me through my grandfather. Through them I have attempted to construct a coherent story that may serve to explain some of the choices that were made, and the events that followed. Even so, my tale is not complete, for there is much the King never revieled. And I will not bore the readers with what I have already told, unless I deem it of interest to hear another's acount. The memory can be a fragile thing, and no doubt my readers will be able to spot the differences of the events told here, and those told earlier. I have not been able myself to allways dictern the true account, so I give them here as told by those trapped under the Shadow.
We know that Aragorn, the Lord Elessar, was the last to be captured. Whether this was because of his skill or the Enemy's design is unclear. No doubt remains that it was on the Enemy's orders that he be taken alive, and that might explain why he did not fall earlier in the battle though we know his skill in battle was great. Others, whom the Enemy also desired to take alive, had been overwhelmed early: Gandalf the White, who was struck down from afar by the Enemy's power; Imrahil of Dol Amroth, who was wounded when the enemy broke through the first lines. But the King fought long.
Fiercely he fought. Blocking, ducking, weaving through the dark sea, drawing the enemy to him. Aragorn fought until the day ended, until his strength gave out and he stumbled in weariness.
Around him the orcs jeered. He jumped back from a blade, barely stepping back in time; the tip cut him, breaking the skin of his temple, near the eye. He parried and struck back before he blinked the blood away. The orcs drew back, and he stayed. Heaving for breath, he waited. Andúril rested on the ground, the tip dragging in the dirt beside him while slowly he turned. He watched his enemies, and they watched him.
They saw him drag his feet. "Put down your sword," they jeered. "Give up, tark! Your men are gone. The Eye has won, and he will have you before the day has passed."
He did not answer, only shifted his grip and continued his slow turns.
The jeers grew louder, and the orcs drew closer again, encouraged by his weakness. He sensed movement, and spun with a speed that belied his earlier stumbling. His sword flickered up; blocked, twisted, thrust; and the orc fell.
They drew back once more, and he grinned: They feared him still.
He drew himself up, to stand tall before them. At his back the White Tree bloomed and the Stars shone against the Black. Here he would stand, as long as his banner stood. And fall with it.
His eyes burned. "Begone!" he shouted. "Or fall before my blade, and your master's triumph shall avail you little."
His boaster was met with taunts and mocking laughter, then with silence. The orcs parted. Haradrim horsemen rode through the throng. Their leader halted.
"Why is this man not dead or bound?" he asked the nearest orc. The creature shrank from him and whined.
"That is their king," it said.
The Man looked up at Aragorn. He saw the Silver and White, the green stone still visible around his neck. The Star. The sword. The stance.
"Surrender!" he called. "The Lord of Gifts is merciful, and you have lost. Surrender now, and you may yet know his blessings."
"I know his blessings," Aragorn replied. "Sauron knows not mercy, and his gifts are lies."
The captain shook his head, but he smiled. "You are proud," he said. "Pride I understand." He dismounted then, and drew his sword. His men followed him, and he barked an order. The orcs closed behind them. Swords were sheathed, but instead those with whips and sticks and wooden clubs drew close. The Men had daggers in their belts, ready to be drawn, but the only edges that still were bare, were Andúril and the captain's sword.
Aragorn waited. His sword pointed to the ground, an iron gate to block all attacks.
The captain did not wait. He came, striking from above, with a cry of war. Aragorn met him.
He stepped aside, let the cut glance off his sword and pass him by. Stepping close he struck the captain with the pommel. The captain stumbled back, and Aragorn followed. Andúril glittered through the air, down towards the captain. But weariness slowed him, and ice gripped his chest. Above, unheeded in the fight, great wings bore the Nazgûl back to the battle. It shrieked, and Aragorn faltered at the sound. Then he recovered, and struck.
But the captain had recovered as well. Now he, in turn, deflected. Too close for swords, the captain stepped around and locked Andúril to the ground with his own sword. He slammed his elbow into Aragorn's chest, and Aragorn — trapped between the arm and the captain's leg — was thrown backwards.
