Title: Never Sleep, Never Die
Author: Ainu Laire
Genre: Angst, slightly AU
Summary: Hope has been lost, and found; but what if found too late? A song-fic for the song 'Whisper' by Evanescence.
Disclaimer: I am making no profits off this piece of fan fiction and all Tolkien characters and places belong to the Tolkien Estate. Thanks to all the great authors out there that inspired me with their brilliant stories.
Edit: Becuase of this site's ban on lyrics, I have removed the lyrics from this story. The original song-fic (which I personally prefer) is linked on my profile. Where the lyrics went is now replaced with little breakage mark... things.
"His face was drawn as if with pain, and his hands clenched the arms of his chair… For a while he sat with unseeing eyes as if walking in distant memory or listening to sounds in the Night far away."
He did not know who they were. Unfortunately for him, they knew who he was.
He did not know for how long he had been there. It could have been days. It could have been years. It did not matter to him anymore.
He just wished it would all end.
The hallucinations were driving him mad. They started not long ago, but they had not stopped. He was not sure where they had come from; it could have been poisoning, sickness, or just lack of food and water. It did not matter. He just wished that they would go away, for they were taunting him.
He saw them every day. He saw them when he was alone; he saw them when he was with him. Or maybe it would be a better term, for he was not sure who, or what, his captor was.
His captor. His captors. He knew there were more, but he only saw one. Every day he saw the same one; he did not know how he knew that it was only one he saw, for they all looked the same. He just knew. And every day, he would torture his body and mind. And the hallucinations would always be there.
Ai, the hallucinations. Sometimes he wished they were real, even if they did laugh and torment him. Even if they just stood around and did nothing to help him. He would give his life to see a recognizable face. He would give his life to leave this living hell. He would give his life just to take the pain away.
Unfortunately for him, he could not.
He wondered how they knew. He wondered how they figured out. And he wondered why he was still alive.
'They still want you,' a small voice in the back of his head told him. 'They want you for their own.'
'Or,' said a different voice in the back of his head, 'they keep you for someone else.'
'Not you,' said the first, 'but what you are.'
'What I am?'
'Do not be a fool. Elrond warned you that there were those who hunted for the heir of Isildur. And your enemies have found you, and plan to keep you until you are needed no longer. You cannot let that happen.'
'I have not the strength to repel them.'
'You must,' said the other. 'Or the world of Men will fall.'
He had not come for a long time, or so it seemed to him. It was hard to keep track of time here in the dark. There was neither sun nor stars to help him. There was just the darkness, ever pressing, ever choking. Nothing could break the shadows that swallowed him whole, destroying whatever light he had inside.
His thoughts turned to what was soon to come. Time seemed endless in here, but he knew that soon he would come once more. All in due time.
The door was opening. He could not see all that well, but the creaking of the door was loud enough to wake the dead... if only he could be among them.
He wanted to turn away and hide, but there was nowhere to go. Maybe if he feigned sleep, his captor would leave him alone and torment him another time.
He heard a familiar voice. It sounded odd in his ears, for it was different. He hadn't heard a voice that was different from his captor's raspy breath in a long time.
He did not want to open his eyes, but he did, and the light of the torch blinded and hurt him. His captor was to burn him in the cell, it seemed. However, he saw not his captor, but the face of a stranger. Nay, not a stranger… ah, yes, but a hallucination. Why would they not go away?
He closed his eyes once more. 'Laugh at me, already. Make me not wait for your taunting words, and just be quick.'
He heard no taunts, and wondered why. Then he felt the touch of a cool hand, and he instantly recoiled. 'So you have come. Would you not kill me already?'
The hand did not hit him, nor pull him roughly from the ground. Instead it went to his hand and grasped it tightly. 'How odd. Maybe my hallucinations have decided to comfort me, for they know that my body is weak and that I will soon perish. A small comfort in my last hours.'
He heard the light call of his name. He did not acknowledge it. There was no reason to. Soon enough he would die, and his name would mean nothing anymore.
"Aragorn, please answer me," begged Elladan, holding his hand tightly. The young man did not respond. "Estel, please…" he whispered, tears threatening to fall from his eyes. He looked at the near-dead man with pain and fury. He was chained to the floor, naked and shivering. Whip marks, burns, and bruises covered the whole of his body. He was much too thin, and his lips were parched.
