Aragorn felt the hot flames leap up against him as Losmir shoved him
back and down. He cried out as the searing tongues licked up
around him hungrily, but at the same moment the singed ropes around his
wrists finally gave way and snapped.
Circling his arms swiftly, Aragorn grabbed Losmir by the front of the
shirt and lifted him enough to bring his knees up, catching the bandit
in the stomach with his boots and propelling him over Aragorn’s
head. Losmir was flung completely over the fire and slammed into
stone wall behind with an audible thud.
Quickly rolling out of the flames, Aragorn leapt to his feet.
There was not a moment to lose. All the bandits were now upon
him, trying to bring him down. Aragorn was unarmed, but he
thought quickly. Grabbing a handful of the small black boxes off
the table where he had seen them before, he threw them into the fire
that had a few moments ago been meant for him. He didn’t really
know what, if any, effect it would have, but he hoped... and he hoped
The bandits scattered in terror when they saw what he had done, knowing
better than Aragorn did what would happen in a few moments.
The ranger used the opportunity to join the mad scramble to the
exit. He had a moment half in, half out of the cave mouth to take
in the rolling, rocky hills of the Barrow-downs with its jagged,
teeth-like stones protruding out from the eroding earth before a huge
explosion from behind shook the ground, sending rocks, sparks and
debris flying everywhere. Thrown forward, but expecting it this
time, Aragorn landed hard and rolled. A second explosion followed
the first, and it seemed that not all the boxes had gone off at
once. Dust billowed into the grey, pre-dawn air but Aragorn did
not wait for the dust to settle enough for any of the choking,
stunned and enraged bandits to find him. Taking swiftly to his
heels, the ranger disappeared into the jutting rocks and ancient burial
Dew from the thick night mists that were now mostly passed clung to the
grass and the dripping, moldy stones, making Aragorn have to be wary of
his footing. The craggy Barrows all around held all the eeriness
and none of the peace of a normal graveyard, but the ranger tried to
pay them as little mind as possible. He had very real enemies to
be concerned with at the moment; he hardly needed to worry about
The ranger slipped backwards on the slick grass and had to catch
himself on his hands and knees when the earth under his feet shook with
another distant explosion. There was loud creaking and grinding
of stone as the earth shifted in response to the tremors. Further
back on the hill next to him, the ranger saw one of the crumbling stone
barrows topple over from the strain of the shock and collapse in on
Amidst the grinding of settling stone, Aragorn swore that he heard a
low, rending groan or growl which seemed to shake the earth itself yet
again and the fading night mists thickened slightly. For a brief
moment the ranger felt the shadow of a dark terror fall
across his heart, one that had nothing to do with the bandits and his
Then the first rays of the rising sun began to peek across the eastern
horizon, burning away the mists as it slowly began to light the
After scrambling quickly to his feet once more, Aragorn hurried on as
his legs would carry him. He could hear the shouting and cursing
of the bandits behind him as they tried to figure out which way he had
gone. He had no desire to be there when they discovered his path
Legolas crouched on a ridge overlooking both their camp and the valley
on the other side as he watched the first inklings of the dawn begin to
grow above the misty mountains in the east. But his heart could
not feel much joy at its beauty today. He was too worried.
They had heard no word at all through the long night about Aragorn and,
although he supposed that didn’t necessarily mean that the bandits weren’t going to contact them, he
was still uneasy.
He had taken the first watch, letting Elladan and Elrohir sleep, but
had never bothered to wake them and stood guard all night. The
prince knew that Aragorn would probably chide him for that if he were
here; the ranger often took issue with Legolas’ tendency to avoid
sleeping when the prince was troubled or distressed, although Legolas’
strong elvish constitution made it perfectly all right for him to do so
on occasion. But Aragorn was not here, and that was in fact the
reason for the elf’s restlessness. Not long ago he had heard
strange sounds from a distance far off, like thunder coming from the
direction of the Barrow-downs. That had only heightened his
unease, and as the sun rose he found himself becoming more agitated at
the lack of knowledge about his friend’s fate.
Elladan and Elrohir slept on, despite being usually early risers, and
Legolas let them rest. He knew their healing bodies needed the
extra time. Kaldur however, was already awake, much to Legolas’
The bandit had been amusing himself by walking along the perimeter of
the camp, intentionally going just to the edges of the now fading
circle of light cast by the fire, but never crossing over it.
