Glowing spots and after-trails of the small, but searing explosion
wavered before the elf and the ranger’s vision, partially obscuring
their attackers who were already on them. Legolas realized with a
start that they were far too close for his bow to be much good, but
stabbed quickly at one of the apparitions with the arrow in his hand
before drawing his knives. The arrow cut through the white, gauzy
substance covering the being and a red stain welled up around the
injury. Whatever their assailants were, they were not
supernatural in nature.
“Aragorn, they bleed!” Legolas said hurriedly as he was forced to
defend himself against several attackers at once. The ambusher’s
weapons and the skill with which they were being wielded with was also
Aragorn rolled under the sweeping blow of one and crossed blades with
another. He heard Legolas’ words and found the news
heartening. At least flesh and blood they could fight. He
glanced over and saw that the elf was holding his own, but when the
ranger sought the whereabouts of their other companion, he found that
Bilbo had once again disappeared. Blast! He was sure he had
seen him right there a moment ago. That hobbit was the hardest
being he had ever tried to keep track of! He hoped that Bilbo had
followed his instructions and managed to run away in the confusion of
the attack; he hadn’t seen any of the attackers leave or break off, so
it was unlikely that he had been carried away.
The elf and the ranger stood back to back, each covering the other’s
back as they moved as one in a tight, unbreakable knot of deadly
grace. They had not fought side by side for so many years without
becoming quite a formidable duo. Their time literally bound to
one another in Mordor not so very long ago had only strengthened that
working relationship and they moved as one.
Legolas’ sharp ears picked up on a soft noise that at first sounded
like the crackling sizzle of something burning, but he smelled no
smoke. Their attackers seemed to be pulling back, which was
strange because the white-clad beings still had them heavily
outnumbered and at the disadvantage even if they couldn’t break through
the duo’s defenses.
Suddenly a small, square, box-like object, no bigger than a man’s hand,
was thrown by one of the white-clad attackers and landed between the
elf and the ranger. It did not seem very threatening, but some
voice of warning shouted loudly in Aragorn’s mind.
“Legolas, look out!” he yelled, grabbing the elf’s arm, throwing them
both backward, away from the odd object. Only half a moment later
the small box exploded outward in another blinding flash of light
accompanied by an ear-splitting bang. Not even remotely clear of
the blast area, Aragorn and Legolas were flung roughly forward, the
shock of the reverberation seeming to push all the air from their
Legolas hit the earth hard before he even realized he had left
it. Aragorn’s weight slammed down on top of him a second later,
driving him hard into the ground. The elf felt a jab of pain stab
across his forearm, but it took him a moment to realize that it was
because he had fallen on his own knives. He was lucky it hadn’t
been worse. His ears were still ringing as he struggled to
extricate himself from his friend’s dead weight. The fact that
Aragorn was not moving on his own sent a thrill of panic through the
Aragorn, having placed himself between Legolas and the explosion, had
taken the worst of the blast. His head swam and consciousness
wavered uncertainly. He couldn’t hear anything over the ringing
in his ears. What on earth was that? What had they come up
against? Surely this must be the ‘devil’s fire’ that the
townspeople who had encountered the supposed wights had spoken of, but
if their attackers were not in fact supernatural, what in the blazes
Before they had even had half a chance to recover themselves, Aragorn
was jerked roughly up and off of Legolas, strong hands closing around
his wrists as he was dragged to his feet. The ranger’s legs were
unsteady however, and refused to hold him. He sagged to his knees
and his captors allowed it, twisting his hands behind him and leveling
the tips of their blades warningly against his heart.
Legolas was pulled roughly to his hands and knees, but not allowed to
look up. The tips of several different swords pressed into his
back and sides, silently warning him about what any unapproved movement
would cost. A hand slid down and placed the tip of a dagger
against the underside of the elf’s throat. Effectively trapped
between different sets of blades above and below, Legolas remained very
still on his hands and knees, trying to blink the lingering effects of
the blast from his head and his eyes. His injured arm trembled
slightly below him as it supported his weight. Blood seeping
slowly from the vertical gash he had inadvertently created pooled
between his fingers.