Stunned he lay, and heaved for breath. The horde of orcs and men closed in. They struck with whips and sticks and fists. He writhed in the dust, twisting from the blows, rolling to escape, to stand, to fight; but they pinned him to the ground and held him until he could no longer fight. They forced his sword from his hand and twisted his arms to bind them; pushed his face into the ground to keep him still. Dirt filled his mouth. The stench of sweat and blood and the filth of orcs around him. The smell of stagnant pools and mud. He struggled against their hands and claws, but they bound his legs, his eyes.
They stepped aside, and he lay heaving on the ground. Silence fell around him and at that moment all he could hear was his own breath, and the whisper of the evening wind, hissing in his ears.
Footsteps. Someone stood above him.
"Take the standard and his sword," the captain said. "Bring them and him. Strip him for weapons, but leave all else untouched; the Lieutenant wants him unspoiled."
Hands searched him, tore belt and scabbard from his side. A knee pressed into his back, fingers twisted in his hair and tugged his head up.
"Where is your pride now?" the captain asked. "You should have surrendered, or fallen on your sword ere you let yourself be captured. Now your honour is forfeit, and your pride dead."
"Not yet," Aragorn answered. "Each moment I fought, gave Éomer time to escape. Each man I slew, was one man less to attack. And soon I will be dead, and thus escape your master."
"I would not count on it."
He released his hair and stood. "Gag him, then bring him. The Mouth of the Master will see him."
They ripped cloth from his own sleeve to bind his mouth. He strove to breathe around it; they did not care. It tasted of dried blood, and dust and dirt. Soon fresh blood mingled with the old, seeping into the cloth from the wound on his face.
They dragged him back. He could not see the vast armies of the Enemy spread around the slag-hills, the camp erected outside the Black Gate or the scavengers seeking among the fallen. Around him the horses of the Haradrim tumbled, Men and Orcs pressed around and many tongues and voices rose in triumph. The noise went before him, followed him, surrounded him and swallowed up all other noises he should have heard: the moans and cries of the wounded; the terror of dying beasts; the calling of his name.
They stopped. The din dwindled, and the sound of the field when the battle is done, drifted back. Familiar sounds; all fields sound the same whether lost or won. Men replaced the clawed hands of orcs and he was dragged forward again; his feet too tightly bound for him to walk or stand. The rough fabric of a tent brushed against him, the sound of a voice questioning the Men, and he was thrown to the ground in answer.
"Here he is, lord, the one you wished for: their king."
Aragorn waited. It was hard to hear above the blood drumming in his ears. The tent was silent and though he strained to hear, there was nothing but the dull thump, thump, thump of his blood. He felt, more than heard, movement and flinched before he could steel himself. A toe nudged at him and then drew back. More movement, and he was hauled to his knees. The blindfold was removed.
The tent was lit with many lights, but Aragorn looked straight ahead, into the folds of dark robes. Sable trimmed the edges of the cloth, the fur glossy against the dull black of the fabric. He traced the weaving and the seams.
"Look at me."
One of the furs was lighter than the others, a small imperfection hidden at the bottom of the hem. The stitching was rougher there as well, as if it had been replaced by one less deft. He caught the flicker of a gesture in the corner of his eye. Do not think of it. The robe, think of.... The robe was wide, and far too little worn for the sable to need replacement.
Hands wrenched his head up, to look at the Man. The nameless one. The Lieutenant of Barad-dûr.
The Mouth smiled. He held a sword in his hands, turning it over. Aragorn jerked when he recognised it, but he was held in place. He shifted his gaze, tried to look past the man, but that did not help him much. Behind the Lieutenant was the banner, his banner: The one Halbarad had brought, the one Arwen had made. He swallowed, but made no other movement.
"Thy rabble hath not helped thee, brigand king," the Mouth said. He made a gesture, and one of the men took the Elessar and the Star of the North from Aragorn and handed it to him. He took it and let it swing from his hand. "Pieces of Elvish glass and a famous sword; didst thou really think it would have won thee thy crown?