Legolas watched the human from where he sat, his bow resting on his
knees and a quiet, irritated glower on his face. He had just
about had enough of the human’s testing and taunting. The fellow
refused to be a proper prisoner at all, acting as if they were all one
big happy party and it was only incidental that he was bound and being
guarded. There was something supremely unnerving about that.
Kaldur stretched as much as he could with his hands tied and
yawned. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m about ready
for breakfast. Don’t you think they’ve been sleeping long
enough?” he nodded towards the twins. “It’s the early bird gets
the worm, they say.”
Legolas’ expression did not change although he shifted his grip on his
bow. “No, I do not think they’ve slept enough, considering they
are still recovering from injuries that you and your people gave
them. If the early bird gets the worm, then you may feel free to
partake of that breakfast.”
Kaldur laughed as if it was a good joke, which in a way it was,
although it had not particularly been meant with much humor. “Ah,
you’ve got a sense of humor under all those frowns after all,
friend!” He clambered easily up the rock face and flopped down so
he was sitting on the stone right next to Legolas, leaning casually
against the prince. The elf shifted away a little. Kaldur
“You don’t like me,” the human observed pleasantly.
“I don’t know you,” Legolas corrected. “However, you are not
inspiring an overwhelming desire in me to change that situation, if
that’s what you’re asking.”
Kaldur made a face. “Gol, how can you talk like that this early
in the morning? Does it come natural or have you been thinking it
up all night? Oh, oh there you go. Now you’re giving me the
angry eyebrows again,” he sighed over-dramatically when Legolas frowned
Legolas didn’t bother trying to make sense of the man’s motives for his
words anymore. It was a waste of time since he didn’t seem to
have any. “Why didn’t you kill me?” the elf asked instead, as
much from actual curiosity as to try to give the conversation some real
direction since Kaldur seemed intent on having a conversation to begin
“Like I told the men, too messy,” Kaldur waved the question off easily.
“No,” Legolas shook his head. “Not then. Afterwards.
In the fight. You could have easily killed me, why didn’t
The bandit tipped his head to the side. “I’m not a killer,
mate. I told you both that last night and it’s true.
However, if you take me in ta face those townspeople all by me self I
may be regretting it, eh?” His light attitude did not change,
despite the momentary sparkle of real fear in his dark eyes, but for
brief moment the elf was gifted with the rare chance to see the real
man behind the irritating nonchalance. The bandit’s dark eyes
held more than his idiotic act betrayed. These were not the eyes
of one as young as he looked; they held a world-weariness, a knowledge
of things that a soul so less in years than Legolas should not have
This one who sat next to the elf had seen much in his short lifespan
and though he oft acted the imbecile there was a quickness, a smartness
that marked a liveliness to his very being that hadn’t been quenched by
the life he had lived thus far. Kaldur was more than he seemed,
Legolas realized with mild surprise. The curtain fell just as
quickly as it had been allowed to be unmasked and the dark-haired man
smiled impishly at the elf once more.
Legolas looked away. Humans could be so complicated... they could
go through so much in their short lifetimes that it sometimes boggled
the elf and made him wonder how they survived it all.
“But no fear of that, right?” Kaldur said cheerily. “Because you
need your friend back, and my friends need me back. So it all
works out in the end, don’t it?”
Legolas’ sad, distant expression did not change. Kaldur seemed so
confident that everything would be all right, but he could not be that
sure. He could not help feeling that he was simply sitting there
and doing nothing while who
knew what was happening to Aragorn.
“Look, if you’re worried about your friend, don’t,” Kaldur shook his
head, his jesting manner sobering somewhat. “The boys play rough
sometimes, but they aren’t stupid. I know what you’re
thinking. A prisoner among bandits... but I don’t let my people
get away with scuttle like that.”
For some reason Legolas honestly believed the thief on that. He
had seen as much last night when Kaldur kept the other men from hurting
the elf just for sport. However that did not ease the prince’s
mind. “Yes,” he said softly. “But you’re not there, are
“No, I’m here,” Kaldur said quietly. Then his smile brightened
roguishly again. “But we could always remedy that, couldn’t we?”
he turned his bound hands towards the elf. “Cut me loose and I
promise I’ll send your friend back to you safe and sound.”
