It by White Wolf|
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: There are many dark places to be found in Middle-earth, and Legolas and Aragorn find one of them.
It awoke to the comforting silence and the even more comforting darkness. It raised Its head, opened Its nostrils and drew in deeply the foul stench of excrement and rotting flesh in the heavy, uncirculated air. Such a sweet smell, It thought.
It’s long, scaled body stretched languidly, looking more like some nightmare beast, writhing in slow, undulating motion. The short legs straightened stiffly, as the long curved claws spread wide. The creature’s mouth pulled back in what looked like a lazy grin, revealing large, very sharp teeth. Yellow eyes glittered from some inner fire, for not so much as a single sliver of light existed in this dark place.
It did not know how long It had slept after Its last meal. Man-flesh It remembered. The mere thought of that sumptuous feast roused the creature’s stomach juices. It was hungry again. Not sure on what or when It would feed again did not seem to matter. Something edible would come. It always did.
Two days later, Legolas and Aragorn sat on horseback two hundred yards from the ruins of an ancient tower that dominated the barren lands around it from the windswept hilltop it sat upon.
The tower was rumored to have been built by Morgoth himself. No one, not even the long-lived elves, could verify that fact, but that hadn’t stopped the legend of horror that had attached itself to the dark structure in times long past and remained to this day.
“It is an ugly place,” Legolas commented with a slight shudder, as he stared at the black ruins. Even in bright sunshine, it made the onlooker uncomfortable.
It was hard to tell, from this distance, whether the stones themselves were black or whether the ages of wind and weather had blackened them. Closer inspection would reveal that both were the case. Even the mosses that covered the stone was black, as was the ground around its base. Scorched was the word that came to mind.
Most of the structure had toppled over centuries ago, leaving what remained looking like jagged, broken teeth. Huge chunks of black stone lay scattered about, mostly on the eastern side, indicating that was the direction in which the tower had collapsed. The western wall stood over fifty feet high, seeming to reach for the sky in a desperate attempt to save itself.
Yet even in its current condition, the tower clearly gave the impression that it had once been quite imposing. Its base was easily a hundred and fifty feet along each side, growing slightly smaller as the structure rose to the higher levels, though no one knew exactly how tall it had once been.
“Do you think Morgoth actually built it?” Aragorn asked, marveling at the ruins before him.
“I do not know, but it is certainly possible. Evil seems to favor black towers like this, and even from here, I can feel the evil that once resided here.” Legolas thought of both Barad-dûr in Mordor and Dol Guldur in the south of his own homeland forest, now called Mirkwood. Both towers were black, both were imposing and both were built and occupied by evil. The true betrayal of the white wizard, Saruman, had not yet been demonstrated and Isebgard was believed to still be a beautiful place, the tower of Orthanc was also black.
“I wonder what made it fall.” Aragorn imagined a fierce battle between good and evil taking place here with the immense powers of both vying for supremacy. Whether Morgoth’s enemies destroyed the tower in victory or whether Morgoth himself had done it as he fled was as open to speculation as was whether he had ever even occupied the place to begin with.
“I do not know that either,” the elf answered.
Aragorn grinned. “Perhaps we can find some answers here.” He looked at Legolas invitingly. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
Legolas did not answer that question directly. Instead, he said, “I do not know if evil lingers here, Morgoth based or not.”
“Well, we know Morgoth certainly isn’t here. Neither is Sauron. I think we can handle anything else that might call this place home. Think how great it would be to solve the mystery of this tower." When Legolas looked dubious, Aragorn grinned. "You may simply be feeling what the Dark Lord could have left behind.”
Then without waiting for a further comment, the man spurred his horse forward, followed by the elven archer. He closed his eyes. Was this going to be another misadventure?
The sun was just passing its zenith, when Legolas and Aragorn reached the south wall of the tower and dismounted.
Both horses were nervously pawing the ground and twitching their ears forward and backwards. It was obvious they had both picked up whatever doubts Legolas was having.
Legolas spoke soothingly to them in elvish but succeeded only in calming them slightly. Finally, he told them to go into the meadow and graze but to be alert to danger or to the call of their masters.
Aragorn hadn’t heard the words Legolas had said to the horses, but when they turned and ran, he questioned the elf. “Why did you send them away? We may need them in a hurry.”
The elf looked at his friend with a why-do-you-think expression but answered anyway. “If you feel that way, then why are we here? When no answer came, the elf sighed before continuing. “They were nervous here, Estel. It was not fair to make them stay that way while we are inside. You know they will come when we call.”
Aragorn knew his friend was right and nodded his approval. “Shall we?” the man said, sweeping his hand toward the tower.
The two doors they had come across on the southern side were closed and barred against entry. Despite the fact that the wood was partially rotten, neither the elf nor the ranger could get them open. Not wanting to waste time or risk injury trying to force them, the pair moved on. The next side of the ruins had two more doors, and they were as tightly closed as the first two.