The elf looked up at his brother and friend, who were kneeling right beside him. Legolas was unlocking the manacles that held him while Elrohir gently brushed the hair out of his face. At the cell door stood Gandalf, who looked at the four of them with a pained expression. Indeed, if it were not for the wizard and a good amount of luck, they would have never found Aragorn and have the chance to rescue him with success.
Once Legolas had finished undoing the shackles, Elladan covered the young man with his cloak and gently lifted him up. They would have to attend to his wounds elsewhere, where they were somewhat safe. Excluding King Thranduil's halls, there was nowhere in Mirkwood where one could be completely safe. They were in the most dangerous place of Mirkwood, at the moment: Dol Guldur. Three of the Dark Lord's deadliest servants, the Nazgûl, resided here. But by Gandalf's skills, they were out, along with a multitude of their own orc slaves. Thus that is how they managed to enter Dol Guldur at all.
The heir of Isildur had been missing for nearly a month. He had been on his way to Thranduil's halls when he had suddenly disappeared. Legolas had come to Rivendell a week after Aragorn had left, looking for the ranger. When it was discovered that he had never made it to the Elven king's halls, Elladan, Elrohir, and Legolas immediately started to search for him. It was by chance that they found Gandalf on the edge of Mirkwood, on his way to Lothlórien. He had joined their company and as they made their way up north, by his advice, they came across a small party of orcs. Some bragged about the capture of a man, and told how he was being held in Dol Guldur, so lost in boasting they were.
Once the hideous creatures were dead, the elves and wizard made their way to the dark fortress and had waited on the outskirts of its borders. Gandalf then took leave for half a day, saying that if there was any chance of getting into Dol Guldur, the wraiths needed to be gone. Once he returned, he did not explain his doings and only said that the Nazgûl would soon depart. And indeed, the three Ringwraiths and a good amount of orcs left that same day. After killing all orcs left to guard the fortress, the four of them went into the dark tower and found the young man of only twenty-five years by following Gandalf's lead, who knew the layout of the place well. How, the three elves could only guess.
They left the appalling cell and Gandalf once more led them around, Aragorn in Elladan's arms. Soon they found the exit, and their steeds waited nearby, impatient to leave the dark place. They hopped onto their horses, Aragorn in front of Elladan, and quickly sped away. The nearest safe haven was Lothlórien, where they would be permitted. But as it was, Lórien was many days away; would they make it in time?
He was in pain. Ah, as if that was any different from the rest of his miserable days. But it felt as if he was moving, and moving fast, which made no sense. His head was spinning violently, and if he had anything in his stomach he would have surely lost it. As it was, he did not, but that fact did not make him feel any better. He wanted to fade back to the darkness, but the fast motions going through his body made it impossible.
He could feel the cold wind striking his flesh. He was chilled, yet he felt as if he were burning. Ai, would this pain not stop?
The cold wind stopped once, if he recalled correctly; he knew not why… indeed, he was not sure why the cold wind was even there. Maybe this was the path to Mandos' halls? But nay, there would not be this much pain… he did not imagine death like this.
Once the cold winds had stopped, he had felt better for but a moment. He thought he felt something, someone, touching him and calling his name, but he did not know. He could not differentiate between imagination and reality anymore.
Soon again the cold winds started once more. This time, however, he thought he could hear the sound of curious drumbeat… very fast, very repetitive. He knew he had heard that sound before, but he could not recall where. But the thumps and beat soon faded, and he found himself once more in the cold wind alone, beating upon his skin.
He did not know how much time had passed. Time meant nothing to him. On the brink of death, how could the cold world of the living mean anything to him? Time did not exist in the darkness, which was so near… he could almost touch it… but did he want to?
The wind stopped. It did not fade, but just suddenly ceased. He was curious for a moment, but too tired to dwell on it. After a moment of nothingness, another sound came to his ear.
He heard voices, though they seemed far away. He did not know who they were, and he could not understand them, but found that he did not care. They were probably taunting him once again, calling him weak, waiting for him… waiting for him to do what?
To give up. To lose the fight. To die. Aye, that is what they waited for. Before, he would have laughed at them, and they would have fled. But now… their voices were seducing, their promises full of glory and peace. Free of pain, free of sickness, free of grief, free of death. All he had to do was follow.
Would he follow them? They sounded so lovely, so calm… they were not menacing nor taunting anymore. They wanted him. They needed him. And he? He was not sure, but he felt himself being pulled by them into the darkness. However, there was still a part of his soul that hung on. Hung on to what? Hope. Yes, that was it. Hope.
