This is the first chapter of the sequel to "A Yearling Shoot," and I will warn you, it is different than anything I have written so far and quite dark. While I am no where near finished "A Yearling Shoot," for some reason I was inspired to start this, and this chapter seemed to write itself.

I'm not sure what motivated me to try my hand at an Aragorn torture fic, but I hope to make this more realistic than many in this genre. Also, I hope to keep this as true to canon as possible, and thus, I have included some quotes from Tolkien that have always intrigued me to back up the idea that Aragorn might have been captured and tortured in such a way. I am not sure how to rate this, so I have given this a rating of 'T' for now, but if you think this warrants a 'M' please let me know.

"I had to study you first and make sure of you. The Enemy has set traps for me before now." (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 10: Strider.)

"I too once passed the Dimrill Gate," said Aragorn quietly; "but though I also came out again, the memory is very evil. I do not wish to enter Moria a second time." (The Fellowship Of The Ring, Book Two, Chapter Four: A Journey In The Dark.

"The hobbits looked at him, and saw with surprise that his face was drawn as if with pain, and his hands clenched the arms of his chair. The room was very quiet and still, and the light seemed to have grown dim. For a while he sat with unseeing eyes as if walking in distant memory..." (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter 10: Strider

TA 3002

I smell it. Stale, musty air tinged with decay and something even more sinister is the first warning my senses return to me. I resist, for I need not hasten to awake again to this nightmare. However, though I may shut my eyes tight against these horrors, my other senses are not so easily contained, and my traitorous body drags me from the blissful peace of oblivion. As my mind clears, I become keenly aware of that most noxious of odours, which turns my stomach and serves only to further remind me of the desperate state of my plight, the lingering stench of burnt flesh.

Sensation returns to my body, and with it the pain that has become my constant companion throughout these long lonely days without end. In my years I have known much hardship, but never pain such as this, in all its many nuances: the sharp sting of the lash, the burning agony of the hot iron, the throbbing ache of muscle and bone stretched to the very limits of endurance. No form of pain remains that I have yet to endure. I must believe that.

Gingerly, I test my bonds with a slight twitch of my arms. It is a futile gesture I know, for as expected, I remain held fast by iron shackles secured tightly around my ankles and wrists, and the reward for my efforts is a fresh wave of pain, the intensity of which threatens to send me back into a senseless stupor. Unfortunately I am not granted this small relief, and so, naked and exposed, I lie bound to the rough ground of this dank pit, unmoving as jagged pebbles dig into my bare back.

Now I hear it, the slight scuffing of something against the rock that indicates I am not alone. Why was I unaware of the presence of another? My senses are dulled, my wit dimmed. I curse myself silently. I can ill afford to make such a mistake.

"I know you're awake, boy. Open your eyes."

The coarse voice is all too familiar and I can not stifle the shiver of dread that runs through me. It is their leader, at least to the extent that these fell beasts could ever be said to follow one of their own. The others are kept in line through their fear of him, and their fear is not without cause.

Though I do not wish to, I comply with his demand to open my eyes and see again my fate. The sight that greets me, the same view I have beheld for endless days, is not worth the effort. There is nothing, nothing but hard, cold stone above me, beside me, beneath me. The only relief from this monotony of grey is the lone torch affixed to the wall, the sole source of light in this gloom.

Reluctantly I turn my eyes in his direction. He is alone, and that does not bode well. Never before has he come to me without a number of his underlings to do his vile bidding. He knows I am weak. For too many days I have tasted naught but blood and bile and the bitter orcish brew that by some evil magic sustains me just enough to keep me locked in this state of half-death.

I am nearing the end of my endurance, and he knows that too.

I do not know how many days have passed since first I was enchained in this tomb. Time has little meaning here where it is ever dark, where one can not see the sky, nor the sun, nor the stars. They used tactics that I thought far beyond a mere rabble of orcs, and I was caught off my guard. He led them. I underestimated my enemy, and now I pay dearly for the mistake; to be taken alive by these creatures of pure darkness and evil is a fate far worse than death.

At first, there was only pain. No interrogation followed the torture, no words were spoken beyond taunts and jeers in their own foul language. He kept them under control, giving them their 'sport,' but never allowing them to go too far. For days they kept me in a state of never-ending pain without ever delivering that fatal blow to put me out of my misery. I bore it for so long, I bit down hard on my lips until I drew blood, refusing to cry out, refusing to give them the satisfaction. There seemed no end to my torment.

Then, when finally I could bear it no longer, when to my shame I begged for them to stop, when he thought my will was thoroughly broken, then the questions came: "Why are you here? Who sent you? What is your name?"

I have said nothing. Though he may try to break me, body and spirit, never will he force from my lips any words that can be used against my friends and allies. I fear I have already failed them greatly, but with my final breath I can do them at least this small service. No matter what ill may befall me, I will not become an agent for the enemy.

I steel myself against whatever evil he will bring upon me now, and when I feel his touch upon my skin, I do not flinch. To my surprise, however, there is no pain, and as he slowly draws his rough hand up my side to rest on my bare chest, his touch is almost gentle, like a caress. I am sickened.

With his other hand, he holds a cup to my lips and I move to turn my head away from the foul brew I expect to be forced down my throat, but I stop myself suddenly. It is clear and smells like pure water. Could it be?

What is this new trickery?

I can not resist. My thirst is too great, and to my shame, I take a small sip far too eagerly, relishing the feel of the cool liquid in my parched mouth.

He smiles a wretched smile, exposing his broken, yellow teeth, as he bends down to bring his face close to my own, so close that I can feel his putrid breath upon cheek. He speaks, and his feigned sympathy stands in absurd contrast to the harsh roughness of his voice: "Boy, why do you fight me? I see how you suffer. There's no need for it. I'll be reasonable, if you're reasonable with me. I can end your suffering. I ask of you only one thing: tell me your name."

For a brief moment, I am tempted. I can no longer recall why his demand is so dangerous. He asks only for my name. Only a name. What harm could there be in a name? Say my name, and I will find release from this torment.

I shake my head violently, trying to clear the dizziness. I should have known it was not pure water in that cup. Still, I will not surrender. I will give him an answer, but not the answer he seeks. "Estel," my voice cracks, my throat thoroughly shredded from my screams. Swallowing, I speak again, with more strength this time: "Eneth nín Estel."

His smile fades to a grimace, his eyes alight with a wicked gleam. "I've told you before, boy, don't speak that elvish filth within my hearing!"

The hand that rests on my body tightens into a claw, latching on to the soft, vulnerable flesh just below my ribs and squeezing hard, jagged nails digging into my skin. Just as it seems that he will surely pierce me through with his very fingers, he releases his hold, bringing his hand up close to my face to reveal the blood that now drips from his filthy nails. Unable to turn away, I watch in horror as a greyish green tongue slowly licks my blood from his fingers as though it were savouring the finest of delicacies.

With a laugh full of malice, he shakes his head. "Foolish boy. There is no hope."

Note: The Sindarin phrase "Eneth nin Estel" means "My name is Hope" (My thanks to NiRi for providing that exact translation.)

This is a prologue of sorts, a teaser. I plan to finish "A Yearling Shoot" before I pick up this tale again, as this will build on the story before it. Please leave a review to share your reactions and thoughts, both positive and negative. Receiving feedback helps motivate me to continue.