The prince gasped slightly as a heavy weight leaned down on his
shoulders, forcing him to press a little harder on the blade below and
making his injured arm protest violently at the task of holding him
up. The man holding the knife had leaned casually upon the elf’s
shoulders. “You wanted to find the Barrow-wights, mate. Well you
found ‘em,” the being’s voice hissed in Legolas’ ear.
The elf struggled but felt the razor edge of the blade press sharper
against the underside of his chin.
“You are no wights, you are flesh and blood, I feel you! I saw
you bleed!” he threw back at their captors, trying to turn his head
enough to see Aragorn, but he could not. The ranger had not
spoken and Legolas was worried.
“Surprise, surprise,” the man holding the prince down had an obvious
smirk in his voice. Removing his weight and his knife, the man,
for man it was, allowed his companions to pull Legolas to his
feet. “Everyone else was pretty fooled so far, it’s too bad you
had to get so nosey.”
Aragorn was blinking hard as full consciousness slowly returned.
His vision was still blurry however. “Legolas... are you all
right?” he asked softly when his roving, wavering gaze was unable to
find his friend.
“For the moment,” Legolas’ captor replied in an almost cheerful
tone. “And it might stay that way if you two want to tell me why
you’re looking for us?”
Now that he had a good view of them, Legolas could see that these were
indeed all men, but they were dressed in strangely shaped white
costumes that covered every inch of their bodies, all the way down to
the ground where it billowed and folded onto the grass, hiding even
their boots. Whether it was the stuff it was made of or something
that had been done to it, the white fabric of their eerie robes
glittered and reflected the moonlight dully, lending them an
other-worldly air even though it was now plain to see that they were
nothing more than a band of thieves with creative attire. They
all looked more or less the same, except for the one who was doing most
of the talking, who had a garish red smile painted upon his ghostly,
masked hood. There was something nonsensical about it and it
almost ruined the effect if seen up close, almost.
“You’ve been preying on the locals.” Aragorn started to shake his head,
but quickly decided against it when he found out that he felt as if he
had a rather large hangover. “Stealing, waylaying,
“Ah, ah, ah,” the man in the painted hood, who seemed to be some kind
of leader, waved his hand in correction. “We haven’t killed no
one. Not yet. And as for stealing... you must be
mistaken... that be the wight’s doing... and us here, as you said,
we’re just humble men like yourselves.”
“There aren’t any wights in this scenario, just a bunch of thieving
humans using the superstitions and fears of their own kind against
them,” Legolas said coldly.
“And I suppose you ain’t afraid of nothing...” one of the men holding
Legolas from behind chuckled evilly, twisting the elf’s injured
arm. Legolas blanched but made no sound.
“Hey, enough of that,” the lead man shook his head
disapprovingly. “But now I seem to have a problem. Namely,
what do I do with you two? And your friends once they’ve all
Aragorn’s ears perked up a little at the mention of Halbarad and his
brothers, and, he supposed, Bilbo, wherever the little hobbit had
to. Obviously this had indeed been a trap, as he had suspected
too late. He hoped that his brothers had fared better than they
“I say we kill them now and drain their blood. That ought to keep
anyone from wanting to poke around after us,” one of the men holding
Aragorn growled with an almost hungry blood-lust in his voice.
Many of the others murmured in support of this idea.
The lead bandit tipped his head to the side as if thinking.
“That’s messy,” he shook his head. “Besides, the instant you
start killing people everyone begins to take it personal-like and you
get the dratted heroes out in force. There’s nothing more
disruptive than someone stupid enough to not care about themselves,
looking to rid the world of evil.”
“Then what do we do with them?” someone else shouted back, obviously
not pleased with their leader’s decision on the subject. “They
can’t go free to tell everyone we’re a hoax! You told us they
were a threat, that’s why we did this. Now we have to deal with
“How did you know?” Aragorn
asked. “How did you know we were
looking for you?”
“We have our contacts in town and they ain’t blind nor deaf.
Besides, little something I learned long ago. If something seems
too good to be true, mate, it probably is. It’s a might
that any of the little folk would be traveling alone around here now,
what with all the hoopla going on. And one that happened to be
known as eccentrically wealthy... well... it only took a little looking
around to see what was really going on. Don’t feel too bad for
underestimating us, friend, you’re in good company. We thrive on
the misperceptions of others.” The man gave a mock bow.
