Legolas expertly wrapped his own arm with his good hand. The cut
was not deep or dangerous and although it stung it would not seriously
hamper his ability to use his arm, or fight, if necessary.
Elrohir moved around his brother’s form quietly. He had insisted
on tending Elladan’s burns and cuts himself. As soon as Legolas
had his own injury bound up so that he was no longer trailing blood
everywhere, he was going to lend Elrohir a hand.
The younger twin seemed to be coming out of the semi-shock he had been
in, although his hearing had not improved. That worried
Legolas. They had all experienced ringing in their ears after the
blast, but it seemed to have done something worse to Elrohir.
“You might want to tuck that edge in,” Kaldur remarked as Legolas
twisted the bandage around his arm one last time. “You’ll leave
an opening for the air otherwise.” They had removed the bandit’s
ghoulish costume and unbound his feet to ease their traveling, but his
hands were now securely bound in front of him. Dark tangles of
unkempt hair fell about his face, lending more of a wild
unpredictability to the thief’s appearance. The man wore an
overlarge ill-fitting white tunic held in place by a brown suede
vest. His dark-colored breeches were secured about his waist with
a tattered sash. He smiled up at the elf through locks and braids
of hair that obscured his eyes.
Legolas leveled the man with a look that seemed to inquire who had
asked his opinion, but Kaldur was un-fazed and the elf was beginning
to realize that the man’s somewhat irritating detachment from reality
had nothing to do with the effects of the explosion.
“Just a suggestion,” Kaldur shrugged and went back to quietly
sing-songing nonsense verses to himself. Legolas was beginning to
think that the human was insane; either that or somehow unexplainably
drunk. With another warning glare at Kaldur, Legolas scooted
closer to the other two elves.
Elladan hissed silently through his teeth as Elrohir spread salve
across the burns on his back. The injury was not severe, but
Legolas was sure it was very painful. He had had more than a fair
share of burns in his life, including the one on his cheek from the
flaming arrow, which he had almost forgotten all about until Elrohir
offered him a dab of the salve he was using on his brother, gesturing
at the prince’s face.
“Strider and I were attacked by surprise, the strange fire bursts threw
us off guard. What happened to the three of you?” Legolas asked
as he rubbed the ointment over the reddened area on his cheekbone.
Elrohir did not hear him and did not look up from his self-appointed
task, so it was Elladan who answered. “Much the same thing.
I think one of the blasts must have gone off right behind me. I
don’t know how they do it, but those things are dangerous.”
“So I have noticed.” Legolas turned a hard eye on Kaldur who was
watching them all with interest from across the fire. “Kaldur,
what are those small devices that your people use?”
“What devices?” Kaldur’s dead-pan was impeccable, although he obviously
knew exactly what they were talking about. Legolas and Elladan
both glared at him.
“Oohh, right, those devices,”
the bandit pretended to catch on.
“Well I’d be glad to tell you what was in ‘em, but I don’t know me
self. Got them from a dark fairy up in the mountains who eats
fire and lives on the essence of the souls she’s corrupted... demanded
a pound of flesh from each of us in return. Oh you should a heard
the howling and the-”
“Please,” Elladan cut him off, looking disgusted. “Spare us the
drama and don’t take us for idiots. What are they really?”
“Dredged up from the bottom of the sea in distant lands... the play
things of the water gods...” Kaldur easily spun a new and equally
unbelievable story for them with a wide grin.
“Oh never mind! We’ll get nothing useful out of him,” Legolas
saved them from another fanciful flight of imagination on Kaldur’s
“That’s the ticket, now you’re catching on!” the thief grinned
“Catching on to what? That we should have put a dart in you when
we had the chance?” Halbarad said somewhat tersely as he entered camp
from the north side, dropping down into a crouch to talk with the
“I can find less trace of Bilbo than I found even of Aragorn, but it
seems that he went away alone, to the north. However, if he was
picked up later I could not say because I did not follow the trail
far,” the ranger reported.
“We can’t leave him out there alone,” Legolas said quietly.
“Strider promised to protect him and I know he would want that promise
fulfilled even in his absence.”
