Summary: In a rainy night, Aragorn walks through the Midgewater marshes. But not all paths lead to good ends, and dark things lurk at the crossroads… A story with sound and visual effects :)

Rating: T

Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it is not mine. If you don't recognize it, it's probably not mine, either. Not even the Neekerbreekers…

My thanks to openmeadow for an inspiring chat about senses =)

Dedicated to all my friends that walked with me through mud and rain, and that were lost with me until we found ourselves again.


Crossroads of Light and Shadow

Squelch. With effort he pulled his boot from the mud. It left a deep footprint.

Squirsh. Murky water began to soak through the mud and fill it.

Blub.The surface closed. Besides a few bubbles on the dark surface, there was no trace of his passing.

Squish. Another step. A waft of something foul and rotten. With a sucking sound the mud clamped his foot.

Squelch. Squirsh. Blub. Squish. Squelch. Another step.

And another.

Steadily he made his progress through the marsh.

Bzzzzzzzzzz…

He ignored the annoying sound, circling around his head.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

The midges. There was no point in spending energy to chase them away – it didn't work. They were everywhere. He resisted the urge to scratch on ten places at once. Instead, he concentrated on another step.

neek-breek, breek-neek! - another annoyingly loud insect…

Squirsh. Blub. Squish. Squelch. Bzzzzzzzzzzneek-breek!

Midgewater marshes. Aragorn cursed when he remembered Gandalf, waiting for him in the Prancing Pony, puffing smoke rings from his long pipe with his legs stretched to the cracking fire. Why did he only take this route instead of the Eastern road which doesn't sink under one's feet when he stops for just a moment…?

There was only one answer, one short word, explaining all the strange and dangerous roads that he has taken in the last years.

Gollum.

That word was both a wish and a curse now. A curse – it began to rain… A light drizzle at first, like soft brushes from the cold fingers of long dead mornings. He pulled the hood of his cloak lower to keep the drops from his eyes. Then, a few heavier drops fell from the low grey clouds blending with the fog over the marshes.

drip,,,,,,,,,drip,,,,,,drip,,,,,,,,,,,,DRIP,,,,drip..drip..dripdripdrip..drip..DRIP,,,..drip DRIP DRIP.,,,,,drip drip DRIP DRIP DRIPDRIP DRIP DRIPDRIPDRIPDRIP

The fingers clawed and punched him with cold wetness. Then, wind began to blow, the one that comes down from cold mountains and roars and rolls like a tide. It tore the hood from his head and plastered the wet hair to his face. The cloak couldn't resist the stream from the wallowing clouds anymore. Soon he was drenched through, the soaked clothes sticking coldly to his skin.

Gollum!

He bowed his head and leaned against the wind.

Squelch. Squirsh. Blub. Squish. Splash.

More and more water fell from the skies. The canes leaned in the gusts of the wind, and the murky surface rose steadily. Soon, the unclear paths through the treacherous ground were not visible at all. If he stops, then his feet will sink so deep that he won't be able to pull them out. If he steps on a wrong place…

Gollum!

And so he kept going, on and on, squinting against the rain and wind to guess some trace of the path, and flinching with every step in the expectation of sinking. Many times, only a quick step back saved him when he felt no bottom under the cold and greasy mud. His clothes were covered by it, and he smeared it over his face every time he rubbed his eyes to keep the water from them. Ah, why hadn't he only taken the nice Eastern Road…

Squelch,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.Splash,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Squelsh
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,s,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,g,,,,,,,,,,,,,s,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,g,,,,,,,,,,,,s
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,k,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,l,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,k,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,l,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,k
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,l,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,l,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, … firm ground?
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,u,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n,,,,,,,,,,,,,,u
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,g,,,,,,,,,,,,,,p,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,g,,,,,,,,,,,p
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Squirsh,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Squirsh

He stumbled when his foot hit firm ground where he expected to sink knee-high into the mud. He pulled his other foot from its grip. It was released with a sucking sound, although it needed some effort to not leave his boot behind. Soon he stood with both feet on a path.