Aragorn couldn’t see their captors’ faces, but the tone of the lead man
told that he was grinning. The ranger had to admit that it was
true; these bandits had been far cleverer than he’d given them credit
“Where did the little pip-squeak go anyways?” the man looked around as
if considering this for the first time. “Bolted I suppose.
Probably halfway home and blathering mad with fright. You should
have all seen the looks on your faces when we came out of the trees!”
the man laughed out loud. “Priceless.”
Neither Aragorn nor Legolas were very amused.
Actually neither were the other bandits. The plan had been that
they would still get the hobbit and anything he was carrying, as well
as the people who had laid the trap, but now it looked like they had
gotten nothing out of this night but trouble.
With a cry one of the bandits fell, clutching his leg which
inexplicably had an arrow protruding from it. Everyone
“What the-” one of the thieves holding Legolas started, but never got
to finish. The elf prince grabbed their moment of surprise to
swiftly bend forward and fling the man holding him over his back
directly into the bandit who had been speaking a moment ago.
The men holding Aragorn tensed and tightened their hold against his
trying to jump up, but the ranger surprised them by doing the opposite
of what they expected and dropped down
closer to the ground.
Unprepared, the thieves lost hold of him as he rolled away from
Elladan and Elrohir appeared on either side of the camp, wading swiftly
into the sudden fray, followed by Halbarad. Blood stains on
Elladan’s tunic told that they had already seen action somewhere
else, but there was no time to wonder at the details right now, or to
whom the blood belonged.
The fake wights quickly decided that this situation had gone beyond
their comfortable control and it was time to beat a tactical
retreat. They began pulling back, but the elves and the rangers
pressed them hard, following after and not allowing them to
Legolas’ knives had been left on the ground where they fell, but they
were back in his hands now and flashed as he dodged under one man’s
swinging strokes. However in the darkness, and with his senses
still half-clouded, the prince’s foot caught on something, either the
hem of the man’s robes, or a hidden tree root, the elf did not know and
it did not matter. The end result was that he could not pull out
of his roll quick enough and ended up sprawled on his back for a moment
with his defenses completely down.
For a suspended instant, Legolas found himself staring up at the bandit
with the red smile on his hood. The man had his sword in hand as
he nearly stumbled on the elf in his hurry to leave. He had only
to thrust his blade down to give a killing blow, and there was no way
Legolas could stop him in time from his position. The prince
realized in the sickening half-instant he had to register what had
happened that this tumble had just cost him his life.
The bandit’s sword went instinctively up and forward... but he
hesitated. Rather than complete his swing into the elf’s
unprotected chest he simply turned aside, vanishing into the trees and
Suddenly there was another loud explosion and Legolas covered his ears,
closing his eyes this time now that he knew the after-effect it could
have. When he opened his eyes again an eerie peace had fallen
over the woods, as if the blast had blown all the fighting away.
Picking himself up, Legolas saw Elladan doing the same not far
away. Halbarad was shaking his head to clear the ringing and
Elrohir was sitting in the long grasses gingerly pressing his hands
against the sides of his head, a grimace on his face as he tried to rub
the pain out of his eardrums.
All of the bandit-wights were gone, having used the opportunity of
their last diversion to vanish without a trace.
When Legolas realized he didn’t see Aragorn, he scrambled fully upright
and looked around a little harder, stumbling to keep his balance.
He was momentarily relieved when he heard a small moan a little ways
off through the trees and caught sight of motion. He hurried over
to it, but what the elf found was not what he expected.
A crumpled heap of white, luminescent fabric, looking for all the world
like a discarded rag-doll, moved sluggishly on the forest floor.
The mask with the red smile on it had been twisted around by the blast
until it was on sideways, giving a very ridiculous effect.