Halbarad nodded uneasily. He knew the same thing, but he feared
what that meant. He did not wish to leave with Aragorn’s fate
uncertain. “Any of you could track him just as well as I can,
Elladan read the hesitation in the man’s eyes. “Halbarad, you’re
the only one fit to be out there alone right now. Besides,
Elrohir has got to get back to Father and I cannot send him off by
himself. I thought he could go with you...”
Elrohir had been following the conversation visually, although it made
little sense without sound. When he thought he saw his brother
his name, however, he quickly touched Elladan’s shoulder.
“What? What did you say?”
Elladan sighed slightly, knowing his twin would protest.
“Elrohir, I said I want you to go with Halbarad. He’s going to
find Bilbo and then go back to Rivendell.” The elder twin lightly
touched his fingertips to Elrohir’s temple, using the other hand to
gesture as he spoke. Whether it was that they had inherited
latent traces of telepathic ability from their mother and father, or
simply the bond of their twinship, Elladan seemed at the moment to be
able to make Elrohir understand him better than anyone else could if he
stopped and focused in on his brother when he talked, making physical
contact as well as eye contact.
Elrohir was already shaking his head. “No, I will not
leave. You cannot make me, El; I am not a child for you to send
away. I am not going anywhere until we get Estel back.”
“El...” Elladan’s gaze was worried. “There could be something
really wrong with you. Don’t you understand that? We have
no idea what the matter is. What if you lose your hearing forever
because we didn’t get you help in time? I can’t allow it.”
Elrohir just smiled and started packing up the salve and bandages he
had been using, easily pulling away from his brother’s hand and any
chance of attempted communication. “I can’t hear you, El, and
you’re talking too fast for me to follow,” he said somewhat
smugly. “But that’s all right; I agree. It is best for me
to stay here to help you two. After all, there’s no way you could
force me to go if I didn’t want to anyway.”
Kaldur laughed loudly. “By gol, I think I like him!”
Elladan looked fit to burst. “Stars, Elrohir! You’re
as frustrating as he is!” he shouted at his brother, which didn’t help
because Elrohir still couldn’t hear him.
“Shh, wait, losing our tempers won’t help anyone.” Legolas laid
his hand on Elladan’s arm, attempting to diffuse the rising
controversy. “Maybe Elrohir’s right. I don’t want to see
him hurt either, but we have the prisoner to think about guarding and
if Halbarad runs into trouble hunting Bilbo, he may not be able to
return to Lord Elrond any quicker than we can. If Kaldur knows
his men as well as he thinks he does, they should be getting in touch
with us soon and we’ll proceed from there, agreed?”
Elladan did not look pleased, but he nodded. “All right,
Elrohir smiled. “Good!”
Elladan looked at him sharply. “I thought you couldn’t hear us, brother.”
Elrohir shrugged with a grin. “I can’t, but I can tell from your
look that you lost.”
“Thanks a lot,” Elladan muttered.
Legolas actually chuckled softly at them.
“I will either return or send someone once I have any word of Bilbo,”
Halbarad said quietly, hating to go but knowing he had better start as
soon as possible. “I know that if I cannot help, at least I could
leave Strider’s safety in no better hands.”
Legolas nodded, rising and following the ranger to the edge of
camp. They had settled themselves securely in a small, rocky
steeply enclosed on two sides by rough rock walls, and the two of them
had to climb up a little to get out.
The elf respected the man’s devotion to duty. Legolas wasn’t sure
that he could have done the same this time if it was required of
him. Not after everything he and Aragorn had been through...
after the lengths that Aragorn had gone to save the elf prince, both
from the shadow of Mordor and his own despair. “Go with the
blessing of the Valar, Halbarad. I do not know you as well as the
others, but I hope you know that I would trade my life for Aragorn’s,
if it came to that.”
“I think I do know it,” Halbarad nodded. “And from the things
Aragorn has said of you, I believe it.”
The ranger left then and Kaldur grinned ingratiatingly at Legolas as
the elf dropped lightly down the rock wall and re-entered the
camp. The thief rose to his feet with some difficulty since he
did not have the use of his hands. “Well, that’s all settled
then. So what do we do now?”
Legolas glared at the insufferable human and gave him a small push
backward. “You are going
to remain silent and not
circle of firelight.”
The thief blinked and tilted his head to the side as Legolas turned
away. “Why would I want to do that?”