Legolas snorted slightly. “I don’t think so. I’m not the
insane one here.”
Kaldur chuckled and shrugged. “Well you can’t blame a body for
trying, can ye?”
Suddenly the elf froze and put a finger to his lips, gesturing for
Kaldur to get down, behind the rocks they were sitting on.
Kaldur did at once. “What’s happening? Someone coming?” he
“I don’t know, quiet,” Legolas hushed him, trying to pick up on the
sound he had heard before. Now however there was nothing, and he
strained to decipher any clues... when suddenly something moved
directly behind him. Legolas spun around, an arrow nocked and
ready to fire... only to find his arrowtip placed up against the chest
of a familiar ranger who had his arms up and a grin on his face.
Legolas!” Aragorn grinned at having been able
to surprise the elf prince like this. “You are becoming far too
easy to creep up upon, my friend.”
Legolas froze for a moment in shock, before quickly dropping his bow
and clasping the ranger’s arm tightly, his own smile widening.
Then he gave his friend a small, sharp shove for the overly satisfied
look on the human’s face. “You had us worried, mellon-nín. What took so
“Oh a little of this, a little of that.” Aragorn shook his
head. “Give me some
slack, Legolas. It’s not that easy to
escape an entire den of bandits out for your blood, especially when
your only way out is through the Barrows and the land of the
“Well I suppose I shall let it go this once,” Legolas conceded,
although his eyes spoke his true joy at his friend’s safe return.
“But the next time you return from the dead or anywhere else I expect
you to be a little more punctual.” Legolas ran his long fingers
over the collar of the ranger’s singed tunic and the sooty ash that
clung to the man’s neck and face. The elf smiled wryly, although
his eyes were concerned. “You look terrible.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind and try not to be so late next
time,” Aragorn chuckled, pulling the elf’s hands lightly away from
him. “I’m all right.”
Suddenly, to Aragorn’s surprise, Legolas whirled around, his bow
flashing back into his hand, and fired an arrow.
The arrow stuck quivering in the dirt near the edge of camp, next to a
now very still Kaldur who had been in the process of sneaking out
during the friends’ reunion.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Legolas stalked over.
Kaldur regarded the arrow beside his foot with a slightly nervous
look. That had been too close for comfort. He knew the elf
had only missed him because he meant
to miss him... this time.
“Just wanted to give you a little privacy... reunions with old friends
and all that...” the bandit protested innocently as Legolas dragged him
back to the center of camp and sat him down on a rock where he could
keep a better eye on him.
“Your consideration is so touching,” the elf’s voice was dry.
“You must be Kaldur,” Aragorn noticed the man for the first time.
“I heard your men speak of you.”
“So nice to be recognized,” Kaldur grinned in his uniquely ingratiating
manner. “Well now that you’re here all safe and sound, there’s no
need for me to stick around, I’ll just be going and not trouble you
anymore...” he started to get up but Legolas’ hand on his shoulder
pushed him back down.
“You’re not going anywhere. Relax,” the elf said firmly.
Elladan and Elrohir were stirring now and Aragorn quickly slipped
around behind them, motioning for Legolas to keep silent. Legolas
smiled and shook his head. These humans... what could you do with
Elladan rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked around, a little
surprised by the morning light. “Did we sleep all night?
Legolas you were supposed to wake us. Has there been any news of
The dark-haired elf was puzzled when the elf prince just smiled at him,
as if something were incredibly funny...
“There has been indeed,” a familiar voice spoke up behind Elladan and
the elf started upright and spun around.
“Estel!” The elf hugged his little brother tightly and Aragorn
hugged back, but quickly eased up when he heard Elladan give a slight
gasp at the pressure against his healing back. Concern flickered
through the ranger’s grey eyes. His brother was hurt.
Elrohir was shaken all the way awake by his twin’s abrupt movement and
sat up slowly. His head still throbbed a bit and he felt
dizzy. He ran his hand over his face. “What’s happening,
El?” he asked, but didn’t turn yet because his balance was off and he
felt that his head might roll from his shoulders if he moved too
“The camp is under attack and you’re too sleepy to know it, Elrohir,”
Aragorn chuckled from behind him.
