If I smile and don’t believe
Soon I know I will wake from this
Don’t try to fix me I’m not broken...
Hello? I’m the lie, living for
you so you can hide
Suddenly I know I’m not sleeping
Hello? I’m still here...
All that’s left of yesterday.
“Kaldur!” the ranger snapped in urgent frustration, seeing Elrohir go
limp in the arms that held him and begin to convulse spasmodically
despite Thil’s desperate, but inexperienced attempts to help.
“Let me to him! I swear if he dies because of you, hell will not
hold a pit deep enough for me to put you in!” there was a dangerous
look in the Dúnadan’s eyes.
Kaldur’s hands trembled on the knife he held and Legolas was struck by
the haunted look in his eyes. It was as if the bandit could
imagine a pit as deep as the one Aragorn spoke of, and it was exactly
what he feared.
“I won’t belong to someone else! I can’t be a slave again!
I won’t wear chains and be put in a cage...” Kaldur ground out between
his teeth, his own breathing rapid and strained. “There’s some
things a man can’t do, and I can’t do that again mate, I can’t...”
Legolas felt a dart through his soul. Those emotions, so clear in
Kaldur’s panicked eyes... he knew them. He had lived them.
“Kaldur, that’s not what’s going to happen,” he said quietly, willing
the man to believe him.
Kaldur couldn’t. People lied.
They always lied.
Thil knew he could not help Elrohir. He didn’t know what was
wrong. He had a moderate aptitude as a healer and a natural
empathy that served him well in that realm, but nothing that would help
him in a situation like this. He didn’t even know if elven
physiology was the same as a humans, but he could tell the elf was in
trouble. He wanted to go free as much as the next man, but not if
the elf’s life was the price that had to be paid. Shouldering his
two surprised comrades out of the way, the younger man pulled Elrohir
up, supporting the semi-conscious elf as he walked him forward, towards
The others were too surprised to try to stop him until it was too
late. “I’m sorry, Kal, forgive me...” Thil choked slightly as he
let Aragorn take Elrohir from him, knowing the betrayal he
enacted. “You always said we weren’t killers, I can’t have this
on my conscience.”
The other bandits looked to their leader to see if they should react,
should stop what was happening, but Kaldur gave them no sign as Aragorn
laid his brother down tenderly on the grass, checking the trembling elf
with rapid, urgent care.
The bandit leader’s breath heaved rapidly. It was over. It
had been a stupid move from the start and he knew it. He had
gambled and lost, because, as Losmir had accused him, he just didn’t
have the callousness to use the leverage when it was in his
grasp. After all these years he would have thought he’d learned
the terrible price of letting his heart do the thinking, but apparently
that was a flaw in his character that he was stuck with.
Kaldur let his hand fell uselessly to his side as he allowed Legolas to
take Elladan from him. He couldn’t do this anymore than
Thil. He couldn’t follow through on threats against people he
didn’t wish to harm; he wasn’t sure whom he had been trying to
fool. All he had managed to do now was assure that he was never
going to see the light of day again for the rest of his life.
That thought terrified him.
Almost instantly, Taradin and his men had the small handful of bandits
surrounded. Jalif looked at Kaldur as their hands were bound
again behind their backs. The lead bandit dropped his head and
looked away. He knew he had let his men down, he had let himself
down, he had let Strider, Legolas and the twins down... it would be a
shorter list to think of someone he had not betrayed tonight.
Legolas supported Elladan, guiding the dark-haired elf to a seat on the
ground, but as he did his gaze turned to follow Kaldur for a moment as
Taradin’s men led them away to somewhere where they could be more
carefully guarded. The prince could not forget what he had seen
in the human’s eyes a few moments ago. It haunted him.
“Elrohir...” Elladan was trying to turn towards where Aragorn was
administering emergency care to his twin.
“Shh...” Legolas soothed the distressed elf, smoothing Elladan’s
tangled dark hair back from his face and carefully checking his
injuries. “Estel is with him, he will not let him come to
harm. Be still, you are not well.”
“You can... say that again,” Elladan found barely enough breath to
joke. “I feel as if someone built a fire inside...”