Finally he could stop and rest for a while. But as soon as he stopped, the cold caught up with him. It grasped him in its chilling embrace. It seeped through his wet clothes, to his skin. First it was a dull touch, but then it drew its claws. It scratched. It pierced his skin and penetrated to his bones.

Thoughts of the Prancing Pony came to his mind again. The cracking fire. The blazing passion of the dance of flames, unthawing the stiff limbs. The steaming mugs of boiled wine, spreading the fragrance of cinnamon and rose-apples and warming all the way from mouth to the stomach…

But with those thoughts the cold bit even more. He shuddered and forced his fatigued limbs to move again. He studied the way ahead carefully before making a step. By losing the path he would lose the only chance to get out of the marshes and see the Prancing Pony ever again. He followed it through the twisting crisps of fog, fighting against the sharp gusts of wind.

Forwards.
Steadily.
Determinedly.
One step after another.
Forwards.

With every step the path became more certain. It rose above the surface and created a safe bench through the treacherous mud. Aragorn didn't remember this path. Even in good weather the paths in the marshes were unsteady, they changed and twisted. Some led to safety, some to danger. He hoped that this one belongs to the first, and won't end in a bottomless moor.

The night was already falling, and gloom mixed with the fog like intwined snakes. It made the shapes unclear and grotesque as well as the colors more dull and blended with each other. There was some dark shape on the path ahead. The mist seemed to wind around it, a dark silhouette against a dark sky behind the grey curtain of rain. Aragorn squinted against the wind. For a moment, between two shrouds of mist, he could recognize the silhouette:

a shape
in the mist,
oppressive
and dark.
A
figure of a man
carved of shadow.
Darkness was his
cloak against the
coldness of the
night and the
raindrops
glistened on
his face like
quicksilver.
The figure
stood still,
unmoving.
Until the
thick mist
veiled it
again.

Aragorn froze in the move. His heart quickened, and his hand moved subconsciously to the hilt of his sword. He stood unmoving, his body tense while his eyes tried to pierce the mist that veiled the dark figure. He listened.

Thump - thump. Thump - thump.

The beating of his heart was the only sound that he could hear through the roaring of the wind.

The mist thinned and thicked again. But the figure didn't move…

Clutching the hilt of his sword, he made a step forward.

The figure stood still.

Another step.

Nothing.

Breath in.

…and then the veil of mist lifted.

Breath out.

He almost laughed aloud at his suspiciousness. It was a stone. Its shape reminded him on a figure of a man, yes. But it was a mere stone…

As Aragorn neared it, he saw that the stone stands on a crossing of paths. One path behind, and three ahead, all shrouded in a veil of mist. Three ways, three directions.

Three questions. Where?

Aragorn suddenly felt very weary. He was cold and exhausted. Three choices, and he didn't know if even one of them led out of the marsh. He rubbed his eyes with his hand, and leaned on the stone for a moment. It was cold and rough under his fingers. For a moment he had the feeling that it moved! He shook his head. No, he felt no movement under his fingers, just the cold and wet roughness. It didn't move…

It did! Cold and wet shadow… It reached for him. It embraced him. He could not pull his hand away. He could not move. Dizziness. Something seeping from him. Away. Light. Shadow.

Confusion.

...w..h..i...c...h...p..a...t..h..?,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,dizziness,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,s
,,,,,,h,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,h,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,f,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,n
,,,,,,,,,a,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,g,,,,,,,,,,,,,CHOICES,,,,,,,,,,s,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,.i,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Gollum!
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,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,l,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,ess,,,,,,,,,,,,o,,,,,,h,,,u,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,s
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.s,,,,,,,,,,,SHaDOW,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,ug,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,e,,,,,,,w,,,,,c,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,L i g h t
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,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,d,,,,,,,,,,,,,,sion,,,,,,,,,,ness,,,,,,,,,,,,,h,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,s
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f..i..g..u..r..e
,,,,,,,,,,,s..t..o..n..e,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,seeping away

Shadow.
Short sharp light.
Shadow. Wet shadow…
Dark. Deeper then the sea. Cold.
Incompleteness. Feeling of loss. Emptiness.

