- Escape From Mordor-
By: Cassia and Siobhan
Somewhere in this darkness
There’s a light I cannot find,
Maybe it’s too far away...
Or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind...
--Three Doors Down
Darkness. Light. Darkness. Sounds. Shapes. Colors. Pain.
The world seemed two-dimensional and strange. The only thing that was constant was the pain.
A small, dark room swayed oddly. Miserable people in chains were packed together so close one could barely breathe.
Hot, scorching mid-day sun and the sneering faces of men and orcs. Dozens of slaves were being bought and sold. He was one of them.
The lone elf attracted a lot of attention and the orc captain who bought him had paid a pretty price to the Corsairs who were selling.
Groggy and fighting the half-drugged unconsciousness he had long been kept under, Legolas’ mind and memories were clouded and hazy at best, but some things he remembered with vivid clarity.
The orcs’ hands on his arms and shoulders as they slapped him into even heavier sets of chains; their whips cruelly kissing his reeling body as they forced all their newly purchased slaves to run for hours. Dropping in exhaustion only to be kicked and clubbed, his face was rubbed in the dirt and his parched mouth filled with choking dust.
The orcs kept the elf apart from the other slaves. He was not for the slave farms they said, not to be wasted chipping rock or working furnaces; he was theirs. Their toy. That’s why they bought him.
Legolas’ head began to clear as the dark haze of drugged senselessness wore slowly from his body, but even as it did, he half-wished it would not. At least when he was drugged some part of his mind could pretend that this was a nightmare only, in which he was living, and someday he would wake from it... but as clarity returned he became very aware that from this dream, there was no waking. No hope of escape. No hope of anything.
The dark creatures often pressed their captives hard, but seemed in no great hurry themselves. Today they had made camp at noon and did not appear interested in moving on again for reasons that the slaves could not guess and did not care about anyway. Usually orcs traveled almost exclusively at night, but in Mordor day and night were often blended into one unending, gruesome twilight and the orcs journeyed at will.
The reprieve from travel was all well and good, until the orcs became bored. They quickly decided that most of the slaves were no fun. They shrank in horror and started crying and shivering if the fell creatures even looked at them. There was some sport in that, but it grew tiring quickly. The elf on the other hand... he was a different matter. He did not cringe from them, no matter how much he may have wanted to do so, and his steely grey-blue eyes refused to show emotion. That however, did not last very long.
Legolas had tried not to cry out, just on principle, but he was too run down to be very stubborn and before long the orcs using him as a punching bag were wringing frequent sounds of pain from his hurting body. They beat him for no reason other than sport and delighted in finding new and inventive ways to hurt him, telling him to get used to it, for he could expect this sort of thing regularly now that he was theirs.
Curling over his burning ribs as much as his bonds allowed, the elf shuddered as the big orc captain grabbed his shoulder. The creature’s clawed fingers dug sharply into the not yet fully healed welts left from Denethor’s questioning, which now seemed a life-age ago. Legolas’ body was healing much slower than was normal for an elf, but under the circumstances that was not too surprising.
The orc rammed his fist into the helpless elf’s stomach, eliciting a cry of breathless pain as his fingers tightened on the slave’s shoulder, squeezing the joint so tightly that the clawed fingers left deep bruises in the soft flesh, nearly dislocating the bones. Running his other hand through the elf’s hair before tangling in it and tilting the captive’s head sharply to the side the hideous creature leaned close and whispered darkly in Legolas’ ear. It delighted the orc to tell the slave in gruesome detail exactly what they had in store for his future, and what it meant to be theirs.
Legolas’ ragged breathing accelerated. He shuddered helplessly, blood running down his chin, unable to even hide the utter terror the horrible, twisted words evoked. If there was a living hell on earth, he had found it.
The orcs laughed at his obvious distress and the one holding his hair knocked his head hard against the stone wall next to him.
Darkness came again as consciousness faded and the elf prince welcomed its embrace.