“And slow roasted your innards with it, I know,” Legolas acknowledged
ruefully, one arm still curled lightly around his own internal aches as
he eased himself down to sit on the grass next to the Noldo. “I
shudder to think what your father will say if we cannot all make it
into Imladris under our own power... these are not exactly the ‘old
times’ I wished to relive while I was here.”
Elladan chuckled as much as he could around his injuries. “And to
think... it has been so boring without you and Estel.”
Several of Taradin’s company approached them now, bringing bandages and
medicines as would be needed.
“We haven’t got no decent healers in this lot right now,” Taradin
apologized as he crouched beside Aragorn, handing him the herbs he had
requested. The older man’s concerned gaze held Elrohir’s pale
face. “He going to be all right?”
Aragorn nodded, unable to truly express how relieved he was to be able
to say that. Elrohir was in trouble, but it was not as serious as
Thil, who had had no experience with elves, had thought. “Valar
willing, yes. He is not well, but it is not as bad as I
feared. His body is in shock, but it is strong. He needs
rest and tending, but he will recover.”
Elrohir moaned softly and Aragorn laid his hand gently on the elf’s
forehead, trying to smooth away the lines of pain written there.
The elf was not conscious enough to see him, and he knew that without
sound his brother would not even know what was going on around
him. Therefore, the ranger tried to simply infuse as much love
and care as he could into his touch, hoping that the elf could feel
his presence and his love if nothing else.
It seemed to work, for Elrohir quieted and stilled beneath his
touch. “Rest, muindor-nín,”
Aragorn said quietly as he
worked. “I will let no more hurt befall you, I swear.”
Aragorn sat on the ground, a little away from the campfire,
leaning wearily against the tree behind him. It was almost
morning. Elladan and Elrohir were now slumbering peacefully and
without pain, their hurting bodies induced into a deep, healing rest by
a healthy dose of the concoction the ranger had mixed up for
them. It was what the brothers had come to affectionately term
‘Lord Elrond’s favorite tea’, but for once the twins at least accepted
it without protest, welcoming the small, healing respite it offered to
Most of their problem was simply the amount
of injuries they had
sustained, not necessarily the seriousness of any individual
hurts. Thankfully, broken ribs and severe internal bruising
seemed to be the worst of it. Elladan’s shoulder injury was
painful, but not dangerous. Elrohir’s continued hearing loss,
which they could do nothing for, and Elladan’s broken ribs, which were
stabilized, seemed the most severe problems, everything else was simply
hampered by a sheer, system-wide pain-stimulus overload. The
trolls’ rough treatment after the hurts taken in the rockslide had been
a bit too much for both the twins. Hopefully they would be
feeling a little better when they awoke from their long, healing sleep.
Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment. His and Legolas’ injuries
had also been tended. His arm still ached like the dickens and he
was acquiring a very nasty bruise across his side where the troll had
kicked him, but the pain had dulled down to reasonable levels, helped
in a large part by the numbing herbs with which he had dosed Legolas
As if summoned by being thought of, Legolas appeared next to him.
The elf moved with a stiffness that was unusual for him as he slowly
sank down to sit beside his friend.
Aragorn eyed his companion.
Legolas smiled wearily as he settled the mug he had been carrying into
the nook of a tree root beside him. “You don’t look any better,”
he informed, accurately reading the look in the ranger’s eyes.
Aragorn knew that deep, dark bruises covered most of Legolas’ back,
chest and sides; bruising from the inside as well as the outside.
Elrond had taught him to know the difference between surface bruises
and the discoloration that came from hidden inner injuries. The
elf prince had both, but his elven strength was holding up well and
Aragorn knew that the damage would heal, if only Legolas gave it the
time to do so and did not stress himself any further.
Aragorn was good at functioning around injuries and even hiding them
from the casual observer, but he sometimes felt his friend had it down
to an art. The stiffness in Legolas’ movements was the only
indication of his battered state, just as his friend’s soft speech was
the only clue to his healing jaw. They were indeed a matching
the two of them, but they were all of them alive. The ranger had
learned in life you had to be grateful for the good things, not just
curse the bad.