Aragorn did not answer. Could not answer. He stared past the Mouth, refusing to meet his eyes. It made the other sneer. He leaned down, until his breath was hot on Aragorn's face. He gripped his chin, forcing him to look him in the eye.
"Thou couldst never win."
Aragorn held his eyes and stared back. Strove in silence, as they had done before the fight begun. A moment, then the Lieutenant's gaze flickered. He drew back, and struck.
If not for the hands holding him, Aragorn would have fallen. His vision darkened, and he reeled with the blow, but before he could steel himself for what might come, a messenger interrupted.
"The Lord's servant is here for the prisoner."
The icy fear that heralded the nazgûl descended over the tent. The guards stiffened. Their hands gripped tighter on Aragorn, but they shook. The Mouth turned to the messenger, and the guards standing by the opening.
"Tell him that he will be brought shortly," he instructed the messenger. The man bowed and left, and the Lieutenant gestured to the soldiers before he turned back to Aragorn. The soldiers stepped further into the tent, and Aragorn marked their steps. They did not come for him, but went to a heap of white cloth.
The Mouth laughed. "Didst thou think thyself great?" he mocked. "Didst thou think the lord Sauron would fear thee and covet thee? Didst thou think He would send his servant to fetch thee? His mind is on things far greater than an uncrowned king." He watched Aragorn to gauge the impact of his words, but he showed no sign that he had heard. His eyes followed the body of the wizard dragged towards the tent's door.
"He lives, and bears no wound," the Mouth said. The tent-flap closed, and hid them from sight. Aragorn turned his head, and for the first time sought the Lieutenant's eyes uncompelled.
"He was the most powerful among you, and now he will serve Lord Sauron well." He smiled, the glee barely hidden in his eyes. "He has other plans for thee, but fear not, crownless king: thou wilt serve Him also."
Aragorn's eyes flashed. He could not answer, he had no room to fight, but with his whole being he denied him. He held the other's eyes, his body calm as if there were no hands to keep him on his knees, no ropes to hold him bound. No mud and blood and dirt to stain him. He held the other's eyes, and told him no.
The Mouth stepped back. He blanched and faltered. Outside, the nazgûl took to the air and the clammy ice lifted from the tent, chasing the beast speeding through the air back to its master. The Mouth regained himself, and stood tall. His eyes flickered but his voice was calm.
"Take him away; he will learn his place."
"Lord?" The captain, who had stood quietly observing the events unfold, stepped forward.
"Have a healer see if he has any hidden wound, then leave him to his rest." He looked at Aragorn. "He will serve."
The stiff patch of dried blood scraped against the wound beside his eye and all he saw was darkness once more. They hauled him up and dragged him away. Through the whisker of cloth, through the shouts and stamping feet, to the screams and whimpers of wounded where they stopped. They would not let him stand, and so he hung between his guards, searching for some sound than could tell him what would come next.
The captain spoke, and through his words Aragorn knew more. "Healer, come here. The Mouth of the Great Lord wished that this prisoner be checked."
"Is he dying? No? Then set him over there," a voice replied. "I will see him when there is time; our own wounded are dying before my eyes. I lost one already while wasting time to patch up another of his kind. At least those wounds were grave."
"You will look at him now," the captain said. "You need only see whether he bears any hidden wounds. He is to be kept alive; some plan for the war."
"I thought the war was won."
"The war, but not all battles are done. His life may save many of our people's." There was a pause. The captain's voice, when he spoke again, was low and full of threats. "It will save yours."
The healer sounded tired. "Over there," he said. "I must finish wrapping this wound, or this soldier of our people will bleed out."
Aragorn was dragged again, but when they stopped, he was pushed down to sit at some tall bench. Or bed; it was too broad to be a bench. Cloth covered the surface, and from what he could guess, there was straw beneath. Around him were the groans and muttered, senseless speech all wounded speak.