Legolas and Aragorn had to go to the far side of the crumbled tower to find a broken spot low enough to offer them a chance to enter.
Climbing up on two large chunks of rock, Aragorn jumped up and was just barely able to grab onto the top edge of stone. He pulled himself up and then, balancing on the top of the wall, the man turned and leaned down to help Legolas, but the elf had easily leapt onto the rim beside him.
“Of course,” was the only comment Aragorn made.
After making sure there was one large stone with a relatively level top on the inner side of the broken wall, Legolas and Aragorn jumped down. Dust flew around them when they hit the floor, causing both to cough and cover their mouth and nose with their hands until everything settled back again.
Once inside the walls, both Legolas and Aragorn stopped and began to survey their surroundings.
There were no interior walls still standing, though in several places along the floor, a line of stones a foot high or two were visible between the large stones to show that at one time this interior space had been divided into smaller rooms. All that existed now was one huge room surrounded by broken walls and open to the sky .
Large chunks of stone from the upper floors lay littered across the floor, very little of which was still visible. Many of these stones were taller than the two that stood among them. It was a credit to the construction of the tower’s foundation that the main floor had not shattered under the weight it now bore.
Aragorn bent down over one of the small areas that contained no debris and brushed aside the dust and dirt that had settled over the floor. Revealed beneath was an intricate pattern of colored marble that was impressive, to say the least. It was cracked, but the colors had not faded. “This floor must have been quite beautiful in its day,” the man commented, as he ran his hand over the cool, polished stone. Despite its beauty, the colorful marble looked a little out of place in these dark ruins.
Legolas looked over his friend’s shoulder and nodded. “It seems strange that Morgoth would have had anything this brightly colored in anything he built or lived in. He was darkness itself.” The last sentence was spoken with a bitterness the elf could not hide. Legolas had grown up hearing tales of the first Dark Lord and the devastation he wrought.
Aragorn decided not to comment on Legolas‘s obvious hatred for the rebellious Ainu. As a human, he had his own reasons for hating Morgoth’s legacy of death and destruction. In a lighter tone, the ranger said, “Then I guess that makes one count against his having built this place, though I admit, it’s hardly a substantial piece of evidence.” He stood up and continued to look around.
While Aragorn moved around the interior of the tower, making a closer inspection, Legolas was content to stand in the center and visually scan the dirty, spider web-infested walls.
Legolas looked up. Near the top of the tallest wall, he saw a ledge near, which was clearly part of the floor of an upper level. It didn’t lead anywhere and would have been impossible to reach anyway, so Legolas dismissed any attempt at further inspection of it.
The elf finished his visual scan from the spot where he stood and then began to explore the rubble-strewn floor, much as Aragorn was doing.
The two friends had taken opposite sides of the room to explore. They weren’t sure exactly what it was they were trying to find. That morning they had discussed trying to find evidence, one way or another, to prove or disprove whether Morgoth had built or at least lived in this tower. They agreed it was unlikely such evidence could be found, but one never knew. It was for certain that nothing would be settled if the search wasn’t made. Thus it was the two friends found themselves exploring the ruins.
They didn’t admit it, but it was highly unlikely that the legend, so old and ingrained in people’s minds, would be changed no matter what they found or didn‘t find. It was so much more intriguing to believe that the original Dark Lord had occupied this place and secretly conducted his evil arts here. No one wanted to go near the place, but knowing it was there seemed to be enough to get tongues wagging whenever the tower was mentioned.
Neither Legolas nor Aragorn understood the need for people to frighten themselves with these old legends. There was enough evil in Middle-earth right now to cause a genuine fright. Perhaps that was it, a coping mechanism. Perhaps people preferred thinking of something that was no longer a threat rather than thinking of the dangers that existed in these times.
Legolas moved among the stones, not sure if he hoped to find anything or not. No, that wasn’t true. He definitely didn’t want to find anything more deadly than ordinary sized spiders, ones that fit the webs either hanging the stone walls and or tightly strung in the corners.
A lizard suddenly sprang out from between two stones and launched itself at Aragorn’s face. The man ducked just in time. The reptile sailed over his head and landed on the floor. It scurried away, leaving a trail of small footprints in the dust.
It had happened so fast that Legolas, who had seen it coming, didn’t have time to call out a warning. He had been sure that the ‘attack’ was unintentional. The creature was just trying to get away from the disturbance the human had caused, as he moved to close to the lizard’s hiding place.
When the elf laughed, Aragorn gave him a stern glare. “He could have bitten me,” the man stated in an effort to gain a little sympathy from his friend.
“I think if that was its intention, you would be nursing a bite mark right now. You simply frightened it.”
“That makes two of us.” Aragorn couldn’t help but wipe his face, making sure no damage was done, even though the lizard hadn’t touched him.
Legolas looked down on the floor to see where the small reptile had gone. He didn’t see it, but what he did see, made him frown. He bent down to investigate.
Curious, Aragorn moved next to the elf. “What do you see?”