'What hope?' a voice suddenly said, cold and sorrowful. 'There is no hope here, none for you. Come with us. We shall take you away from the painful world of the living and give you peace. Come with us. Come with me.'
The voice formed a shape. Slowly he could distinguish the form of a woman, who was a definition of sorrow and hopelessness itself. Her face pale, cold, and unreadable, she held out her hand. 'Come with me,' she once again repeated. He was not sure if her mouth moved… indeed, he was sure that no sound could be released from her lips.
'No hope?' he asked her.
'No hope.' Aye, her lips moved not. Her hand was still held out, ready for him to receive. 'Come.'
He still hesitated. No hope… how was that possible? Aye, he was in pain, and the voices around them were seducing, but…
He closed his eyes. Should he? He knew what waited for him in the world of the living. More torture, more pain, more despair… was it worth living?
'No,' said she. 'Come,' she beckoned once more.
Slowly, he reached for her outstretched hand.
Fall not into despair!
He hesitated once more. She did not move.
Come back to us, Estel!
'Listen not,' she said tonelessly. 'Do not go back to the world of pain.'
'Who am I?' he asked her.
She did nothing. Finally, she asked, 'Does it matter? All that matters is that if you go back, you will know nothing but pain. You do not want to go back there, do you?'
He shook his head, and slowly pulled back his hand. 'Nay. You are wrong. It does matter. For my name is who I am. And I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Elendil and to the throne of Gondor and Arnor. But most importantly, I am Estel. I am Hope. And there is nothing that can change that… not even you.'
And with one last look, he turned away from her and walked to the light.
"He wakens, Mithrandir!"
"Legolas, come here quickly!"
The first sense to come was hearing. And he wished that it wasn't so, for the voices were quite loud…
The second sense was feeling. He felt his hands being clutched tightly, a light hand on his brow, a pillow under his head, and a soft bed under his body. Alongside this was this feeling that his whole body was very sore and would remain so for quite a long time.
As his first sense regained strength, he started to distinguish the voices… a couple he recognized, but others he did not. But surely it could not be…?
He opened his mouth to speak. "Elladan?" he gasped.
"Estel!" said the elf with joy evident in his voice. Similar exclamations were repeated by two others.
"Aye," said Legolas. "We are here."
"Where… am I? What happened?" His voice was growing raspy. One of those beside him slightly lifted up his head, and led a glass of water to his lips. He drank eagerly as his third sense came to use.
Once the cup was set down, he felt the fourth sense coming… he smelt the scent of fresh trees and flowers on a light breeze that came upon him. Ah, to smell the flowers again! Indeed, he thought that he would never…
It was time to put his last sense to use and open his eyes. With all his strength, he lifted his heavy eyelids and a blinding light invaded him. He hastily closed his eyes, and tried once more. Ah, yes, much better… he saw now that the blinding light was just the sunlight. Oh, glorious sunlight!
As he got used to the lighting, he saw many figures sitting by his bedside. Three he recognized, one was oddly familiar, and two he had never seen before. The three were, of course, his foster brothers and his friend. The two strangers were possibly the most glorious of elves he had ever seen before. One, the great elf lord, had hair of the purest silver and keen gray eyes that pierced through his mind. The lady beside him had waves of gold, and she was adorned in a simple, yet elegant white gown. Her deep blue eyes bored into him, and he was sure that he could hide nothing from this lady. The last figure was the most curious of people. He wore a large hat and robes of gray. In his old, gnarled hand was a staff. He knew he had seen this old man before, but he could not place him…
"Oh, Estel, you gave us quite a scare," said Elrohir, grasping his brother's hand even tighter. "Thank Elbereth that you are here. We thought we lost you."
"Where am I?"
"You are in Lórien, the realm of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel," spoke the silver-haired being beside him. "I am Celeborn, and this is Galadriel, my wife."
"You have been here for many days, drifting on the brink of life and death," said Galadriel before he could speak the next question on his mind.
"And it has been a few weeks since we found you," said the old man, answering the next question on his mind. "By your sheer will to live is the only reason you are here, Arathorn's son. That, and a large amount of luck."
He gave the old man a small nod, and immediately regretted it as his head started to spin violently. He closed his eyes and waited for it to stop. Once his head ceased to spin, he opened his eyes again and took a deep breath, looking at the old man "Well, sir, it looks as if I am at a disadvantage. You obviously know me, but I know not who you are."