The captain called the healer once more, impatient to leave.
"It is the will of the Great Lord," the captain's voice drifted closer again.
"Yes, yes, yes," the healer answered. "I will remember it. And you remember it, too, the next time it is you that needs my skill."
Aragorn shifted a little on the bed. He was sore, and stiff from the fighting, and the bonds became harder to bear each moment. He could feel it now, when there was nothing to do but sit and wait, and guess at sounds.
"Well, then," the healer said. Aragorn startled; the healer was far closer than he had guessed. "Let me look at this prisoner who is worth so much to our Lord." There was a silence, then he spoke again.
"I cannot practise my craft with a patient so bound, captain."
"Yes, you will. You need but confirm that his wounds are not grave. The rest can wait."
The healer snorted. "When did you learn my craft?"
There was a rustle, and sudden movement around him. Aragorn strained to hear, to sense, what happened. The captain's voice helped him guess.
"Where are you going, old man?"
"To treat those I can, and who need it. You wish me to see if this man has hidden wounds? Then I must see his eyes, and have him answer when I ask. Any wounds I could detect by just seeing his body, you could find as well as I."
Night had fallen. He should have guessed it from the lights in the Mouth's tent, from the way the sun had turned red before his capture, yet he had not expected the darkness around him. No canvas hid the camp from him; the wounded had no tent to shelter them against the night. But beyond the light of fires and the torchlight the healers used, was nothing but a dark wall. No stars, no sky. He moved his jaw and would have spat the taste from his mouth, but the healer took hold of his head.
"I need more light."
More torches came, and Aragorn closed his eyes against the light. Too bright, too bright.
"I know." The healer's thumbs against his eyes lifted one eyelid. "But I need to see your eyes." The healer mumbled, and opened the other lid. He let go and Aragorn screwed his eyes shut before he blinked against the dark spots.
"Hmm," the healer said. Nothing more. He began to prod and poke, finding with unerring fingers the sore and bruised spots. When Aragorn could not answer his questions — his mouth too dry to speak — the healer had water brought.
"Drink, then speak. I will hear no lies, but neither will I try to understand the words you try to cough." He held the water-skin to Aragorn's lips.
Cool and soothing the water filled his mouth. Cleaning out the dust and mud and gravel from his voice, cleansing tongue and cavern free of the taste of blood and sweat and the dirty cloth.
And the healer prodded and asked again, and kept a comment for the captain who stood impatient beside. Aragorn did little but sit and wait until the healer would finish; he had no wish to hasten him, but he did as told.
"Keep the cuts clean: infection can kill as easy as a sword."
The captain said nothing. The healer tapped Aragorn on the shoulder. "Lie down on your back."
The guards grabbed him before he could move and pushed him down.
"Help me with the clothes."
Hands pulled, hard and impatient. No longer calm, he struggled, but they held him down and pushed the layers away. The healer's hands were cold against his skin. He clenched his teeth. Do not speak, do not scream! Was this all it took? They did not even try to harm him, but the Mouth had not caused him to feel as helpless as did this.
The healer muttered to himself. His hands disappeared, but came back to hold Aragorn's head and pushed back his eyelids again.
He whispered the answer. Kept his eyes closed. The healer was silent for a while.
"Well, then," he said, and his voice was gruff. "Get him up again, this way; it is better light on this side."
They hauled him up again, and the healer asked him to open his eyes again. The light was less painful now, and he could see past the healer, to the other beds close by. He caught the glimpse of dark hair on the bed beside him before the healer spoke again to ask of any dizziness. "No," he said, and the healer stepped away. He was speaking to the captain, but Aragorn did not hear their words. He stared at the man lying in the bed beside him.
He knew him.
Dark hair, proud face, his eyes closed in sleep, if sleep it was. He was pale, with the sickly colour of the gravely hurt, but Aragorn knew him.