Wounds healed, pain was forgotten with time, but losing a loved one out
there tonight... that would have been too much. That would have
been a wound that did not heal... his gaze darkened a shade as it
drifted over to where the bandits were tied up for the night only a few
yards away. They all looked fast asleep.
Kaldur was not with them. He was further away, on the other side
of the fire. He was tied to a tree, with his own personal
sentry. Any man who could bluff his way through the guard of four
trolls as well as the careful emotional defenses of people as watchful
and guarded as the elf and the ranger deserved extra caution.
That was why he was kept separate.
After tonight the bandits had conclusively proved that not only could
they not be trusted, but they could also pose a serious threat.
That was something Aragorn knew he should have learned in the
the fiasco on the Barrow-downs, but he supposed Kaldur was right and he
was one of the worst jailers
ever. He had come to actually
trust the bandit far too much, and was still a little raw from the
betrayal. He couldn’t believe he had read Kaldur that wrong.
Legolas followed his friend’s gaze. Kaldur did not look like he
was sleeping either. His body was slumped against the tree that
hands were bound to, but he was un-relaxed and his face turned up to
look at the stars as if memorizing them for the last time.
Another expression that was eerily too familiar to the prince.
“He didn’t really want to hurt your brothers, you know,” Legolas said
quietly; quite unexpectedly offering a defense of the man whom he had
earlier said drove him mad.
Aragorn looked away. “I know, but he did... or he could
have. And it would have been my fault as much as his, my lack of
character judgment. I don’t understand where I made the wrong
call on him,” the ranger admitted. He wasn’t going to waste a lot
of time blaming himself for things that were past and could not be
changed, that at least he had begun to learn a little as he grew
older. However, he honestly did want to know where he had turned
right when he should have turned left in this instance.
“You didn’t make the wrong call,” Legolas said presently. “I
don’t understand what I saw in his eyes tonight... but I recognize it,
Estel. He was scared, terrified... couldn’t you see it?”
Aragorn looked down at his hands. “I’m afraid, Legolas, to be
perfectly honest, all I could see were my brothers hurting, my brothers
The elf nodded. Not surprising. “I know... I saw that
too. It was wrong, Estel, they shouldn’t have been hurt, and they
shouldn’t have been threatened like that either.” Legolas leaned
his head back against the tree, resting his folded hands on one knee as
he turned his head to look at his friend next to him in the fading
“What do you think your father will do with these men now?” he asked
“I don’t know,” Aragorn let his head sink into his hands. “I’m so
torn between trying to understand their reasons and wanting to just
lock them up and throw away the key that I can only hope he has more
wisdom than I do.”
Legolas laughed softly. “He does, Estel, don’t worry.”
Aragorn rolled his eyes at what should have been a backward insult, but
wasn’t really. “Legolas... what are you thinking?” he knew something was going through his
Legolas sighed and took his time answering. “I don’t know,
Estel... I’m just... haunted. Ghosts, you know,” he waved his
hand dismissively around them, his voice wry. “Ghosts of the
past. Did you hear what Kaldur said on the hill? ‘I can’t
do it again’... the look in his eyes...” the elf was
rubbing his wrists with small, distressed movements. “He seemed
to feel so trapped. Like he’d do anything rather than go back
to... to whatever he feared.”
Aragorn caught and held Legolas’ eyes. Laying his good hand atop
his friend’s, he stilled their agitated movements. “Legolas...
you’re projecting again. You’re putting your feelings and your
experiences into his life,” he said gently. They had had this
conversation before, when they first began their journey and Aragorn
had seen the way the elf prince was identifying with their captives’
“I know,” Legolas sighed softly, wearily. “I know I am. But
you asked what I was thinking,” he pointed out with a small, tired
Aragorn nodded. “I’m not saying you’re wrong though...” The
ranger plucked a stalk of grass, rolling it between his fingers and
looking out at the lightening horizon where the sun was trying to wake
up. “I didn’t want to see it at the time; I was too worried, too
angry. But he was scared, and I have no idea why... no idea what
we ever did to cause that.”