Elrohir did not respond, but rubbed his face again, stretching.
“El?” he asked again, hoping his brother would come around to face him
so he wouldn’t have to turn just yet, turning his head made him feel
sick to his stomach. “Is everything all right?”
Aragorn’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion and Elladan and Legolas
exchanged sad, troubled looks.
Elladan placed his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder. “He can’t hear
Estel,” he said softly. “Something’s happened to his ears.”
Aragorn’s heart pinched tightly. Quickly the ranger came out in
front of Elrohir; putting himself in his brother’s line of sight and
dropping down to give the elf a welcoming hug.
A huge smile cracked Elrohir’s face. “Estel! You’re
here!” He chuckled as he pushed the ranger back to arm’s length
to look him over. “You look a little worse for the wear, brother,
but I guess we’ll still take you back.”
Aragorn laughed, but his eyes were still hurting. “I’m sorry, El.
I’m sorry to all of you that I led you into this.”
Elrohir mock-scowled. “Estel, in case they haven’t told you I
can’t hear you, but it looks like you’re getting into one of those
blasted apologetic fits that you and Elladan are so prone to.
Don’t. I have a headache and I’m in no mood to try to convince
you that whatever you think is your fault isn’t. Legolas, try to
talk reason to him, all right?”
Aragorn couldn’t help laughing as he hugged his brother again.
“Well I see your mouth isn’t giving you any trouble.”
“Pity,” Elladan rolled his eyes.
Rising, Aragorn looked around. “Where’s Halbarad? And
Bilbo? Did he ever turn back up?” his expression was once again
one of concern.
“Halbarad went looking for Bilbo,” Legolas told him. “Although if
he was not captured with you, then chances are that he is perfectly all
right and simply took your instructions to run very seriously.”
Aragorn nodded. “I hardly blame him. But now... we have
decisions to make as to our next course of action.”
Kaldur smiled and waved somewhat uncertainly when all eyes turned back
on him. “I don’t suppose my suggesting that you cut me loose and
we forget the whole thing ever happened is going to do much good?”
“We can’t do that,” Aragorn shook his head. “Besides, it’s not
safe for you to go back to your men even if we let you. They’ve
turned against you, Kaldur.”
Kaldur shook his head. “Not possible, friend, but I thank ye for
“It is possible,” Aragorn insisted grimly, lightly rubbing the burns on
the back of his neck. “A man named Losmir convinced them that
they don’t need you anymore. Kaldur, they tried to kill me, they
had no intention of ransoming you.”
Legolas' eyes registered shock and anger at this revelation of how
they had come to losing Aragorn.
Kaldur’s normally playful eyes flashed darkly. He obviously
didn’t believe the ranger. “They wouldn’t do that.”
Suspicion crept into his face. “You want to know where else
they’d go, now that our hideout is known, since I assume you did escape
from there. You want me to sell them out so you’re lying to
me. It’s not gonna work, mate. I thought more of you than
that, I really did.”
“I’m not lying, Kaldur, but I won’t waste my breath trying to convince
you of it,” Aragorn shook his head sadly.
Kaldur was sulky and silent for a bit while they struck camp, which to
Legolas’ mind was something of a relief. Presently, however, he was
to singing and talking to himself as if he hadn’t a care in the
world. He perched himself on the high rock ledge that Legolas had
sat look-out on earlier, balancing with apparent ease between the short
drop back into camp on this side, and the steep drop down into the
rocky valley below on the other.
When Legolas tried to get him on his feet so they could move out, the
bandit wouldn’t stand. He’d let the elf pull him up, but refused
to use his legs and would simply fall back down again, grinning all the
while and humming as if it were a game.
Legolas opened and closed his fists, his face wearing a clear
expression of irritation. Stalking across the now packed-up camp,
he grabbed Aragorn’s shirtsleeve and pulled his friend close so he
could speak to him privately. “That man is going to drive me to
insanity!” he hissed softly. “DO something with him!”
Aragorn resisted the urge to laugh, because in Legolas’ present state
of mind that would clearly not be good for the ranger’s health.