Aragorn opened his eyes slowly. He lay on a hard and wet ground. His limbs were stiff, and the cold sank from the ground into his body like water seeps into a parchment. His head swam and pounded in the rhythm of his heart. He looked around. Mud, mud everywhere. Grey mud, grey sky, grey mist. The crossroads. He was lying right in their middle. The rain stopped already. It was deep night, and water dropped from the branches of dead trees, gnarled and black. The marsh was quiet. Too quiet… No midges, no Neekerbreekers. A dead silence… Suddenly

Caw! Caw!

Aragorn searched for the source of the piercing sound. Three gorcrows sat on a nearby tree. They seemed to slumber, their eyes covered with a pellicle, but – Caw! – they croaked from their sleep, and disturbed their own dreams. Aragorn shivered. Something ominous was in th… – Caw! Caw! – …at sound.

He propped on his hands and knees. Taste of gall and ash was in his mouth.

He,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,nauseous..,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,before
,,,,,fel,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,The,,,,,,,,,,,,danced,,,,,,,,,,,,,,his
,,,,,,,,,,,feverish,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,world,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,eyes.

But there was something else. The feeling of loss, like a pain in a missing limb. He missed something, some part of him, and he didn't even know what it was.

Slowly he stood up, and staggered for a moment until he found his balance. He looked at the four paths – four: he didn't know anymore which direction he came from. He didn't know where he was. No stars were visible through the clouds. Yet there were lights in the marshes. Cold, pale lights of rotting plants and bluish flickering of the will-o-wisps. Dead lights.
Here,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and there
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,appearing and,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,disappearing,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,again
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,luring…

The world seemed to have no colors. Grey. Everything grey. Shadows. Were this the Midgewater Marshes at all? He was lost. Truly lost. But he knew one thing: before finding the way, he has to find what he is missing first…

He forced himself to think. What is it that he has to find? He didn't know. Why did he lie here, at the crossroads? He had no idea. What happened before? Vaguely he remembered deep mud and fierce rain. A path. Whirling mist. A dark silhouette ahead… a figure. No, a stone. Where is it?

And Aragorn noticed it. The footprints… One coming – they were his. And one leaving… Maybe it was no stone after all… Finally he had an answer to one question. What he was missing, whatever it was, was where the footprints were going.

He breathed deeply until he felt sure on his feet again. It was not the best idea – the marshes stank. Rotten leaves and humid corpses of trees. The foulness of mud-gases, coming to the surface in greasy bubbles… The nausea hit him again. He suppresses it laboriously, and stepped forwards, following the unclear footprints in the mud.

He walked through a world of shadows. Thick cobwebs hung from the drooping willows and alders, and - Caw! Caw! Caw! – the gorcrows cried from their sleep. How long he walked, he did not know. He felt like in a dream, as if his mind wouldn't belong truly to his body, as if it would observe it from some place a few inches above his head and guided him like a marionette. He followed the sky, but its darkness didn't change, there was no sunrise which would give him some measure of time. The night seemed eternal…

Finally, he saw something else, then the vast marsh. A dark shape to the side of the path. No, no figure. Just a small hill, bulking out of the surrounding marsh, not much higher then a man. And in the hill, there was a door. It was carved from grey stone, roughly worked and heavy, and didn't look opened for a long time. Yet the footprints led there…

He stopped before the door. He stood there for a long time, just watching. He didn't reach his hand to touch the stone, nor did he make any step closer. He just watched, like in an old painting that hung at the walls of some dusty room where the time does not flow. Nothing happened. Then, finally, he reached to touch the door. It reminded him on the surface of the stone at the crossroads, but still nothing happened and everything was quiet.

And then he knocked.