“Don’t you?” a soft voice made the two friends start and look up from
what they had thought was their private conversation.
The bandits nearby had appeared to all be sleeping, but Thil’s eyes
were now open and he was watching them intently in the predawn
gloom. The young man twisted his arms around so he could sit up
without pulling against the stake that held his bound hands anchored.
“Kal’s a good man,” Thil said simply. No one had probably ever
told him it was impolite to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations,
so he made no apology for overhearing words not meant for him.
“But there are some things a body never gets over.”
Both Aragorn and Legolas understood that very well.
“Look...” Thil shot a somewhat nervous glance towards Kaldur, across
the camp. He wasn’t turned in their direction, which seemed to
make the young man a little more comfortable. “Kal would
literally kill me if he knew I said anything. I think you’re good
people... but... do you swear to me that you’ll never use anything I
tell you against Kal? Ever?” The boy’s loyalty was as
obvious as his desire to try to explain his mentor’s actions.
Aragorn and Legolas nodded. “You have our word,” the ranger said
softly. He wanted to understand this puzzle. There were too
many pieces that just didn’t make sense.
Thil sighed. He had already probably broken his leader’s trust
forever tonight by his actions with the elf; a little more couldn’t do
more damage now. He wanted these people to understand Kaldur the
way he did.
“Kal was born a slave, in the south. Alls he knew was his parents
were sold to pay for a debt, condemning them and all their offspring to
that fate. But if his parents were still living by the time he
was old enough to remember, he must have been sold apart from them,
cause he was raised an orphan. I don’t know much about it, but I
guess it was a pretty rough life. The only person who meant
anything to Kal was another slave, an old woman who practically raised
him. When he was about fourteen, she was accused of stealing
something and was beaten... it killed her. Kal went
berserk. He nearly strangled the master who ordered it, but they
pried him off...” Thil’s voice was hollow at the retelling. It
hurt him to think about it as a reality, and not just a story.
“They beat him bad enough to leave scars that he still carries, then
they put him in a cage. At first in the center of the courtyard
where everyone could see...” the young man’s voice became tinged with
bitter anger. “Then they moved it down to the cellars and locked
him away from the world like a rabid dog. They said he was
mad. Three years. Three years
they kept him caged up in
the dark and barely subsisting on whatever scraps they chose to fling
him,” the boy swallowed hard, remembering the night he had
inadvertently pried the whole story out of his older friend.
Kaldur had been dead drunk and made a joke out of everything, but Thil
hadn’t found it a laughing matter. He still didn’t.
Horror at the cruelty of what they had just heard was etched on
Aragorn’s face. Beside him, Legolas had pressed his face against
his knees. A slave was worth less than dirt; he knew that
well. To be imprisoned in the dark... never knowing if you’d ever
get out, never knowing when your tormenters were going to come to sport
with you... no wonder he knew what he had seen in Kaldur’s eyes.
“Who could do that to a child?” Aragorn breathed sadly. He could
see the dead-honest truth in Thil’s eyes and knew that what he told
them was fact.
“He went in a child, but he lost that in there somewhere I think.
He came out a man. He came out...” Thil tipped his head to the
side, indicating he meant Kaldur’s mind. “Different. He
talked to himself, turned everything into one big joke, he seemed
incapable of understanding pain or taking hurt anymore... they decided
he really must be mad now and were tired of keeping him, so they took
him out to dispose of him. He escaped. He ran and he never
Thil studied his audience for a moment. “Kaldur’s not really
crazy you know. Well... maybe a little,” he smiled faintly.
“But mainly he’s just... unique. And... he’s not incapable of
feeling pain either, despite what he says. Mind you, he never
wanted a soul to know any of this. I only found out because he
was too drunk to know what he was saying and I’ve kept his secret, like
I’m asking you both to keep it. I just... I just wanted you to
understand. To know what it would mean for Kal to go back into
any kind of prison. I honestly think he’d rather die than lose
his freedom again.”
Silence hung between them for several long minutes, but no one
spoke. No one knew quite what to say. Presently Thil lay
back down and rolled over, watching the sunrise with tired eyes.
