Disclaimer: Not mine, except for It and the plot bunny.
Summary: There are many dark places that exist in Middle-earth. Legolas and Aragorn have the misfortune to find one of them.
A/N: This story was written for the Teitho Contest theme: Dark Places. I have expanded it from a one-shot to a multi-chapter story.
by White Wolf
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 creature's mouth pulled back in what looked like a lazy grin, revealing large, very sharp teeth, highlighted by two very long and wicked looking fangs. 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. Even though the true betrayal of the white wizard, Saruman, had not yet been demonstrated and Isengard 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 on the stone walls or tightly strung in the corners.
Then suddenly something sprang out from between two stones and launched itself at Aragorn's face.
Do you have the feeling that my plot bunny is off and running again?