Immediately he wondered why he has done it, when the sound echoed loudly behind the door, deep beyond the earth, reverberating again and again, always less loudly, until the silence veiled everything again. But it was an awaiting silence, thick and suffocating. And then… a bell sounded somewhere in the depth, slowly and softly. Ding-dong, ding-dong… And another sound was heard with the bell.

Squish-flap-flip…

A sound of wet feet nearing the door. Many slimy feet. Aragorn shivered involuntarily. There was nowhere to hide. He drew his sword, and waited.

Squish-flap-flip…

The sound neared. Sweat was running down Aragorn's brow. His palm was slippery on the handle of the sword, but he gripped it more firmly. And waited. The door cracked.

He saw thin fingers in the crack of the door. Then, for a moment, yellow eyes, pale and cold. And then the world turned upside down. There was no firm ground under his feet anymore. Suddenly he saw nothing, he couldn't breath! Darkness. It stung in his eyes. It entered his mouth as he opened them in a scream. No sound came out – just bubbles. Water! He was in the murky water! Get out! Swim! But where? Where is the surface? The taste of swamp filled his mouth. The water was deep and roiled with thick mud. Something was pulling him down. Fight! He felt the bubbles escaping from his mouth and nose – they tickled oh his face… They got fewer and fewer. And then, they stopped. No air! The water was cold, but his lungs burned. The struggling was futile! His limbs felt like lead, and every movement took great effort. No air! He could not resist anymore. He breathed in the water. The taste of swamp… Outside, inside! Darkness…

A few bubbles stirred the slimy surface… and then only silence, cold, and wet shadow.

A cough. It hurt! He wished he could just lie without perceiving anything, just lie here… wherever 'here' was. A next cough – even more violent. And then the coughing couldn't be stopped. His body arched spasmodically as he coughed out the filthy water from his lungs. Ah, it hurt! Finally the coughs subsided, and he sank exhaustedly. After some time, he began to take in his surroundings. He opened his eyes… no, they were opened! He blinked a few times. Nothing. Pure darkness, such as can dwell only in those places where no ray of sun has ever been. No, this place has never seen the light of sun or moon… nor has it tasted fresh breeze. The air was stale here, and stank of rotting things and mildew… and of other things, even more horrid, that he didn't want to imagine.

He listened. drip… drip… drip…There was a regular sound, and it got more clear when he concentrated on it. It even seemed to get louder, and fill the entire space. He wished he would be able to stop perceiving it, but he could not, once he registered it. drip… drip… drip… He reached with his hand to search the space around him. His fingers touched something soft and slimy, and he recoiled. But then he tried again, and reached in that direction. It was there, a layer of something wet, but he could feel firm rock beneath it, hard and unyielding. He searched the space around him with his fingertips. There was the stony wall behind him, but on the other sides he felt only the rough floor under a thin layer of water. When he didn't touch any obstacle above him, he sat up cautiously. drip… drip… drip… The waterdripped somewhere near, and its echoes reflected from the walls. So the space was small… He wondered how he got here. It reminded him on… a cell…

Steadying himself against the wall, he stood up slowly, and paced along the wall, touching it with one hand. He shuddered when his fingers brushed the slime, and even something protruding from it, soft and gristly, some mushrooms maybe. For a short moment the surface changed under his fingers. He returned to the place and searched carefully – a crack in the rock. He traced it in a semi-arch until it touched the floor, and then back where it touched the floor on the other side. A door! But there was no handle. He tried to push it, he leaned onto it with his all strength, but the door wouldn't yield. With a frustrated sigh he continued his inspection alongside the wall. After fifteen steps he came to the door again.