He had had his say and there was nothing left for him to do. He
wasn’t sure what good telling them all that would accomplish, but if
they really wanted to know what was going on in his friend’s head
tonight, now they did.
Aragorn closed his eyes and then slowly opened them again. That
explained a lot about the strange but uncannily strong defenses Kaldur
had built against the world. If you didn’t care, didn’t take it
seriously, it didn’t hurt.
Aragorn laid his hand on Legolas’ shoulder and the elf slowly
straightened back up, shaking off the sorrow of the tale they had just
heard. When you had a past like that you couldn’t live in it,
Legolas knew that and apparently Kaldur did too. However that
wasn’t to say that it did not occasionally rear up and smack you in the
Legolas smiled slightly, leaning his head against the tree once more as
rosy dawn spread across the heavens above. “You know what,
Strider?” he murmured quietly. “I’ve had a good life.”
Aragorn blinked, wondering what brought on that comment.
Legolas grinned at his friend’s confusion. “No, truly, I
have. Not because there hasn’t been pain, or horror, or hurt...
but because I have always come out the other side a better, stronger
person for it. Because I have always had family, and friends,
like you, by my side. Have you never wondered, Estel, why when we
hear stories like that, the kind that make you want to weep for all the
injustice in the world... have you ever wondered why is that we sit
there and ask: Why did it have to happen? It’s a natural enough
response, that’s true, yet in a world stained by evil, evil things will
happen. But then, why do we take for granted the blessings in our
lives? Do we ever stop to wonder ‘why’ about them? Why, in
a world this cold and full of suffering, Ilúvatar chooses to
light up our lives with the many bright spots we love so dear?”
The elf prince stopped himself and laughed heartily at the bemused
expression on his friend’s face.
“I lost you, didn’t I?” Legolas shook his head.
Aragorn chuckled, his voice tinged with exhaustion. “Forgive me
my friend, I think I agree
with you, but some of us are not up to
playing the philosopher at this hour of the morning. I will tell
you what I know though. What I know, is that I love to see you
“Well then we should get some rest I think,” Legolas yawned.
“Even if the sun does wish to rise, we do not need to join it this
morn.” Picking up the mug he had set aside some time ago he held
it out towards Aragorn with a suddenly devilish smile.
Aragorn realized that it was a mug of the ‘special tea’ he had made
earlier for his brothers. He cast a suspicious look at the elf,
remembering how at one time they had kept a running tally of whose turn
it was to drug the other in this manner due to the many scrapes they
encountered in their youth.
Legolas, it seemed, had not forgotten either. “So...” the elf
said with a grin. “I forget, whose turn is it?”
Aragorn rolled over stiffly, a soft moan escaping his lips as he woke
up slowly. It was dark in camp and the distant haze of red that
stained the mountain peaks to the west let him know that the sun was
Soft sounds of someone moving nearby caused the ranger to slowly open
his eyes and glance to his left. Legolas was seated near him
quietly talking to Taradin.
“So do you awaken finally?” the elf’s soft voice teased.
Moving carefully into a sitting position, Aragorn rubbed his fists
against his eyes, trying to wake up fully. The motion set his arm
to aching and he grimaced. “How long did I sleep?” he mumbled,
his words slightly slurred.
“All day long.” Taradin glanced about the camp. “You and that
motley crew that you’ve been dragging with you.” The older man motioned
to the prisoners with the mug he held in his hands as Legolas carefully
inspected Aragorn’s arm. The elf fitted it gently back into the
sling draped around the ranger’s neck.
“Elladan and Elrohir?” Aragorn questioned once Legolas released
him. He slowly stretched his legs as he glanced around
them. Tangled strands of dark hair fell into his eyes and he
pushed them away from his face as he watched the camp for a few
“They awoke a few minutes ago.” Legolas followed Aragorn’s gaze to the
far side of camp where his brothers were being tended. Elladan
was slowly sitting up, aided by someone, but the ranger could not see
clearly who it was.
He started when he realized that it was Thil who was working gently
with the elven twins, now helping Elrohir hold a mug of tea as he
sipped it carefully.
Legolas restrained Aragorn when he protested and tried to rise.