He dared not speak too loud, lest the captain heard. But either Imrahil was in too deep a sleep, or his voice was too low; the Prince did not stir. Aragorn could not see his wounds, but he saw the chain around his neck that bound him to the bed. His wounds too deep, then, for him to be a risk. Aragorn recalled him standing in the first line, falling beneath the dark wave. He'd thought him dead, and could not say if it was luck that spared him.
Before he could see more, or try to speak with him again, the darkness and the gag were back. He was hauled to his feet and the healer's voice followed him as he was dragged away:
"Remember what I said; keep the wounds clean, and change those ropes with chains."
The captain gave no answer.
Aragorn could not hear whether the captain accompanied his men. There were too many sounds to single out one man's stride, and all of them muffled by the blindfold that also covered his ears: The sound of many feet, the feet of man and orc and beast. The din of many voices; the lamenting of the grieving, cries of the wounded, and the mocking jeers that followed him, and through it all the thrumming of blood in his ears. The thump, thump, thumping of his heartbeat.
He could feel, more than hear, when the crowd around him thickened. When they pressed around him, causing his guards to slow their pace. He was jolted. His feet scraped over the ground and the grip of the guards tightened. They slowed to a stop.
"The king!" A shout was heard. "It is their cursed king!"
The shout was taken up by many voices. "The king! The king!" and the voices of orcs mixed and blended with the voices of the men: "The tark king!" and "Let us have him, he has killed enough of us."
Aragorn was tense, but calmer than he had been under the healer's hands. This, this was expected.
Something cold and moist and wet hit his cheek. He flinched and fought the urge to duck his head. Mud, or some unsavoury thing; it dribbled down his face. The shouts grew louder, hands grabbed at him – new hands – and he had time to think that perhaps, perhaps it would be better. The hands pulled at him, but the guards held on and Aragorn hissed as they tore at him from different sides.
The crowd pushed in from all sides; clashing waves that rolled and turned and he was carried with the currents, drifting helpless. A leaf tossed in the gust of the wind, held up by the press around him.
But the wind abated, and the sea calmed. Slowly and in degrees the crowd silenced, and fell away. Aragorn hung once more in the grip of his guards. He tried to clear his mind. Tried to breathe, his breaths loud in his ears. A voice broke through the silence, rough and low.
"Disperse," the captain said. "Do not thwart the Great Lord's plans."
"Ach!" another said, grating and loud. "The lads will not stay back for long, if that's all you have. 'Disperse'" it mocked. "Pshaw!" The orc – no other could make any tongue sound so foul – spat, and Aragorn flinched, expecting to be hit again. But no spit came his way, and the orc spoke again.
"Listen, maggots!" he bellowed. "You're to keep your hands off this one here, or you'll lose more than hands; the Eye'll have your flesh stripped from your bones. Get off to sleep, while you can, there'll be more fighting soon enough. We've won the war, but those tarks and elves will be too stubborn to admit it. And if I hear any grumbling, you'll all be in the group that marches tomorrow.
"Now off with you, or more of you'll taste my blade."
The crowd slunk away, the sound of them dwindling into the background. The captain gave a snort of disdain.
"You don't like my ways." The orc did not ask, and the captain did not answer right away. The two guards stood still, as if waiting for some order, and Aragorn could only hang between them and wait. And listen.
"Killing your men without further judgement? I find it wasteful, and unfitting," the captain answered.
If he had been able, Aragorn would have laughed, but it would have been bitter. Saved by the blade of an orc?
"Don't want to dirty your hands, eh?" The orc spat again, and Aragorn could not help tensing. "Skai! It is the only way to make 'm fear you; without fear, they don't obey."
"I find that my men obey me better when they are alive."
"And who made them disperse?" the orc countered. "Eh? Who broke 'm up? You just pose on that fancy horse and steal our prize, but who does the real work around here? Orcs, and you know it. We obey our own."
"We all serve the Great Lord," the captain said. "You have been of some small service here, Uruk, but now you are hindering us."