The next thing Legolas was aware of was that murky evening had finally fallen and with it blessed release from the torment of his captors who were now nowhere to be seen. The elf leaned forward heavily, allowing his wrists to hold up his weight. While he was senseless they had apparently switched him back into the cliff-mounted manacles they seemed to favor when camped, but they had not carried through on any of their worst threats, not yet. He knew however, that it was only a matter of time.
The cool night air brushed his face gently; caressing the hot bruises and bringing him slowly back to the moment, and the pain. He only hoped that somehow the orcs would tire of him quickly and end his life soon. He could take no more of their sick games and vicious abuse. The malevolent hatred they bore him made life positively unlivable and the elf’s spirit was withdrawing from the weary, hopeless world he was trapped inside. He had simply been through too much in too short a time.
The Corsairs had given Legolas precious little chance to recover from the painful interrogation he had gone through at the hands of Denethor and Castamir before their own rough treatment began to drain his strength anew. In the condition he had already been in, there was not much left to drain; and now the orcs were bent on teaching him new and even more horrible definitions of the word pain...
The soft sounds of footsteps alerted the prince that someone was coming and he let his head fall forward, unwilling to watch as the black creatures returned. He could not endure much more.
Into this night I wander, it’s morning that I dread;
Another day of knowing of the path I fear to tread...
Stealthily, Aragorn crept into the quiet valley. Jagged crags and rocky fissures loomed dark and foreboding in the inky starlessness of night in Mordor. The heavy, sulfuric air did not lighten when night fell and the moon did not appear, although the landscape grew darker. A red, sickly glow that seemed to hover on the horizon was the only light by which to see.
This was the one place on Middle Earth that Aragorn had never been and if he had had any choice, he would certainly never have come. But somewhere in this foul land he knew that his friend Legolas, prince of Mirkwood, was being held captive. That was an intolerable thought.
Aragorn had left Pelagir behind and followed the PorosRiver into Mordor, all the way to the loathsome slave farms surrounding the inland sea of Nurnen. There was no doubt that this was where the Corsair ship had docked and off loaded its cargo, selling the unfortunates in its hold to the motley collection of orcs and evil-looking humans who ran this corner of the Dark Lord’s lands. The ship itself, now empty of all but the crew, had still been in the harbor. The hardest part had been finding out to what group the elf had been sold after arriving here, and where they had gone.
Aragorn had known better than to tangle with orcs or Sauron’s corrupted human thralls. The Corsairs who had done the selling however, were another matter. The slavers had finally divulged what they knew, but it had taken some *creative* convincing. He winced as he thought about the heavyset slave seller he had threatened. In all honesty he would have followed through on all his threats if the man had not confessed to having sold Legolas to an orc group that was headed north, towards the rock quarries and smelting furnaces closer to Barad-Dûr. An elf was a very rare slave indeed and he had unwisely bragged about the price the prince had fetched. It had taken all of Aragorn’s restraint not to kill the man outright, but the slaver would definitely think twice about ever selling another firstborn in his markets.
After finding out their direction, it hadn’t taken the ranger long to track the orcs who had apparently bought Legolas, as well as most of the Corsair’s other Gondorian prisoners. The fell creatures had tarried a small while after making their purchases apparently, for according to the signs he followed, they only had a day or two’s head start on him at the most.
Silently, Aragorn shifted the weight of his weapons on his back. In addition to his own bow and quiver he carried a second parcel. One he considered very dear. Legolas’ bow, quiver and knives. He had liberated them out of the clutches of the same slave traders from which he had wrung Legolas’ whereabouts. Valar willing, he would soon be able to return them to his friend once more.
The ranger traveled through the barren wastelands silently and alone, easily tracking the orc horde that journeyed north. They made no effort to hide their path and seemed in no great hurry. So it was that this evening, Aragorn finally managed to overtake the host. When they stopped for the night he waited until the orcs left, leaving one of their own to stand sentry. They had no reason to fear enemies in this land. No one dared oppose them under the eye of their lord, so their guard was lax.