So this was his prison, the trap that he has fallen in. He tried to remember how it happened. There were those thin, bony fingers, those pale eyes… And then he was in the water as the ground beneath his feet yielded. Yes, that was it! A trap-door! Well, probably. Maybe? It could be… It was a piece of logic in a nightmare, so he clang to it as to the only connection with reality. It reminded him on Erestor's lessons, in some other place and time... In some other world, other age? He wanted to get some assurance from thinking about himself when there was no certainty in the world around him. There was no certainty, either: he remembered his life, he remembered what he has done and who he has been, he remembered who he is and what he has to do, even that who he could have been… But it seemed to him as if those memories and thoughts didn't belong to him; as if they would be someone else's, as if there would be an empty space both behind and ahead, and the time would not flow.

He sank to the floor and buried his face in his hands. drip… drip… drip… The drops ticked the standing time away. There was nothing beside the darkness, and he was the only living creature in the world. Living… Living? He was not sure anymore.

drip… drip… drip… a sound underlining the silence.

drip…,,,drip…,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,drip,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,drip…

"You are nothing…"

Aragorn jerked. A cold, hissing voice…. it was coming from somewhere near… He reached his hand quickly, but he felt nothing.

"Nothing…" the voice was coming from the opposite direction now. nothing… nothing… said the echoes.

"Who are you?" Aragorn blurted.

"Everything that you wasss not…"… you wass not… was not…

"Who I was?"

"You wasss… the opposite of me. I am who you could have been, but will never be. I am that what you didn't want to be. I am your sssshadow…"… your ssshadow… shadow…

"Where are you? What are you doing here?"

"Behind you… before you… on the side where the light does not fall. And in the darknesssss - I'm everywhere. I'm doing what I have always been. Following you…" …following… following…

Aragorn reached harshly after the voice – but missed again.

"The ssstronger the light the darker the ssshadow…" the voice chanted, and the echoes created a horrible chorus.

"What have you done to me?"

"I took your shadow. I took it for myself. Now I am who you could have been! I am your shadow!" the voice laughed screechily. "What a great shadow! The best that I've worn!"

Aragorn shuddered. He felt the heart pounding heavily in his chest. He gulped, and tried to steady his voice when he asked: "Why do you need my shadow? Why do I need it?"

The voice laughed again. "Without it, you are nobody! Nobody, nobody…" it began to chant again, then stopped suddenly. "You need to have a choice to become somebody! Your shadow are all the choices that you didn't choose, following you, whispering what you could have been… How dark your shadow is! You could have been powerful, a lord of darkness you could have been if you would take another path! And now I am what you could have been!" the voice grew suddenly louder, and more menacing. It seemed to come from everywhere…

Aragorn covered his ears. Finally he understood what he was missing, but the realization was even more terrible then the feeling of uncertain loss. That was why everything was grey, why he felt as if his life didn't belong to him. This is what he could have been? Oh Valar… The voice chanted, louder and louder:

"The ssstronger the light the darker the ssshadow… The ssstronger the light the darker the ssshadow… The ssstronger the light the darker the ssshadow… … The SSStronger The LIght Tthe DARker THe SSSHADOW…THE SSTRONGER THE LIGHT THE DARKER THE SSSHADOW!"

Suddenly it stopped.

drip…,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,drip….,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,drip…,,drip…

Squish-flap-flip…

The slimy feet… They were coming.

Squish-flap-flip…

They were behind the door. Stone rasped on stone. A thin ray of sickly light fell into the cell. Aragorn was blinded with it for a while. He squinted against it. First he could see only the light, coming from a thin candle… Then a dark silhouette of a figure behind it – as high as a hobbit, with spidery limbs, and big flat feet dragging on the ground. Then, he could recognize the eyes, as they reflected the light of the candle, big and pale.

Gollum! was his first thought, but then the figure moved, and light fell on the tangled fur on its chest, the golden bracelets adoring the filthy paws – some looked like cheap imitation, some like real treasures, created by the dwarves for some elven lord or a king of Men long ago - and a necklace… no, no golden. A necklace of bones. There were still rests of meat on some of them… When it opened its mouth, a row of long sharp teeth was revealed, like needles. A word came to his mind from some half-forgotten story. It was some rhyme from the Shire, one of those told to scare small children when they don't behave properly. But the word seemed to fit the creature that stood before him: Mewlips… He could imagine that the story works – he was scared...