The orc laughed at that. "You know how to threaten after all," it said. Aragorn could feel it lean close; he could smell its breath, feel it on his skin. Claws gripped his face. "Your flesh would have tasted sweet," it hissed. "But the Eye will burn it from your bones. If you are lucky. Do not think we have saved you, tark."
It spat, and this time it did spit on him. Aragorn tried to tear his head away, and the orc laughed again. It let go and stepped back.
"That is enough," the captain said. The orc answered before he said more:
"He is all yours."
The guards dragged Aragorn away once more. He heard the captain speak again, but he paid it no heed. His shoulders were sore and bruised from many hands, and the spit and… other things… itched and tickled, and he could not wipe it from his face.
Ahead he heard the sound of another crowd. He lacked the strength to do other than bite the gag and clench his bound hands. But the guards did not tense nor harden their grips. Soon he heard: the sound was that of men – wounded and in pain. Closer and closer to the sounds he was dragged, and he could hear the rattling of chains, the crash of metal upon metal, and the shouts of Men.
He tried to turn his head towards the voice; he knew it. One of his men: Haldor. A good man. Some, or at least one, of his Rangers had survived.
Haldor called out again, but the guards ignored the shouts. They dropped their prisoner to the ground and began to bind him in place, putting him on display. Haldor fought against his own bonds and shouted in protest. The men around him took up the cry, and they would not be silenced. The guards shouted back to them to be silent, but they did not obey. Not while the soldiers worked to bind the Chieftain, not when they left him kneeling, unable to see or speak, or sit, or stand, or move. Not when the guards crossed the Road and strode straight towards Haldor, singling him out as the main troublemaker.
Perceptive guards, Haldor thought. Should I curse or give thanks?
He kept up his loud protests, as did the rest: defeated they might be, but not beaten yet.
They did not listen. Not now. Not when they could show some resistance. Past the legs of the guards, Haldor could see the Chieftain stir.
"Chieftain!" he called. "Chieftain, are you hurt?"
He could not see if he tried to answer; the guards hit him to silence him, but Haldor did not stop calling. And neither did the men around. A not of triumph entered Haldor's voice; the Chieftain lifted his head! Not as close as Halbarad had been, not as close as even his younger brother, Haldor was a Ranger still. He knew his Chieftain. He knew that tilt of the head.
"Chieftain!" he called again. "Aragorn!"
But it was the call of Elessar that won out around him, and Haldor joined it.
"Elessar!" the men called. "Elfstone!" As if by the calling of his name, he might break free. As if by the calling of his name, he might triumph still.
And Haldor called with them, so that by the calling of his name, the Chieftain would stay strong. And feed Haldor's failing strength.
The guards stopped their beatings; they could not silence the prisoners that way. They turned, and walked back. A new note of triumph crept into the call.
Their triumph was cut short.
The shout died upon their lips and dwindled into silence. Haldor strained against his chains, but dared not call again. The Chieftain hung bleeding in his bonds. The blindfold had fallen to the ground, but Haldor did not think he could see; the guards had brought out a whip, and it had cut his face.
The guards are perceptive. Haldor cursed.
"Enough talking," the guard warned, and the men understood the threat well enough.
None spoke again.
Aragorn got a glimpse of darkness, and the deeper shadow of one of the Teeth. He blinked against the blood that ran into his eye, and before he could see more they re-bound his eyes. The sound of footsteps told him that the guard moved away. He waited. Unmoving he hung until his shoulders ached with the strain.
It was Haldor again. His voice was low and soft, but by that sound Aragorn knew that the guard was out of sight, or hearing. He lifted his head, and tried to stand up on his knees to ease the strain.
"Chieftain, I…" Haldor's voice was full of unshed tears, heavy and hard in grief. He could not find the words to speak. Aragorn tried to smile around the gag, to offer some small comfort. But there were no comfort in this place, and he shook his head and let it fall again.
He could not see how his men watched over him and never took their eyes off his slumped figure as the night deepened, and the dark around them grew.
Notes on language:
Skai - Orcish interjection of contempt
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.