Legolas quickly knelt, placing his knife against the bandit’s throat
this time. Pulling the man’s hood off in one quick motion he
revealed a deeply tanned, oval face framed with long, disheveled ebony
hair matched by two dark eyes. The hair was pulled back from the
human’s face in a multitude of finger-width braids that looked like
they had not been redone in a long time. The braids were in turn
kept out of his eyes by a dark green scarf wrapped around the bandit’s
The man flinched and raised his hand against the sudden infusion of
moonlight, faint though it was. He seemed singularly undisturbed
by his present situation for the most part, but Legolas couldn’t be
sure that that was not because of shock from the blast they had all
been caught in for the second time that evening.
“Great...” the bandit muttered. “I can have a hangover with none of the
benefits... ouch, easy there!” he protested when Legolas dragged him
“Who are you?” the elf demanded.
“Kaldur’s the name, Kaldur DeCahr, friends call me Kal, and other
people call me things I wouldn’t repeat...”
“What are you doing here?” Legolas cut him off.
“Well how-do-you-do it’s nice to make your acquaintance as well,”
Kaldur carried on a mock conversation with himself since Legolas seemed
unwilling to oblige. “What do you think I’m doin’ here?
Picking daisies? Obviously someone’s aim was a little off on that
last fireball. Don’t think they expected you to put up such a
“I guess we’re not the only ones to underestimate someone else,”
Legolas said quietly as he guided the prisoner to his feet. The
bandit was at least a head shorter than the elf and the prince easily
pulled the smaller man upright, pushing Kaldur ahead of him.
Without the hooded mask, it was easy to see that the human was a little
younger than Aragorn and slighter in build than the ranger. He
wore a thin mustache and the shadow of a beard on his face, lending to
the overall scruffiness of his appearance.
“So it would seem,” the bandit agreed ruefully. “Although I mark
that I’ve over-estimated the
accuracy of some of my men. People
should watch where they’re throwing things... Look, I think this
is all a big misunderstanding,” Kaldur smiled ingratiatingly at the
elf. “There’s no reason you want little old me hanging around
you...” he looked pointedly at the knife the elf was still holding
close to him.
“You’re a thief and a highwayman, I see no misunderstanding. Now
quiet,” Legolas shook his head as they made their way back to the
others. The elf was trying to listen to the night and catch any
sounds of their fleeing attackers, but the constant babbling at his
side was making it difficult. Nor was it helping his
Kaldur could not seem to take a hint. “But no real harm’s been
done here. Why, all we did was dress up and have a little chat
with you gentlemen!”
“Quiet,” Legolas repeated the command, beginning to become
“But I ask you, did I take anything from you? No. So where’s the
thievery in that?” the man protested. “Now I don’t really want to
go back to wherever it is you want to take me to get my neck stretched
or my blood boiled by a bunch of superstitious fobs, and I’m sure you
don’t want to have to be stuck with me for any longer than you have to,
so why don’t we just-”
“Shut up!” Legolas snapped, his temper not improved by the night’s
events, nor the painful pounding that was building between his temples
from having been too close to too many explosions.
The bandit clammed up with an innocent shrug. “Why don’t we just
be quiet then,” he finished amiably.
Legolas rolled his eyes in disgust as he tied Kaldur’s hands behind him
with the trailing end of the man’s own, torn costume. Forcing the
bandit to sit down, he did the same to his ankles. “Move, and
kill you,” the prince warned calmly.
“Elrohir, you all right?” Legolas asked when he saw that the younger of
the two twins was still holding his ears and looking a little
“What?” Elrohir shook his head, wincing. His voice was
louder than usual and a disturbing red trickle of blood ran from his
right ear down his neck.
“I asked if you were all right,” Legolas repeated.
Elrohir’s brows furrowed. “What? Legolas, I’m sorry, I can barely
hear you, my ears are still ringing.”
Legolas let his breath out slowly. That answered his question
then. Elrohir was definitely not all right.
“Estel!” Elladan’s voice calling his brother’s name caught Legolas’
Legolas looked around, realizing that he still did not see Aragorn
anywhere. A thrill of panic shot through him for the dozenth time
that evening. “Elladan, where is Strider?”
“I don’t know.” Elladan was obviously disturbed and worried. Turning
quickly back in the direction he had been headed he pointed to a stand
of thick trees. “He was fighting over there last I saw him, but that
was before that last blast of devilry. ESTEL!”