The elf prince turned back slowly. “Because if you do not, I will
shoot you,” he said quietly. “And enjoy doing it, so take
“Well if you feel that way about it...” Kaldur gave an injured look as
if hurt by that statement and flopped back down onto the ground.
As soon as Legolas’ back was turned he made a face, miming the elf’s
motions to him a moment ago. “I will shoot you and enjoy doing
it, so take care,” he mimicked almost silently, raising his voice and
exaggerating the prince’s gestures.
Elrohir saw and clapped his hand over his mouth. He tried not to
laugh, but it didn’t work.
Legolas sensed something was wrong and spun quickly around, but Kaldur
quickly dropped his act and pulled one knee up to his chest, resting
his bound hands and chin on it and looking up at the elf very
innocently, although his smile was anything but blameless.
The elf prince shook his head and stalked away to the edge of the
firelight, peering out into the night. He hoped that Aragorn was
Aragorn was sitting up now and more fully aware of his
surroundings. He was in a well-provisioned cave that seemed to be
hidden somewhere in the hills around the Barrow-downs, although his
captors had made sure he didn’t know where and could not find out from
where he was seated. Torchlight illuminated the cave and members
of the bandit clan were still drifting in after the night’s
foray. There were only about nine or ten of them that Aragorn
could count and he was slightly surprised when he began to realize that
was all there were. It took a lot of brains and a certain amount
of luck to pull off the things these men had been doing with such a
small number. Most all of the men had removed their costumes by
now and were dressed in normal clothes, although a few of them still
wore random pieces such as gloves or a sash that they had yet to
Aragorn was sitting next to the pile of glimmering robes and leaned
over for a closer look. They were just ordinary fabric, but now
that he was up close he smelled the distinctive mineral smell of a
certain kind of phosphorous stone that could sometimes be found up in
the mountains. He remembered his brothers showing it to him when
he was young. Oftentimes the twins would bring some home with
them from their outings and entertain young Estel by using Elrond’s
tools to create a thin paste from the stones which could then be
painted on just about anything to make it glow faintly in the dark.
The ranger smiled. Yes, it could be put on anything and since
this was he and his brothers using it, it had gone on just about everything... sometimes much to
their father’s chagrin. Aragorn
pulled himself back to the present. At least this explained part
of the mystery. Looking around he tried to determine what other
pieces of information he could pick up.
In a shadowy corner the ranger saw several of those dangerous little
exploding black boxes stacked on a work table along with various
components that must have been used to create them, although he could
not divine the function or purpose of any of them.
A little way behind him, a fire built in a naturally venting alcove
burned brightly upon the floor and the ranger could feel the warmth on
The bandits seemed to be arguing amongst themselves and it was getting
pretty heated. Aragorn remained quiet and listened, hoping to
hear something useful.
“I did *not* hear Kaldur or any body else bloody call for that last
explosion. Nearly took us out with them! I want to know who
got fire happy. We can’t just go wasting these things; you all know how
hard they are to make and we ain’t got much of the stones left!” one of
the bandits was saying angrily.
“We got away, didn’t we? So it doesn’t matter who did what.
Aragorn recognized the voice of the man who had spoken to him when he
“Not all of us, Losmir. There’s no doubt about it now, those
blasted elves have got the boss. Bentith saw ‘em with his own
eyes. They’re probably holding him in exchange for this one,” the
man speaking jerked his head towards Aragorn.
“They’re holding him to bait us into the open so they can grab us
all! That’s been their intention since coming out here, don’t you
see? Kaldur had no idea what he was doing leading us after them.
We should have just left well enough alone and let them chase shadows,”
“Well then what are we going to do? We can’t just leave Kaldur to
be turned over to the townspeople alone,” a young man with wavy dark
hair and a youthful face protested.
“Would you rather hang with him, Thil?” Losmir’s voice was
cutting. “Oh, but I forgot, everyone hereabouts has it in their
heads we’re some kind of mythical monsters, so they won’t hang us if
they catch us, oh no, they’ll burn us alive to make sure we’re really
dead like they did that poor sap everyone was convinced was a
All the bandits blanched.
“We can’t let ‘em do that to Kal,” Thil protested, shaking his head.
“Let Kaldur worry about himself I says!” Losmir thundered
persuasively. “Do you think he’d risk his neck for any of
us? You know the way it works. If you can’t pull your own
weight, you’re cut, that’s it. We ain’t no bloody charity.