“Easy, Strider.” Legolas watched the robber carefully. The
young man’s movements were deliberate and slow, and he made sure to
keep himself in Elrohir’s line of sight so the deaf elf could
understand him. “He has some abilities with healing and he
offered to help.”
“My men and I are not skilled with medicines the way you are, Strider,
but that one there has promise. He gave his word he only wanted
to help so we figured it couldn’t hurt to let him. There’s
nowhere he could go with my men all about like this.” Taradin
watched the young robber. “Wouldn’t mind having someone of his
skills working with us all the time actually,” he muttered
Aragorn relaxed and sat back down, his eyes roaming the camp. The
rest of the thieves were being tied up again after they had been
fed. There was no resistance from them. They knew they were
outnumbered and their leader, who was obviously their ‘creative’
influence, had been removed. It made no sense to try anything
The ranger glanced at Kaldur. The thief sat tied to the tree like
he was last night, but something about the man troubled Aragorn.
“What of Kaldur?” The Dúnadan glanced at Legolas.
The elf simply shook his head. It was Taradin that
answered. “I can’t figure that one out. Yesterday you
couldn’t get him to shut up, but ever since last night... He won’t
eat. He won’t drink. He won’t speak. He just sits
there and stares off into who knows where. He ain’t with us if
that’s what you’re meaning. He don’t give my men no trouble, but
tain’t natural,” the older man shrugged.
“I’m thinking he has injuries from your troll scuffle yesterday, but he
won't let anyone touch him either. Some of my men were a bit
rough with him last night, just a bit
mind you and I put a stop to it
right quick like as soon as I saw,” the hunter assured swiftly.
“But now he puts up an unholy fit if anyone lays a finger near
him. Only blasted time one gets any reaction out of him
whatsoever.” Taradin sighed, he had tried to help, but nothing
seemed to be getting through the prisoner.
Legolas stared quietly at the ranger. He knew that it was
Strider’s call, but he hated that Kaldur had retreated; it reminded him
too much of himself.
Aragorn uneasily dropped Legolas’ gaze. A small sigh escaped him.
“All right, I’ll go talk to him. Do you still have his meal?” he
“Don’t know, but there has to be something we can scrounge up for him,
if you think you can get him to eat it.” He gestured to one of
his men near the fire. “Markess, is there anything left of
supper?” The other hunter nodded and went about quickly preparing
Standing slowly to his feet and straightening with a small groan,
Aragorn accepted the meager meal and made his way over to where Kaldur
was seated. His actions caught Thil’s attention and the young
thief eyed the ranger carefully.
Dismissing the guards, Aragorn sat down next to Kaldur and placed the
meal on the ground. The robber didn’t move or acknowledge his
presence; he simply stared off into space blinking slowly every once in
Removing a small knife from his boot, Aragorn cut through the bonds
that held Kaldur’s arms behind him around the trunk of the tree.
The small freedom brokered no visible response but the thief slowly
moved his arms in front of him, massaging his wrists. His head
dropped down to his chest and he lowered his gaze. There were
bruises on the side of his face and the ranger could only wonder if
that was from the trolls yesterday, or the ‘bit of roughness’ that
Taradin had mentioned having to break up.
Aragorn pushed the plate of food towards Kaldur. “You need to
eat. They tell me you haven’t eaten or drunk anything.”
Pulling his knees to his chest, the smaller man didn’t answer.
“Are you hurt?” Aragorn tried again without success. He
sighed in frustration as the robber pulled more tightly into
himself. “Look, you can trust me.”
A small snort of biting derision answered him. “Trust you?”
“You think you can’t? It’s me who should be second guessing
trusting you.” Aragorn spoke quickly, his words a little harsher
than he wanted. He glanced up as Thil approached them cautiously,
only to be blocked by some of Garith’s hunters. “No it’s all
right. Let him go, he can come near.” He leveled the young
man with a stern gaze.
Thil knelt in the grass in front of his employer and tried to look into
the man’s eyes, “Kal, come on, you gotta eat. Please. We
need you healthy.”