"Estel, surely you cannot have forgotten about Mithrandir? It was only fifteen years ago since you last saw him!" exclaimed Elladan.
"I was but a boy, brother, and I cannot remember every detail from my childhood!"
"But surely you remember that band of dwarves that came to Imladris?" asked Elrohir.
"Aye, I remember them, and that curious creature with them… a hobbit, I believe he called himself."
"Yes, and here is the leader of their company!" Elladan and Elrohir looked amused. Legolas glanced between the three of them, smiling.
He frowned, deep in thought, but his memories came back to him. "Is it Gandalf?" he asked.
"So what the people of the North call me," replied the old man. "Though I am known by many names. Mithrandir is what the elves call me, and I would not be surprised if you have heard that name often."
"Aye, but I did not know that you were him!" said the young man with obvious astonishment. "I still remember that I was much too frightened by you to even approach!" The elves and Gandalf chuckled.
Legolas sobered. "It was because of him that we found you, Estel," he said quietly. "And even that was not enough… we almost lost you. You were almost too far to be saved."
Aragorn closed his eyes. Aye, he was far gone… he was ready to give up… but he didn't… why?
Yes. He remembered. That one voice in the dark that helped him out.
"Which one of you called for me?" he asked suddenly.
"We all called for you, Estel," said Elrohir.
"Yes, but who was the last? Who called right before I woke?"
Legolas' brows furrowed in confusion. "My friend, we hadn't called for an hour, at the least. Lady Galadriel told us that we had done all we could, and that it was up to you to find your way back."
"You found your way out yourself, Aragorn," Galadriel spoke quietly. "It was your own will that brought you through. Though we could help, only you could have saved yourself."
"And you did," muttered Gandalf quietly, staring at Aragorn keenly through bushy eyebrows. "And you did."
Aragorn nodded, and suddenly felt tired. Seeing his weariness, Celeborn had the younger elves leave the room to rest their own weary bodies. Once they were gone, Aragorn fell into a deep healing sleep. But before he was completely gone, a question came to his mind.
"Gandalf, what were those… things that captured me?"
Gandalf slightly shook his head. "I shall explain once you awake, Aragorn. Now rest."
Once he was in a deep sleep, Celeborn turned to Gandalf. "Do you plan on telling him?"
"Yes," said Gandalf.
"But he is merely a boy."
"He is also the most hated by the Enemy. He is the one that Sauron will send his minions to find. He has all the right to know about all of Sauron's servants, including the Nazgûl."
Celeborn gave a small sigh. "You are correct once more, Mithrandir. Still, it pains my heart. I can see that he is loved greatly by my grandsons and young Thranduilion." He turned to the bed, and stared at Aragorn for a moment. "So this is Isildur's heir," he said softly after a moment of silence. "He is strong."
"Aye," agreed Gandalf. "I am only happy to have made it in time."
"Did they know who he was?"
Gandalf nodded. "Unfortunately, yes. Now Sauron will only double his efforts since he was so close. We must be very cautious."
Galadriel looked on the sleeping Dúnadan with an emotionless expression as Gandalf and her husband conversed. Aye, they had to be very cautious. Hopefully, as the years passed on, Sauron would ease his search on the man. But for now… caution was necessary. For if the Enemy caught him once more, she doubted that they would take any more chances. If Sauron caught him again, all hope would be lost.
But for now, Hope lived on.
The quote is from "Lord of the Rings, Book I, Chapter 10: Strider". It indeed refers to Aragorn and some type of experience with the Nazgûl, but no other explanation is given.
This story took place in year 2956 of the Third Age. Aragorn was 25 years old, and three of the Nazgûl had been in Dol Guldur for five years. According to the Appendices, Aragorn also met Gandalf this year, and their friendship began. So I tied that in.
The movies gave Celeborn absolutely no justice. So I expanded his role a bit. I usually see Galadriel doing all the talking in fan fics, with her husband standing in the background. No good at all. So I nudged him forward a bit.
AU in aspects that Legolas never had been in Lórien beforehand, and that Sauron would most likely have Aragorn shipped off to Mordor or killed much sooner than he was going to be in this story.
There is no large proof in the books that Aragorn knew Legolas beforehand and is entirely based on fanon. Elrond called Aragorn 'son' in Appendix A, so I assumed Elladan and Elrohir and a brother-like relationship with him as well.