With a low hiss the Mewlip advanced at him, and Aragorn reached for his sword – to the place at his hip where he expected to find it… and was stunned for a moment when his fingers grasped just empty air. His sword was gone, although he remembered to feel its familiar weight at his side when he explored the cell. But he was not sure… he was not sure with anything anymore… and a next Mewlip entered the cell.

And then a next one. And more dark silhouettes could be guessed waiting behind the door, they eyes glistening greedily in the dim light. He breathed out, and with calm movements he took a battle stance, although his thoughts raced in panic. More of the Mewlips entered the cell and advanced at him. They had no weapons, but they claws were long and deadly sharp as well as their teeth. They stopped – just a few steps away from him. He could see their breath condensing in the damp air. Their shadows danced a dizzying dance on the walls in the flickering light of the candle. Their hissing voices abated into a hush and then to absolute silence. Awaiting.

drip… drip… drip…

A dark figure peeled off the distant wall, as it would be its part until now. Crunched like some big spider, it reared up in its full height – higher then the Mewlips… a Man. The figure was dark, as if a perpetual shadow would fall upon it, and made the features of its face unrecognizable, although they seemed familiar to Aragorn. And in his hand, he held Aragorn's sword. In a sudden urge Aragorn cast a quick glance behind him. In the sick light of the candle, there was no shadow…

"I returned."

The Mewlips burst out into wild noise. But in the unarticulated sound of cheers, there was a subtle hint of fear.

The figure seemed to rise even more; it stood proudly and menacingly, like a king among his subjects, the sword in his hand. There was a feeling of power enveloping it, a Dark Captain riding on the wings of storm, sending his troupes to plunder and conquer.

"I come to you with a new shadow! And I will give you gold, and I will give you food – a lot of food!"

A new wave of cheering cries arouse in to crowd of Mewlips, hissing and bubbling sounds and pounding of claws on the bones. They tightened their circle around Aragorn, he could see the greedy light in their eyes, feel the fume of their breath on his face. He retreated, slowly, one step after another, until his back hit the slimy wall. There he stood, and watched the crowd of twisted creatures advance at him with bared teeth. He was determined to not sell his life cheaply, although the sheer thought on his bones hanging around the neck of these creatures with rests of meat on them made him shiver with disgust. They were almost touching him now, ready to leap.

"NO! Not this one!" A voice thundered. "This one is mine! His shadow belongsss to me…"

The Mewlips hissed in rage, but didn't move further. They reluctantly stepped to the side and made way as the shadowy figure walked between them. It pointed the sword at Aragorn's throat – his own sword. Its tip was cold against his skin and pressed sharply in a small point of pain. He gritted his teeth – the shadow had control over him thus, a position that it obviously enjoyed. Still holding the sword pointed thus, the dark figure spoke to the Mewlips:

"He must stay alive… When he dies, his shadow dissolves, like the last one did, and I will be forced to wait at the crossroads again, until a lost traveler passes the place again. You must keep him here, alive! He must not leave this cell ever again – and I will lead you to gold and food!"

"Gold and food! Gold and food!" the Mewlips echoed his words like enchanted with them, it became a loud scansion, returned multiplied by the echoes. Gold and food! Gold and food! Gold and food!

Aragorn felt his knees weaken. A thin trickle of blood flowed from the sword tip down his throat, but he did not perceive it. The thought of being eaten by these creatures was horrific… but this fate was even worse, it was unimaginable – being buried in this never-ending darkness, in this place where the time does not flow… never seeing the sky again, the light of sun or stars, never feel a gust of fresh air… lost… forgotten… forever. Until the death frees him… Sitting here in the dark and slowly forgetting his own name, while this lurker of the crossroad leads hordes of Mewlips to the villages, to plunder and feed under his shadow like a banner of a conquering army… No! No!