It was true that Kaldur could be irritating beyond belief, but it was
humorous how quickly he managed to get under the elf’s usually
“Look, come on, get up,” Aragorn tugged the bandit upright, only to
have Kaldur sag forward and fall against him before sliding back to the
ground and starting another chorus of some incredibly tone-deaf
song. “Come on, you’re not drunk, stop acting like it,” the
ranger reined in his own irritation as he pulled the bandit up
Kaldur flopped against Aragorn’s chest once more, grinning up into the
ranger’s face. “Ah but I am drunk! Intoxicated by life you
might say, drunk on staying alive... and I mean to keep it that
Suddenly Kaldur jumped back. Aragorn’s dagger flashed in his grip
and the ranger’s hand went automatically to his side only to find that
of course, it was no longer in his belt where it had been.
In one swift move Kaldur cut the ropes binding his wrists and jumped
backward, throwing a parting smile to his former captors. “So
nice to know you all, take care!” The thief’s backward jump took
him right off the edge of the ridge they were standing on. He
fell down into the valley below with a rolling tumble, picking himself
up quickly and dodging into the rocks where not even an archer as good
as Legolas could pick him out.
Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir were by Aragorn’s side in a moment, but
Kaldur had already disappeared from view.
“Should we stop him?” Elladan asked quickly, swinging over the lip of
the ridge, prepared to scramble down the steep incline.
“No.” Aragorn put out his arm and held his brother back. “We
should let him get a head start and then track him. I’ll take any
odds that he’s going to run straight back to the rest of his
Legolas nodded, swinging his bow back over his shoulder. “We
follow him, we find them... but is that a good idea?”
Aragorn hesitated. “There aren’t that many of them... still, I do
not advise we try to take them all on ourselves. Rather, let us
find out where their other hiding places are, and then we can devise a
plan from there. Besides,” he sighed, “things could become
interesting. I was telling Kaldur the truth about his men’s
Legolas nodded. “I fear he is more loyal to them then than they
are to him...” a strange shadow crossed Legolas’ face as he flung his
attention outward, toward the Downs looming before them. “And
that is not all I fear,” he murmured. “Though I do not know what
shadow troubles my heart about the road ahead.”
Legolas crouched silently on top of a large cairn of stones that
overlooked the Barrow-downs. He had remained motionless for so
long that a passerby might have thought him part of the stones
Aragorn of course knew otherwise, but he did not interrupt until
Legolas straightened and dropped gracefully off the rock, back down to
where his friends were waiting.
“You are right, Strider, he’s still going around in circles out
there. I don’t think he knows for certain we are following him,
but he’s taking no chances.”
Aragorn smiled wryly. “He’s smarter than I gave him credit for
yet again, but I’ll wager he has never had to deal with the tracking
skills of elves and rangers before.”
They had been trailing Kaldur DeCahr at a discreet distance almost all
day. Aragorn had had no difficulty picking up the bandit’s trail,
even though it was obvious that Kaldur was doing a pretty good job of
attempting to cover it. They could have retaken the bandit at any
point, but they wanted him to
lead them to the others. Therefore, they would play this little
game of hide-and-seek for as long as was necessary.
Aragorn looked up quickly when he realized that Legolas was still
“There is more, someone else approaches. He is staying hidden, I
cannot make him out, but he seems to be following the same trail we
have. He is very close now.”
The ranger’s attention was immediately captured. Someone was
“We should rejoin my brothers,” he said quietly, looking around as if
his gaze could penetrate the hills around them. They had left
Elladan and Elrohir to watch the other end of the valley.
“Strider...,” Legolas’ word was a whisper. “Our mystery man is
here.” The elf didn’t move visibly, but he gestured with his eyes
in the direction he meant, behind and to the right of Aragorn.
The ranger whirled around quickly, his sword flashing into his hand...
only to drop it back to his side a moment later as both he and Legolas
“Halbarad! We have got to stop meeting like this.” Aragorn shook
his head, re-sheathing his sword.
“It is good to see you with us again, Aragorn,” the other ranger
Legolas’ brows furrowed slightly. Halbarad was alone.
“Halbarad, where is Bilbo?”