Tired, dead eyes stared out through the tangle of fuzzy braids at the
“Thil, go back and tend the elves.” Kaldur whispered
Dropping his gaze to the ground the young man reluctantly did as he was
told. When the boy was sufficiently far away Kaldur turned his
attention on the ranger that sat near him. “It’s not your fault
really. I made the critical error. I misjudged ye.”
The gaze the thief laid on him stabbed through Aragorn’s heart: total
distrust and fear radiated out from the small human. There was no
light or buoyancy in his eyes and without that it was like looking at a
“I broke my own rules, mate; I actually started to believe in somebody
honest. I thought you would be fair. I can't believe I
thought wrong. Usually I’m a better judge of character than
that.” There was a trace of the familiar careless flippancy in
his light tone, but a faintly acidic back-bite replaced his usual
Aragorn didn’t speak for a few moments. He was relieved of
answering when Kaldur’s soft words floated to him again, mildly
accusing. “I heard everything you said back there on the road. I
know what you’re planning for us and I’ll not go with you. You
may as well kill me now or leave me tied up here and let me die,
because I’m not going.”
“You don’t have a choice,” Aragorn said quietly.
“You don’t think so?” Kaldur lifted his gaze and pierced Aragorn hard
with it, his lips twitching up into a grin. The unpredictable
gleam was back in his dark eyes, but it was hard-edged and
“What a minute. What is it you think we are going to do to
you?” The ranger could see he would get nowhere arguing Kaldur’s
logic. Few could. Aragorn’s brows furrowed. No, Thil
was right, Kaldur wasn’t insane. Highly creative yes, but not
mad... not yet. There was something of the past though, there
just behind his eyes, something, whether true or not, that said he
feared he could be pushed over that edge. Something that knew how
dangerous he would become if he ever gave up, if he ever really let go
of the indomitably resilient buoyancy that he held close to his
“I know what you said.
I heard you talking with the
others. You said we could work off what we’ve done.” Kaldur
strove for levity in his tone, but his eyes were haunted as he
continued, “That translates slavery in any language, and you know it as
well as me.” He was shaking slightly now. It had been two
days since he had food or water and he hadn’t slept at all in that time
either. He honestly wasn’t sure if he were intentionally trying
to starve himself or not... sometimes even he didn’t understand
everything that went on in his head.
“Strider... don’t be dense, it doesn’t become a bright mind like you,
mate. We took the Lord of Rivendell’s sons hostage, they could
‘ave died because of us. How do you think he’s going to treat us
when we arrive there? Do you honestly think we will get any of
your so-called ‘justice’ from him?”
Aragorn noted the trembling that had set in Kaldur and, as much as he
didn’t want to, he understood the man’s fears.
“Yes, you will. I know the Lord of Rivendell.” With a sigh
Aragorn let his guard down one more time, cursing himself even as he
did so. There was just something in the hauntedness of the
thief’s eyes that reminded him too much of the hopelessness he had seen
in Legolas’ not so long ago. Understanding breeds
compassion. “Kaldur... I understand that you probably haven’t got
much reason to believe me, but this is not going to be like anything
that has happened to you before. I’m willing to promise you
Kaldur looked skeptical. “What gives you leave to be making free
with promises like that, friend? Don’t say what you can’t
Aragorn sighed. “The Lord of Rivendell is my father. He
adopted me when I was young. I was an orphan and he raised me as
his own,” the ranger confessed, hoping the singular similarity in their
pasts would help him. “When I call Elladan and Elrohir my
brothers, I am not being figurative. They are my brothers.”
To all outward appearances what the ranger had just said didn’t seem to
have a bearing on the highwayman at all, but inside a tiny spark of
and interest had flared. It was a little easier to believe good
of someone if the speaker doing the convincing actually had call to
know what they were talking about. Kaldur listened carefully, his
fingers lightly grabbing the piece of bread that Aragorn broke in half
and offered him.
“Elrond. His name is Elrond and he is very wise and very
just.” Aragorn poured water from a flask into a mug that had been
handed to him with the plate of food and he passed it to Kaldur who
drank deeply from the cup, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. His
hunger had been provoked and he readily ate as he listened to the
ranger. He still wasn’t fully willing to believe him just yet,
however; he had no reason to. Yet even so, Kaldur wasn’t the type
to simply roll over and give up.