He knew that he can't accept this fate, he won't accept it! He can't allow this evil to spread, the evil that he himself could have been, would he take another path. No, he realized, he would never take it, even if the choice would be between that path… and death.

When he dies, his shadow dissolves…

It was.

He took a deep breath, and looked into the eyes of the shadowy figure. They were unrestful and turbid with wrath and rage, but Aragorn's eyes were clear and calm. The sword was still pressed against his throat. He stepped forwards.

S H A D O W,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,L I G H T

S H A D O W,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,L I G H T

S H A D O W,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,L I G H T

S H A D O W,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,L I G H T

S H A D O W,,,,,,,,,L I G H T

S H A DLOIWG H T

S I G H T

He expected pain, and the feeling of life leaving him with his blood. It did not come. The sword clang on the floor – there was no hand that would hold it. His life and decisions were his. He felt whole again. He had a choice – and has taken it, together with its consequences. And the other option became his shadow. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow…

It felt as if he was blind until now, and now his eyes opened. The dim cell, the Mewlips… the world around him faded, as if it would be a sheer dream, an illusion in the mist. He could feel the wind on his face and the sky above his head. His head spun. The wind became a caress, the sky became the ground … and he knew no more.

"Aragorn!"

Someone called him. He floated in mist, warm and soft. There has never been anything else…

"Aragorn!"

Yes… that was his name… was he expected to do something about it?

The mist shifted, as if he would sink and rise through it… and with every movement it grew thinner - until he could feel some contours through it. And then his conscious flew out of the mist and filled that contours… they were his body, and he felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him, and the voice… it was familiar, and it wanted him to do something. Oh yes, it wanted him to open his eyes. That shouldn't be difficult, should it? So why is such urgency in that voice? Maybe he should better obey…

The eyelids, yes… he could feel them. Now… open. Open! How to do it? Finally he remembered. Yes, that's right…

Light. How bright it is… how white and all-filling… But then it abated, and he could see a face through it. A kind face, but worried… and now, relieved… Gandalf! He smiled slightly. There was something in Gandalf's presence that made him feel safe and comfortable. And then his eyelids closed again…


When he woke, he was lying on something soft. A bed… He opened his eyes. There were wooden beams above his head, illuminated by a soft flickering light… a fire burned in the room. He stared at the ceiling for a while, trying to remember where he is and how did he get here.

Suddenly, a memory made him bolt upright in panic. Immediately someone was at his side, some hands supported him, but he paid them no attention. He looked around wildly, searching for something. There… a shadow was falling on the white sheets! His shadow… He sighed in relief, and slumped into the supporting hands as the surge of strength born of panic spent itself. They lowered him to the bed gently, and then he finally saw the face belonging to them.

Gandalf's eyes followed him in concern. "Easy, my dear friend… Do you recognize me?"

Aragorn relaxed, and frowned in confusion. "Gandalf…" he whispered. "Where are we? How did I get here?"

The wizard gave a relieved sight. "Good, good… no damage…" Then he sat down on the edge of the bed. "You were very ill Aragorn. I found you on the edge of the Midgewater marshes, just a few steps from the Eastern Road. You were feverish and beyond reason… I feared that I'm late… I was really lucky to meet a wagon on the road, heading for Bree. We are in the Prancing Pony now; I thought you will recognize it."

Aragorn smiled faintly. "I don't stay in the best rooms often…" Then he looked at Gandalf intently. "So… you found me on the edge of the marsh?"

Gandalf nodded. "Yes, my friend. With such a fever, I'm really glad that you didn't get lost in it."

"I did," Aragorn said quietly. Then he looked at the shadow of his hand falling on the sheets. "But I've found myself again…"


A/N: This story was inspired by two poems from The Adventures of Tom Bombadil: Shadow-Bride and The Mewlips.

edit 6/1/2010: I had to rework all the visual effects, because FFN decided it doesn't save not only multiple spaces, but also multiple dots, more then three... Replacing all dots with commas...,,,,,,,,,,,,,