The ranger’s face turned heavy. “I did not find him,” the
frustration in his voice was evident. He was unused to losing his
quarry. “I followed his tracks for some distance, they were
heading towards the Shire, but I lost the trail in the Old
Forest. I’m sorry, I have never seen anyone harder to
Aragorn nodded. He had found out that curious fact about the little
hobbit as well. “I hope no ill befell him,” he said softly.
This was not good
news and it weighed on their hearts. They still had a job to do,
Away in the distance, a lone bird trilled, its call floating softly on
the cooling evening air. Legolas’ head came up attentively, as
did Aragorn’s, for they knew at once that it was no bird. It was
a signal from Elladan. Kaldur was on the move again.
“Come, Halbarad, we will fill you in on all that has happened since you
left as we go,” Aragorn gestured for the other man to follow as they
slid quickly and quietly along to where his brothers were waiting for
Night was drawing on once more. Kaldur had spent most of the day
intentionally going around in circles and hiding in the hills to throw
off anyone who might have tried to follow him. Now the bandit
crept quietly up to the grassy mound near the barrows that his men had
found and turned into a hiding place at the outset of their stay near
It had been Losmir’s idea when the company had stumbled across an empty
tell just inside the woods on the outskirts of the shallow valley that
held the barrows. They had excavated the buried ruins and found
the crumbling shell of a stone and brick house inside. It was
nothing more than four walls, only the span of ten paces apart from one
another, but it had served them well. What it had once been and
how or why the home had become abandoned in such a way was never a
concern for the thieves. It was the perfect hideaway. No
one would ever suspect it so close to the Downs themselves and rarely
did anyone visit this part of the woods. Those that had, had
gotten a taste of the wandering wights that the men had devised to
scare the people from becoming too curious.
It was smaller and slightly more cramped than their other cave on the
far side of the Downs; but that that hideaway had been destroyed by the
cave-in the ranger had created yesterday. It was a good thing
they had opted to never put their eggs all in one basket and maintained
this second hide-out as well.
This particular location had never been Kaldur’s choice of places to
stay, as there just seemed something wrong with breaking into the mound
and occupying it, but the logic behind Losmir’s arguments had won him
over... Unlike the words he could now hear as he stealthily
neared the hideout.
“I say we hit as many of the houses in one fell swoop as we can tonight
and take all we can get. This place is a wash-out,” Losmir argued
angrily. “What do we have to show? Cows, chickens, a few
sets of new shoes and some trinkets. We haven’t even come into
any good sizes of money.”
“People could get hurt that way, Losmir.” It was Jalif that
replied, his voice of caution calming the others. “We wasn’t
never supposed to be hurting nobody and you know it.”
“He’s right, Losmir. Kaldur didn’t want no one getting hurt. It
was the first rule,” Thil added.
The sounds of a soft scuffle reached Kaldur’s ears as he listened in on
“Kaldur isn’t in charge anymore. I am.” Losmir growled, his sword
tip scraping the underside of Thil’s chin. He had knocked the
younger man off of his seat near the fire and stood over the thief,
threatening him. “Now if you’re smart, and I’m thinking you might
be, you’ll be doing yourself a favor to remember that.”
“Don’t know, mate, sounds like bad advice to me.” Kaldur stepped
into the doorway and threw aside the covering that disguised the entry
into the interior of the tell. His eyes narrowed as he pierced
Losmir with a hard stare. “I’d be releasing the boy now if I were
you. You got no argument with him, but its sounding like you got
one with me.”
Slowly sheathing his sword, Losmir backed away from Thil and reseated
himself by the fire as Kaldur stepped lightly into the house. The
ringleader of the bandits walked idly around the small quarters as
though reorienting himself to the place, all the while carrying on a
“Seems to me that attacking the townsfolk while they sleep is a fool’s
idea of getting rich. You think they aren’t on edge? That’s
what we’ve been trying to achieve this whole time, that’s what we’ve
been building up to. We want them wary, we want them to run, and
we want them to get desperate enough to even start leaving the area so
we can waylay them and relive them of their valuables on their way out
of town.” Kaldur ran his fingers lightly across the dusty sill of
a window that looked out to the hard-packed dirt of the tell. His
actions seemed random and without a point at all, but it was not
“You go attacking them in their homes and they’ll know we ain’t no
wights now for sure.” The small-statured man continued, “Their
men will scour the countryside looking for us and there will be nowhere
left safe for us to run to. They’ll not give us a moment's
rest.” Kaldur’s soft musings and his idle wanderings had taken
him to the far side of the fire ring where Losmir sat. “That’s
what I’m thinking,” he whispered, throwing a casual smile at his
With a swift, unexpected move he kicked Losmir’s chair out from under
him. Spinning on his bootheels and barely catching himself on his
hands Losmir leapt to his feet. His shortsword was in his hand
but his attack was too late. Kaldur grabbed the off-balanced
thief by the neck, his fingers digging into the soft skin under his
chin. Using the full weight of his body, he slammed the traitor
hard against the brick wall at the man’s back and pressed against his
throat, knocking the blade from Losmir’s fingers. Kaldur’s own
blade flashed in his hand and he pressed the edge against Losmir’s
throat as he moved closer to the thief.