Legolas rubbed the dirt away from a spot on the floor, his frown deepening. “Help me move this stone,” he asked the ranger, indicating which one he meant.
The pair pushed the stone aside and then did the same with several others. The last one took a lot of effort before the stone finally toppled over a shorter one next to it.
Closer inspection by both Legolas and Aragorn and more displacement of dirt and dust showed a three square foot cut in the marble floor. In the middle of one side was a hole with a latch in it.
Aragorn placed his forefinger down in the hole and tripped the latch. That side of the square popped up enough to get a hand under it. The two friends looked at each other.
“There is a lower level,” Legolas stated, “and this appears to be the entrance.”
Aragorn grinned. “Of course there is. A place like this wouldn't exist without one, especially if Morgoth built it.”
Legolas easily recognized the tone expressed in those words. He felt like rolling his eyes but knew that would only encourage his friend.
The man shrugged. “Well, we have to find out what’s down there. I mean we are here.”
As he spoke, Aragorn raised the section of marble, revealing a stone staircase that descended down into inky blackness.
Legolas fell backward, almost losing his balance. His eyes were wide.
“What is it?” the ranger asked, not sure exactly what had befallen the elf.
“There is something down there.” The archer’s tone was flat, betraying no emotion whatsoever.
“Yes and no. It is not of Morgoth or even Sauron. But, it is not natural either.” Legolas looked into Aragorn’s eyes. “I do not think we should disturb it.”
A hissing, slithering sound reached the two friends.
“I think it’s too late for that.” A lump of fear had formed in the ranger’s throat, but he was still determined to find out what was down there. He swallowed.
Laying the cover back down, he walked over near the far wall of the tower ruins and returned with an old torch. It remained to be seen if the pitch it contained would still burn. He held the torch beside the nearest stone and began striking it with a piece of flint. At first, nothing happened. Then a strong spark ignited the pitch. A small flame struggled to get going before it finally became strong enough to use against the darkness below.
With a grin of triumph, Aragorn once again released the catch and lifted the cover.
Knowing it wouldn’t do any good to argue against going down those stairs, the elf pushed the cover over backwards as far as it would go. He place a small chunk of rock into the angle between the lid and the floor. There was no grantee a latch to release the lid from the underside could be located once it was closed, and he had no intention of allowing them to become trapped.
The ranger nodded his approval before holding the torch downward as he began to descend the steps.
The torchlight flickered strongly, but the darkness was so encompassing that it spread light barely three feet in all directions.
“I know that this isn’t exactly the kind of place that inspires confidence, but look at these walls, Legolas.“ Aragorn ran his hand along the rough black rock. “I think the stone used to build the tower was quarried right here below it. Would Morgoth have done that?”
“Possibly,” Legolas replied, finding it hard to form words around the lump in his throat. He forced himself to continue. “It would have been easier than bringing it in from somewhere else.”
“We need proof,” the man declared. “Let’s continue.” He moved forward, and Legolas, no about to let himself become swallowed in darkness swiftly caught up and kept pace.
As they moved, Legolas’s eyes darted around him. He knew the place would be dark, but he had no idea it would be like this. The blackness seemed to be pressing inward, making the light appear small and insignificant.
The elf’s heart pounded in his chest. He could feel sweat starting to break out on his forehead and upper lip, and he hadn’t even been down here but a few moments.
He wanted to run, to scramble back up the stairs and flee the ruins without so much as a backward glance. Every fiber in him begged for just that response. Straining to gain control of his emotions, he fought the urge, fearing to appear weak in Aragorn’s presence.
A few yards farther on brought them to a crossway. The path they were on did not continue on straight.
“Right or left?” Aragorn asked.
“I matters not,” Legolas replied. He felt things would not go well either way.
Aragorn closed his eyes then turned left and continued moving into the pitch black. Taking a deep breath he almost gagged on the thickening air. This might prove to be harder than he had imagined.
Behind him, Legolas‘s keen senses were beginning to scream at him, and his resolve to follow his friend was becoming harder to maintain. “Estel, this is not a good idea,” the elf whispered. “We should go back. There is something down here with us.”
“Probably just rats.”
It became aware of the presence of others in the tower above as soon as the covering over the stairs was lifted the first time. It’s tongue flicked in and out, as It once again sniffed the air.
There was most definitely a presence above. Hissing, It moved forward, Its massive body slithering over the rock in the darkness.
Even the minutest difference in his environment could be detected, no matter how far away these changes were taking place.
There was the smell of fresh air, repugnant to Its sensitive nose. A tiny speck of light was there, irritating Its equally sensitive eyes. Balancing that was the odor of creatures coming towards It.
Anyone else might have mistaken these things for illusions borne of long isolation in utter darkness. After all, being in such a place could easily make one imagine things. But It knew better. It was so attuned to Its home that such tiny alterations were noticed and noted.
There was no doubt now. Something or someone was coming, and It knew that dinner would not be far behind.