Kaldur knew the risks. We don’t need
him. Who brought you
the fireboxes, hm? Was it him? No! It was me.
But who was it that let those troublemakers live to cause us grief
when they should have died right away? That was him. He had
his usefulness, but now he’s getting soft on us. We’ve had enough
of his rules and his so-called ‘honorable thievery’ if you ask
me. It’s time to take what we want, any way we want. We
have the power! Besides, do you really think there’s any way we
can let this one go from here alive?” It was Losmir’s turn to
gesture to Aragorn. “He’s seen our hideout! He and the
others, they know what we are... they can’t take that knowledge away
The bandits were listening and obviously supportive as Losmir played on
their greed and their arrogance. Whether any of them could see it
or not, it was obvious to Aragorn that the one called Losmir held no
love for their leader, this Kaldur, who apparently was being held by
Legolas and his brothers. The ranger realized some kind of coup
was underway. The implied threat to his friends’ safety was also
very clear and he listened intently, slowly edging himself backward,
towards the fire behind him. He had a feeling he was going to
need to get out of here, and soon.
“Then what exactly are you
suggesting we do, Losmir,” someone else
asked a trifle skeptically.
“One big blast. They’re camped over in Pebble Gulch; Marik
tracked them to where they’re holed up tonight. One good blast on
either side’ll bury ‘em deep. And then a landslide killed them,
see? No inquiries, no vigilantes seeking justice... it was just
an accident.” Losmir seemed overly pleased with his own
plan. “And that way they
never know we’re there. So if
they’ve got some more surprises hidden up their sleeves, they’ll never
have a chance to play ‘em.”
“That’ll kill Kal too,” Thil felt inclined to point out quietly.
Losmir’s gaze darkened and he almost looked ready to slap the younger
man. “It’s better than the alternative of him being brought in
alive to face the town, now isn’t it? And we don’t need him
anymore, he’s just becoming deadwood to us... another portion of our
loot we don’t need to share. Does anyone have a problem with
No one seemed to, except perhaps Thil, but even he did not speak
up. It seemed that a decision had been reached.
Aragorn was now sitting on one edge of the fire ring. Holding his
bound hands out behind him a little, he attempted to place the ropes
the fire. The heat singed his hands and made his back
uncomfortably hot, but the ranger didn’t pull back. He had to get
out of here and warn the others.
As abruptly as it had started, the bandits’ meeting seemed to end and
Aragorn was not pleased to see several of them, including Losmir,
heading his way.
Losmir dropped down next to the ranger with a wicked grin on his
face. “Well, friend, I wouldn’t want to be you right now...,” he
remarked, pulling the dagger from his belt and slowly running his thumb
suggestively up the edge of the blade. “Because I’d be thinking I
was a dead man, and I’d be right. But I’d also be wondering how
they were gonna end it, seeing as they might just want to have a little
fun in the process.” The bandit’s grin turned vicious.
Aragorn glared steadily back at the men that stood around him, his eyes
not betraying the cold knot of fear forming in his gut. “You’re
fools, you know. My friends will not be killed as easily as you
think and you will have betrayed your leader for nothing.”
Losmir smirked, running the blade lightly along Aragorn’s chin line,
letting the flat of the knife brush smoothly over the ranger’s
stubble. “But you’ll still be dead, won’t you?” he whispered with
dark amusement. “And don’t tell me you’re not afraid, because you
are... I can smell fear.”
Aragorn could think of a few choice words about what the man was
smelling, but kept them wisely to himself as Losmir pushed him
backwards, placing him even more uncomfortably close to the fire.
Despite the pain, Aragorn thrust his hands back a little farther,
forcing the ropes into the flames. Twisting his wrists hard he
could feel the singeing rope beginning to weaken, popping free a few
strands at a time... but so slowly!
“You heard what the townsfolk’d do to us... maybe we should do the same
for you. Turn about is fair play, after all.” The bandit
smirked, pushing Aragorn further back, almost into the fire.
“What do you say, boys? Should we burn him?”
A rousing cheer to the affirmative answered his question and Losmir
leered down into Aragorn’s tense face and pained grey eyes. He
swung around until he was kneeling over the ranger, straddling
Aragorn’s legs and holding the front of his shirt so that he could pin
and press the other man further into the fire. “Too bad for you.”