“He’s not here,” Halbarad reappeared from somewhere in the woods,
although they had not marked his leaving. The ranger’s voice was
grim. “He’s not anywhere in these woods. It’s too dark to
be reading signs, but if I could take a guess I’d say our friends in
the bed sheets somehow managed to take off with him. I found
this,” he dropped Aragorn’s unsheathed and bloodied sword on the ground
at the elves’ feet. “On the ground outside the trees. There
was blood out there too, but it’s impossible to tell whose.”
Legolas and Elladan looked at one another, dread gnawing at their
“What? What did he say?” Elrohir’s face paled as he saw the
expression on his brother and his friend’s face. It was terribly
frustrating only catching murmurs and whispers and every other sound;
especially for one used to very acute hearing.
The captive bandit lounged sideways against the tree, looking as much
at ease as a man could when trussed up as tightly as he was. “He
said your friend is with my friends, just like I am with you.
Kind of puts the shoe on a whole new foot, doesn’t it?” The man
seemed considerably more relieved and cocky now that he knew this.
Elladan stooped and dragged the bandit partway up by the front of his
shirt. “Nothing had better happen to my brother, do you
understand me?! Nothing!” The elf shook the human
When the elder twin did this Legolas saw his back for the first time
and realized that the blood he had first seen on Elladan’s tunic when
they jumped into the fray must definitely be the elf’s. The back
of Elladan’s tunic had been badly burned and shredded by something...
Legolas assumed he must have been caught pretty close to one of those
exploding boxes before they even got here.
Tonight had not gone well; not by any stretch of the imagination.
Almost all of them were wounded in one way or another and they were
missing two of their members, one of whom looked to have very probably
been captured by their attackers... that thought made Legolas feel
“Calm down, friend,” the bandit pulled back a little from Elladan’s
grip. “Blowing a gasket ain’t gonna help no one.”
“I’m not your friend,” Elladan growled, releasing the man with a small
shove. Worry for his brother consumed him.
“See that’s the trouble with the world today, no one wants to befriend
anyone...,” Kaldur lamented mournfully.
“Shut up!” Three sets of voices spoke in irritated chorus.
Elrohir did not speak because of course he still could not really hear
what everyone was saying to begin with.
“Fine, if that’s the way you feel about it then...,” the man mumbled
under his breath.
“We’ve got to find him, get him back,” Legolas said decidedly.
“Halbarad, could you tell which way the trail went?”
The ranger wrested his gaze away from the captive bandit, shaking his
head regretfully. “Not in this light. Maybe you will see
something I’ve missed though.”
“Not likely...” Kaldur muttered quietly. All eyes turned toward
him. “What? Oh, I know, I know, shut up, right?
Legolas dropped down onto one knee before the man, meeting his dark
eyes evenly. “Where will your people go? Where will they
take my friend? Tell us.”
“Oh so now you do want me to
talk. I do wish you’d make up your
“I am tired of playing games!” Legolas pressed one of the knives still
in his hands sharply against the captive’s throat. “Where do your
men hide? Where will they take him!?”
“What you going to do with that lad? Eh?” the man looked down at
the knife at his throat, getting slightly cross-eyed from trying to see
it. “Going to kill me? Then you’ll never find out where
they are, and you’ll have
nothing to bargain for his return with
either. So go ahead and kill me, it’s your friend’s
Legolas’ knuckles tightened on his knife handle in frustration.
Unfortunately, Kaldur was right. Infuriating human.
“What do we do now?” Halbarad asked quietly. The question was
directed at no one in particular, but merely voicing what was on all of
“Very good question,” Kaldur spoke up helpfully. “Now if you
think about it logically for a minute you’d realize I would die
before I gave up any of my people to you or anyone else. So if
you were to ask my opinion, I would say your best course of action is
to make camp somewhere nearby and keep a close eye on me so I don’t
escape. Then my men will come to you looking for me and you can
trade me for your friend, and everyone goes home happy, clear
Elladan leaned against a nearby tree, resting his head sideways against
his arm. The gesture was less than casual. His injuries
were catching up with him. He sighed slightly. He didn’t
like Kaldur’s suggestion but he was having difficulty seeing an
“Legolas?” The elder twin looked to the prince for input and
suggestions. The wood-elf shook his head. He had
“Perhaps when daylight comes we shall be able to better track them,”
was all Legolas could suggest. “Until then, we will keep a
close eye on you, don’t worry,” he assured Kaldur grimly.