With the element of surprise on his side, Aragorn’s blade cut easily through the dark creature that had remained behind in camp, watching over their lone prisoner and the pickets that held the other newly culled slaves.
Quickly Aragorn dragged the dead body out of camp, moving it behind a rocky shoal and shoving the corpse under a shallow, natural shelf formed by the stone. He was hoping the orcs would think nothing of their companion being missing, and perhaps even entertain the thought that the guard had wandered off for a moment to take care of some bodily need. Besides, Aragorn was banking on the fact that the slave drivers were overly confident and would never expect anyone to ever attempt to free slaves inside the fences of Mordor. Most orcs were not known for their great attention to detail, but the ranger still wanted to put as much land between the campsite and he and Legolas as quickly as he could after he rescued the elf.
Running silently back towards the camp after disposing of the body, he approached cautiously. The human slaves on the picket lines cringed in the nearly spent dusk, afraid of the man who had just attacked their guard, and yet glad to see an end to one of the dark creatures. They did not speak for fear of drawing more of Sauron’s minions back early from their midnight errands.
The encampment was butted up against a black, looming cliff that cut across the valley through which they traveled, hedging them in on their left and making any escape impossible. There were only two ways to run, south, back to the slave farms, and north to Barad-Dûr, where they were being taken anyway. Out on the wasted plains to their right, the orcs roamed, making sure that Mordor was safe and scouring for wood for the fires. Hopelessness was etched into every face that turned towards Aragorn.
Pity rose in the ranger’s heart but as much as he wanted to help them, they were not his immediate goal. His eyes fastened onto the sight of the prisoner the orcs had singled out, the one slave they had incurred that they were keeping for themselves, for their own twisted pleasures. His long strides took him quickly to the captive’s side.
This lone being had been separated from the others, his arms stretched far above his head and placed in manacles that had been driven into the rock face at his back. His booted feet barely touched the floor of the rocky valley and his head hung forward, his unbound hair obscuring the view of his bruised face. His breathing was shallow and consciousness came and went. His captors had already had fun with him earlier in the evening, that much was obvious. As night drew on however they must have had other duties to be about and left him for later.
To Legolas it felt as though breathing itself was too great a burden. The evil of Mordor weighed down his spirit and the brutality of his tormentors had nearly driven it from his body altogether. He had lost hope and it seemed that his world had narrowed down to all that was contrary to his kind. If Alcarin had wished to send him to the worst fate possibly conceivable, he had succeeded. If his life had been miserable before, in Gondor, it had been nothing short of hell since the Corsairs had pressed him into servitude.
Legolas drew another ragged, labored breath. That part had been hard. The last Corsair he had had dealings with, way back in Dorolyn... it did not bear remembering. Fortunately the elf had been unconscious a good deal of the time and remembered very little before the pirates sold him into slavery to the orcs. However, the little he did remember merely served to deepen his despair. His Corsair captors told him that the battle he had been taken in was lost and the Gondorian captains had been executed. He had no way to know that the men were lying. Only a thin thread of hope that had been stretched too far kept him hoping that Aragorn had survived and waiting for the rescue that he feared would never come.
While it was true that elves were immortal it was also less widely known that when sorrow had so consumed their hearts that no hope for the future was left, the fair beings could simply give up their life of their own free will and it was this that Legolas, heir of Thranduil was considering at this very moment. For the first time since he was quite a bit younger, the elf found that he did not wish to continue on in Middle Earth. Every breath had become a weariness and he ached for rest he could not find.
The gentle touch of hands on his face caused the prince to flinch and move away from whomever it was that had approached him. He could not handle much more before his heart gave way. He was already on the brink; the slightest push would tip the scales.
“No.” The whisper was involuntary and the elf hated the fact that he had spoken at all, but there was nothing left in him. No strength left to be proud or stubborn, and he was terrified of not knowing when the orcs would demand of him that which he would rather die than give.