“My parents were slain by orcs. Although I was young at the time,
I saw the whole thing.” Aragorn passed the man a fork and a spoon
that Garith brought, handing them down to the ranger along with his
pouch of herbs. No one else could hear the quiet conversation but
everyone in the camp was secretly watching.
“I don’t think a person ever gets over something like that.”
Aragorn continued, “But Elrond, my father, helped me. Kaldur,
whatever he does he will not sell you. He detests slavery, as do
we all. I was a slave once. It has now been quite a few
years since, but I have not forgotten it. Even Legolas knows the
bite of a whip and has cause to fear small, dark places.”
Kaldur had stopped eating and was watching the ranger closely.
His open gaze belied the fact that he identified with what the man was
“None of us would see you or any of your men enslaved, nor
mistreated. What I was speaking of was working with the
townspeople of Strayton. In their fields, with their animals,
alongside their blacksmiths as helpers, as coworkers, until your debts
are paid. Taradin has even shown interest in giving young Thil a
job with his outfit. He’s impressed with the boy and he’d be a
good employer for him. In fact, should you wish it, you could
on and live there in Strayton and make an honest life for
yourselves.” Aragorn tapped the edge of the metal plate again,
indicating he wanted the man to continue eating. The slight smile
he was rewarded with encouraged him.
Kaldur picked up a piece of cheese and pointed with it at the
ranger. “And you think, this elven lord...your father, would let
us do this after all that has happened?”
“Do you think it any small thing what you did back there with the
trolls? Or with Losmir? Or your men on the hill last
night?” Aragorn smiled as the robber cleaned his plate of
food. “All those things will be brought out in your favor.”
“I can't live behind bars.” Kaldur’s voice was soft.
“Then we’ll work it so you won’t be.” Aragorn was grateful when
the thief did not flinch away from him when he moved near. He
took the empty plate and set it aside. “Now you have wounds, they
need tending and you need to sleep. We still have a good five
days' walk ahead of us.”
Pouring out more of the water into the now empty mug, Aragorn mixed
some of the herbs up in it and allowed them to steep for a few minutes
before handing it back to the other.
“What is it?” Kaldur wrinkled his nose when took a deep smell of the
“It’s good for you.” Aragorn laughed eliciting a smile from the small
man, “Drink it, it will help you heal.”
“On your word?”
“You have my word,” Aragorn tapped the bottom of the mug, “on
everything I have said.”
With a nod Kaldur drank the tea down quickly and passed the mug back to
Aragorn. When the guards came back to tie the robber up, the
ranger waved them off.
“Let him be. It’s alright, he needs to sleep.” Aragorn was
watching as Kaldur fought the drugs in his system. “Don’t fight
it. Just rest. You’ll be safe.”
Thil walked over with a blanket and knelt in front of his employer, a
small smile on his face. Wrapping the thief in the warm cloth,
Aragorn gently forced Kaldur down, then wadded up his coat and placed
beneath the man’s head as darkness drew him down into sleep.
“I’ll see to his wounds if you would, please,” Thil offered.
Aragorn nodded and stood slowly to his feet, gazing at the sleeping
“Did you mean what you said?” Thil asked quietly as the ranger
turned to leave. “I mean the part about me staying on here with
the hunters and all and not selling us?”
Turning back towards the robbers Aragorn glanced down into the large
eyes fixed on him, “Every word, Thil. You have my promise as a
When he rejoined Legolas, the elf was smiling up at him.
“You,” Legolas laughed lightly. “You’re such a soft touch.”
“Look who’s talking.” Aragorn elbowed his friend gently, careful
of his healing. “Seems like you’re the one who got me to go over
The hunters had a roaring fire going and Elladan and Elrohir were just
seating themselves around the ring.
“Come on let's go join the others. I can think of some really good
stories to tell them about you.” The ranger smiled.
He helped the elf to his feet and the two of them walked stiffly
towards the fire ring and the sounds of easy banter among the beings