“You know that ranger told me you had tried to turn the men against
me.” Kaldur paused, his open gaze causing Losmir to shift his
eyes nervously about the room. “I called him a liar.” The words
were whispered and his tone was lethal. “Do you have any idea
what I am going to call you?”
“How about dead?” Thil piped up from across the room. The
men were enjoying this test of wills.
With a smile and flourish of his knife Kaldur turned back to the others
and pointed the tip of his blade at Thil, “That’s exactly what I was
thinking.” He tapped the knife against his temple, “You know what
they be saying about great minds...”
“They’ll be saying its too bad Kaldur DeCahr did not have one.” Losmir
growled as he forcefully shoved the smaller robber away from him.
Trying to escape the fury of their leaders, the other bandits stumbled
into one another, scrambling over each other in their attempts to gain
the entrance of the tell. Losmir had grasped his sword once more
and leapt at Kaldur. The confines of the house were small and the
dark-haired leader tripped backwards over a stool, falling hard to the
ground near a stack of the small explosive boxes they had stored in the
With a shout Losmir dove after him, hefting the chair like a weapon and
intending to bring it down on Kaldur’s head. But the leader of
the thieves was too swift. Turning over onto his belly he scooted
out of reach as the stool splintered on the stone floor behind him
where he had been seconds before. Grabbing two of the explosive
devices he shoved them into his tunic and rolled onto his side, deftly
avoiding a jab from Losmir’s sword that would have run him
through. Kicking out at his attacker, Kaldur caught Losmir in the
shin and the man dropped to his knees. Scrambling back from the
enraged thief, Kaldur found himself pressed against the stack of boxes
near the refuse bin. It hadn’t been emptied from the previous
night. A small bag of soot and ashes that had been swept from the
fire pit rested on the top of the trash heap and Kaldur quickly
snatched it up, throwing the sack into Losmir’s face as the man
his footing and came after him.
The powder and soot exploded in the robber’s face, momentarily blinding
him while Kaldur scooted away and edged for the door. Jumping to
his feet he placed a well-earned kick to Losmir’s backside, shoving the
man into the far corner of the house where he fell entangled in the
legs of the chairs that occupied that space.
“You’re outta the band, mate. Best you not show your face around
me again or you’ll get more than a kick in the seat of the pants to
show for it,” Kaldur threatened before stumbling out of the tell into
the deepening moonlight. Rounding the grassy knoll he found his
men standing just inside the Downs, waiting to see who had prevailed
while animatedly discussing what they should do.
“Losmir’s a smart man, good second, but I’m with staying with
Kaldur. He’s never led us wrong.” Bentith argued.
“And what does Losmir know?” Jalif shouted over his friend, brandishing
his knife and pointing at the tell. “He weren’t never no smarter ‘en
me. Grew up with him I did, never could keep outta trouble he
couldn’t. I say we follow Kaldur.”
“I don’t know,” Thil hedged slightly, “maybe its time to end this
charade and move on. Things aren’t looking so good no more. You
know what I am saying?”
The men hemmed and hawed amongst themselves, mumbling about the right
thing to do under the circumstances. They quieted quickly when
their captain sauntered up casually.
“You should do what I tell ye to.” Kaldur recommended, walking
into their midst. He clasped Bentith on the shoulder and gently
pushed Jalif’s hand down, forcing the man to re-sheath his knife.