“Legolas.” Aragorn’s voice was soft and wavered slightly as he tenderly tipped the elf’s head up, brushing back the dirty, disheveled hair, exposing the proud, bruised cheeks and pain-glazed eyes. “It is I, Estel. The orcs are out on patrols and we need to leave now. Can you walk my friend?” The ranger drew his breath in with a soft hiss as Legolas gazed back at him with glazed, uncomprehending eyes; the orcs or Corsairs must have been exceedingly cruel and it shot a white hot blade of anger through his heart.
“Aragorn?” The elf frowned, trying to concentrate on the human, trying to decide whether the man in front of him was real or just a dream created by the dying desire within him to continue holding onto life. A small rush of hope shot through his defeated heart. Aragorn had not perished as he was told, he knew it could not have been true!
The human reached above the elf’s head, trying to jerk the manacles from the rock face, his breath warm on the prince’s face as he turned and whispered into Legolas’ ear, “Yes, and I am going to get you out of here, before the orcs return.”
“Can’t.” Legolas whispered breathlessly as the reality of his situation crushed back down on him, seeming now all the more heavy and dark for having had a momentary touch of hope. “These plains are crawling with orcs, I already tried... we wouldn’t get far.” The fair being’s voice was raspy from thirst and long days of making no sounds save those of pain.
“The big one has keys... no other way.” Legolas was glad to see his friend, relieved that Aragorn was alive... yet a heart that had no spark left to it could not be thrust back to life so quickly and the elf held little hope of his own escape; he knew all too well the myriad of problems confronting such a venture. He would not see Aragorn throw his own life away attempting the untenable.
“There’s always another way, there has to be.” Unable to pull the chains free, Aragorn retrieved a small dagger from his boot and tried to pick the locks, but the blade was too large to fit into the narrow keyhole. Besides, these manacles were orc-make so their fasteners almost always resisted attempts to be opened with ought but the key designed for them.
Legolas was trying to get his attention, but Aragorn began chipping at the rock face, desperate to release his friend before they both ran out of time.
“Aragorn.” Legolas shook his head slowly, glancing at his friend out of the corner of his eyes, “Aragorn!”
When the ranger stilled his frantic movements and stepped back in front of the elf, he heard what had alerted the prince.
The orcs were returning. They were still a ways off, but even Aragorn’s heightened human hearing could detect them, so they were already too close for comfort.
“I have to get you out of here!” Aragorn desperately tried to pry the rocks away from the huge metal bolt that held Legolas’ manacles so firmly in place. Stepping lightly up onto a natural ledge to give himself a better advantage, he wedged his blade into the hard rock, trying to pry it free. They had only minutes before the orcs came into view of the camp. Their coarse joking and talking already echoed eerily through the small canyon.
“No. NO!” Legolas struggled against the chains that held him, “Aragorn you can't let them take me with them again. They are not going to turn me over to Sauron’s slave masters; they intend to keep for their own. Please. Don’t let them.”
Jumping lightly down in front of the prince, Aragorn took the elf’s face in his hands and drew close to the fair being. “Do not worry, I will not leave you. We’ll get another chance to get you free. I will get you out of here, I swear it, but you have to promise me you will be strong and hold on for me.”
A hard knot formed in his throat as the elf slowly shook his head. As much as he wanted to do as his friend asked, he knew it was beyond his power. “I cannot. I cannot anymore. Please, end it now.” Legolas asked him softly.
“I’m trying, it wont budge.” the ranger choked on the words, “I’ll get you free I promise. I just need more time.” He attacked the rock once more with a vengeance, pulling on the chains and digging into the stone with his dagger. If Legolas asked him to stay then he would face all the orcs in Mordor if necessary rather than leave the elf alone. He had never seen Legolas this hopeless and frightened, it burned his heart.