Halbarad left the decision up to the elves because he had no viable
alternatives to offer either, although the thought of Aragorn in enemy
hands did not sit any better with him than with the others. He
moved over to guard Kaldur, freeing Legolas to go to the twins.
Elladan had moved to his brother’s side, worry lining every
feature. Elrohir was still kneeling quietly although he had
stopped holding his head. By now he realized that something was
wrong and had stopped trying to hear what everyone was saying, trusting
that his friends or his brother would fill him in soon. Unease at
his own impairment made the younger twin’s brows furrow. At first
when consciousness had returned he had been able to hear a little bit
although the sounds were muffled and distorted. But as he had
been given time to recover, his hearing had grown worse rather than
better and now he sat in a world of utter quiet, unable to even hear
himself. It was frightening and that fear numbed his mind.
“Elladan, where is Estel? What’s going on?” Elrohir begged his
brother to explain to him the things he was missing as Elladan knelt
down next to him.
Legolas joined them as Elladan directed his twin’s face towards his own
with gentle pressure from the back of his hand. “Estel has been
taken. We will get him back, I promise.” The elder twin
tried to speak very clearly, moving his lips more than necessary and
making hand motions to illustrate.
Elrohir nodded, catching the meaning, if not the words. His gaze
dropped for a moment and when he looked back up, uncertainty edged his
eyes. “El...” he whispered. “I can’t hear you. At
all. I can’t even hear me.”
Elladan closed his eyes painfully and pulled his brother’s head to his
shoulder. “It will be all right, El,” he promised softly, even
though he knew his brother couldn’t hear him. At least Elrohir
could feel the vibrations of his brother’s words as his head rested
against his twin’s chest. “We’ll get you back to father soon. He
will be able to help you, he has to be.”
Legolas caught Elladan’s shoulders supportively as the elf wavered
slightly, trying to support himself and his twin.
“You need some help too, Elladan,” the prince said softly. For
once it seemed that Legolas was actually the least injured of the three
elves. “Halbarad,” the wood-elf turned his searching gaze upon
the ranger who was the only other mostly-uninjured person. “We
must make camp, but not here. Somewhere safer, but close.
Elladan and Elrohir need attention and we must try to find Bilbo, if he
was not found and taken with Aragorn.”
Halbarad nodded in compliance as he got Kaldur to his feet while
Legolas helped the twins. There was a lot to be answered for this
Aragorn blinked slowly. It was the second time that night he felt
himself slowly coming back to consciousness after having been knocked
out or almost out of it by one of those strange explosions.
He tried to put his hand to his aching head, but he couldn’t. He
could feel someone near, but in the darkness and with his vision
blurred he couldn’t see them.
“Legolas?” the ranger murmured somewhat thickly, trying to find his
friend as the moments leading up to the last blast came back to him in
shattered glimpses and chunks.
“Nope, guess again,” a hard and somewhat amused voice spoke close to
Aragorn’s ear, making the man jerk. The ranger quickly became
aware of the feeling of rough rope digging into his wrists as he tried
to move away from the unknown presence.
A torch was nearly shoved in his face and Aragorn winced, trying to
draw his head away from the painfully sudden light. Unfortunately
he found that he was lying on his side on the ground, bound tightly and
he could not move away. A host of dark shapes hovered round him,
half-obscured by the bright torch that was illuminating him and hiding
those who held it, although he assumed they were more than likely the
same brigands who had attacked them earlier.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Aragorn demanded, trying and failing
to clearly see any of his captors around the blinding glare of the
torch by his face.
“You’re in the land of the un-dead, friend,” the voice close to him
responded cryptically. “And you’re ours.”
Aragorn felt a shiver run up his spine as the bandits laughed, the hard
tones of their mirth echoing threateningly on the night air.