Where the Shadows Lie: Chapter Eight - Part nine of many

The Dark Horseman drove his Orcs before him. Even a look was enough to spur on any creature that should lag.

They had bound a color about Denethor's neck, attaching a chain by which they led him. His hands were trussed behind him, allowing no means to catch his balance. His captors saw this and made a sport of it. They would jerk his leash one way then the other, and then laugh and clap as he staggered listlessly to their rhythm.

As the ranger watched from above, the game was carried too far. Someone yanked violently forward. The steward's son dropped like felled wood, barely able to keep from smashing his face into the road. Either unseeing or uncaring, the Orc continued on, dragging his prisoner over the rough paving stones.

Just then, they passed behind a ridge, and Aragorn could not see what happened next. He heard a low hiss, followed by a yelp. When they emerged from the shadows, Denethor was on his feet. The soldiers now supported their charge with a firm grip on each arm. At the back of the party, two others dragged the still form of their former comrade. They paused briefly to toss the offending Orc off the cliff edge.

Aragorn turned away, focusing his gaze on the top of the crag. Long ago, lightning struck it; now a web of cracks and scars cut through the stone. Near the crown, an open fracture ran fully around its bounds. At the widest, it was perhaps a hand's breadth, and it ran deep into the rock.

With the aid of the lesser faults, he climbed up further. Drawing the messenger's sword, he wedged as far it as far into the gap as he could. When he finished, over half the blade had disappeared in the rock. He hastily wrapped the sharp edges in a stripe of leather.

The first of company were starting over the chasm below. They spread out where the way narrowed.

He kicked hard at a cleft, wedging his foot deep into it.

Denethor was on the bridge.

Setting his shoulder under the cold steal of the pommel, the ranger gripped the leather binding near the rock.

As the captive left the bridge, Aragorn drove his upper body against the blade.

It did not budge.

Beneath him, he heard flakes of rock rattling down the cliff as they split from his foothold. Drawing a deep breath, he flung his strength into a steady conflict with the unmoving boulder. The blade cut through its covering and into his palms.

It gave all at once.

There was a crack like lighting splitting the sky, and then his world turned upside down. He shot up and away from his footing on the crag. The sword flew from his grip and spiralled out of sight. He found himself sliding down towards the rope. He tried to catch his fingers in one of the cracks, but there weren't any this far down.

To his left, he saw the tooth of rock where the line was attached. It seemed to come towards him at a disturbing speed. Below that, the cliff dropped sheer to the road.

He shifted to his right side, and then threw his weight into a roll to the left. He managed to fling his sword arm around the rock as he shot past. Completing the roll, he brought his other arm up, clasping hand about wrist. His descent came to a bone-jarring halt.

For a moment, he just hung there, heart pounding wildly against the stone. He tried to calm himself with the knowledge that his harness would have eventually stopped him, but his body insisted on panicking. Drawing deep lungfuls of air, he slowed his ragged breathing. He closed his eyes, letting the rock cool his face.

After letting out one last steady breath, the ranger hauled himself back up onto the ridge. From there he could see the results of efforts. The bridge had disappeared, the sudden weight of the boulder proving too much for its decaying stones. Joining it at the bottom of the rift, were a good half of the Company. He could not see where either the Nazgûl or its horse were. He hoped his missile had crushed them.

The remainder of the Orcs gathered around the end of the ruined crossing. They peered into the depths, pointing and snarling excitedly amongst themselves. Fortunately, it did not seem to occur to them that the overhanging crag had fallen from anything other than pure accident.

Denethor lay unnoticed and unmoving in their midst.

Between the Nazgûl and heavy objects hurtling out of the sky, Rána had had enough. He could just see her baring her charge back over the pass at a full gallop. He wished her luck

Finding a stable perch, Aragorn retied the rope, making a slide. His hands looked a ghastly sight, skin burned and abraded, palms sliced open. There was no time to tend them now. He donned a pair of heavy, hide gloves, and on consideration, added another layer of leather around that. He also wrapped a pair of ridding breaches round his waist.

The rope slithered and slapped against the cliff as it fell. Its length reached almost to the ground, ending just over the heads of the Orcs.

Saying a quick prayer to whatever gods or ancestors might be listening, he stepped off the edge.

The line hissed through his hands, almost louder than the wind in his ears. He loosened his grip as much as he dared, and the cliffside flashed past. Every time he used his legs to direct the fall, a shock rent through his muscles.

He could smell smoke. He was clutching the rope tighter now, trying to lessen his speed before the rope ran out. His gloves, they were what was burning. The heat blistered through three layers of protection.

The end of the line, no time to worry.

"Elendil!" he cried, landing solidly on his feet. Striping away his smouldering gloves, he flung them at the first Orc to turn on him.

Clutching at its face, it jumped back, tumbling over the edge.

Aragorn pushed his advantages. They were surprised and had their backs to a precipice.

The air sang of steel and danced with sparks. He was in a dance of sorts. The stage set and lit in red. Blood, fire and eyes spun around him.

He was on the ground now, a shield in his face. It too sang as a sword struck it. He shoved it aside and saw the returning blade. His own was still in the last Orc. It would not pull free. He let it go, rolling the other way.

There was a cliff there and no further to go. The knife in his hand felt small. He spun it in the air, catching its blade and then sending it away again. It found a snug home between his assailant's eyes.

Before he could scramble to his feet, another took its place. Rolling again only trapped him for the next blow. He watched as the blade edge sped towards him. Maybe if he dove into it...

No matter, it had decided to change trajectories. It glanced off the stones by his head. Now he lunged forward, taking care to avoid Denethor's foot. A foot firmly planted in the back of an Orcish knee.

A tug was all he needed to send his opponent over him and down.

He caught up a stray sword and rolled to his feet, but there was no one left to fight.

Casting the crude blade away, he went to find his own. The sword was buried to the hilt in Orc, its guard tangled in broken armour. He remembered the creature plunging towards him as its fellows crowded over it. That was how he had fallen. He pulled back the mail; once unfettered, the blade slid out easily. Transferring the gore to an already dirty cloak, he sheathed it.

He also cleaned his knife before he cut Denethor's bonds with it. Rolling the other man back over, he asked: "Are you injured?"

A flicker of recognition passed though grey eyes that were so like his own. The voice was horse from thirst and disuse. "Thorongil, are you sinking too? I can't seem to swim."

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