“It is not possible, there are too many and we are in their lands, their stronghold. Mordor,” he uttered the word like a curse. “Do not leave me to them; do not let them find me alive when they return.” The prince’s hoarse voice was earnest.
“What are you asking me?” Aragorn looked swiftly over his shoulder; the shuffling gait of the orcs could be clearly heard. A cold knot formed in his stomach as the ranger glanced back at his friend and noticed for the first time that the elf’s light was very dim... no, it wasn’t just dim. It was gone. He could see in Legolas’ eyes that the prince had already given up and a swell of heartache made his throat burn. “No, my friend, don’t worry, if you ask it I will stay and fight them, I swear I’ll not leave you.”
“I’m not asking you to stay with me Aragorn, I’m asking you to end it.”
Legolas’ tone was frighteningly calm and yet heartbreakingly pleading. “End this nightmare for me now, before it becomes more than I can bear. Please Estel.”
Realizing finally what the elf really meant the ranger shook his head in denial. “No... Legolas, you cannot ask me to-”
“But I do! Please Estel, give me this last gift. Let it be by your hand, not by theirs once I am broken. If you have ever loved me, end this.”
“I intend to, but not that way.” Tears welled unbidden in Aragorn’s eyes. Frustration at his own helplessness and the fear of losing his friend were overwhelming. His voice trembled slightly. He could not do this. He could not take the life of his best friend, his heart would break...
“No. Now mellon-nín. Now. Before they return. Use your bow.” The elf’s eyes were locked desperately on the ranger’s, “I am ready, but I cannot endure with them any longer. It is time for me to go, my spirit has become too weary, I cannot abide here anymore. Please help me. Free me. Do not leave me here with them. Do not leave me at their mercy again. They are orcs; you know what they will do to me as an elf. If you have ever been my friend you will do this for me. Please, do not make me beg you.” Tears fell quietly from the elf’s huge eyes. Aragorn knew he was already begging.
The ranger simply shook his head as the elf implored him to end his life. How could he refuse such a plea? And yet how could he honor it? Aragorn couldn’t breathe. He had told Legolas not so very long ago that he had never seen the elf take a hurt that went beyond his body to wound his spirit, but when he looked in the prince’s eyes now, pain and hopelessness was all that was there. Was it possible? Was his friend really so far gone that life could not hold joy for him anymore? He had heard Elladan and Elrohir speak of their mother and how that had happened to her... Oh Valar, no, not Legolas... not by his hand... if it was mercy it was a cruel one.
“Listen to me, there is no other way. Do it now!! They return!” Legolas’ silently mouthed the word ‘please’, terror springing fresh into his despairing, hurting eyes. He feared what this night might bring a hundred times more than he feared the unknown realm of death.
Aragorn gazed into the deep blue eyes and noted the dark weariness that threatened his friend’s life. He had seen the elf through many life threatening injuries, but at this moment, seeing Legolas’ eyes totally devoid of any spark of life or hope, he had never been more afraid of losing the prince. He knew elves would give up life if sorrow overwhelmed them and he could tell that Legolas had given in and was on the brink. The abuse at the hands of the Gondorians and then the Corsairs, not to mention what horrors the Orcs had in store for him were too much and his friend was going to leave this world with or without his help. The only question was how much pain the elf had to suffer through before he found that escape.
“Please...” Legolas’ hopeless eyes begged for a merciful release.
Stepping back, the human blinked away the tears falling freely down his cheeks. Unslinging his bow he quickly strung an arrow, aiming for Legolas’ heart. He knew that if this arrow flew, he would kill part of himself as well. He would forever have blood on his hands that a river of tears could never wash away. “Legolas...” he breathed, his voice hitching, agonized.
“Please!” Legolas mouthed the word again, his gaze silently imploring his friend to not force him to continue to beg, but to let him go with some dignity left.
Aragorn closed his eyes and drew the bowstring back, his heart tearing in two with the motion. “Forgive me...”