“If we stick together we'll make it through this. Thil’s right
though, it might just be time we pulled up stakes and set for other
places. What say you, men?”
“But,” Bentith glanced around the small group, “you said yourself we
had the town right where we want them. Why not stay and finish
what we’ve started?”
“Things ain’t going to get no better round here, Bentith. That ranger’s
still on us and we can't afford to be caught.” Kaldur started his men
walking through the darkened Downs, heading away from the Shire.
“Why worry about being caught when you’ll be dead?” Losmir’s
question stopped the band of men in their tracks.
Whirling around, Kaldur watched in horror as Losmir exited the tell,
several of the small boxes tucked under his arm. The one in his
hands was already lit, the wick burning quickly down to the incendiary
“It’s only you I want, Kaldur. Make this easy and none of the
others will get hurt,” he called to his fellow robbers as he tossed the
box at his former leader’s feet.
The men scattered, running through the Downs, trying to escape the
explosion they knew was coming. Kaldur dove behind the nearest
mound and pressed hard against the grassy hill. The force of the
blast shook the area and pushed him closer to the knoll as the
shockwave ripped through the Downs.
Kaldur pushed himself carefully up and searched the surrounding area
for Losmir. Smoke and dust rose from a black, scorched area on
ground where the box had exploded fifty feet from where he had taken
shelter. The pungent smell that the burning stones left behind
wafted through the Downs on the evening breeze.
“Looking for me?” The sound of the voice came from directly behind the
Barely giving his attacker a glance, Kaldur threw himself around the
barrow and rolled out of the way, covering his ears and pulling himself
into a small ball as the ground rippled underneath him from the second
A keening wail pierced the night and set the thief’s teeth on
edge. The unearthly howling crescendoed and the earth shook, but
the quaking was not from another blast this time... it was from the
wights. The real ones.
The ground beneath Kaldur’s hands trembled as he raised himself up and
he stumbled back, losing his footing as a black doorway in the barrow
before him opened. The front of the hill seemed to dissolve into
the inkiness within and a nameless, baseless fear he had never known
struck his heart. Scooting back from the yawning opening, he
scrambled to his feet and glanced about him. All the mossy green
hills were coming alive as doorways appeared within them.
They had awakened the wights in force, and the ghostly horde was not
pleased at being stirred.
Bentith jumped slightly as the barrow next to him opened up.
Jalif shook his head, backing away, but the other thief reached out to
touch the spreading darkness that had materialized in the small
hill. His fingers brushed the blackness and a cool chill raced up
his arm, as when one thrusts a hand into icy water. He
turned, glancing over his shoulder with a smile at his companion.
“You should feel it,” Bentith commented, brushing his fingers over the
opening once more. He squinted into the dim interior.
“Hey... look at this, there’s a king’s ransom down here!”
They heard Kaldur yelling for them to get back, away from the barrows,
but it was too late. Jalif stared in shocked horror as a bony
hand reached out, grabbed Bentith by the wrist, and jerked him
into the mound. The black door disappeared; in its place the dirt
and grass that had been there before rematerialized. Save for
Bentith’s cries from the inside of the hill one would have never known
that there had ever existed a way inside. When the cries finally
stopped, Jalif was shaken free of the fear that had held him in place
and fled through the hilly meadow, making for the opposite side of the
Kaldur was shouting at his men to leave the field and climb to the
small surrounding hillock that bracketed the burial valley. Yet
it wasn’t as easy as it should have been. A thick blanket of mist
had risen up from nowhere, clouding the moonlit air and confusing
their movements as they tried to get out. Kaldur watched as two
more men were sucked into the interiors of the evil mounds. He
was halfway through the field himself when shouting from the far side
of the glen arrested his attention, stopping him mid-flight. He
skidded to stop on the long, wet grass. Five men rushed into the
glen, swords drawn. He recognized the ranger and the elf that had
caught him before. He watched as his men fought the newcomers,
but they were easily taken, their fear of the barrows having shattered
their courage and urging them only to flight.
The battle spilled back into the interior of the Downs as the rangers
and the elves slowly took the remnants of the thieving band
Unwilling to be caught himself, Kaldur turned left, heading for the
thick woods. His path was impeded as his legs were tripped up by
the flat edge of a long sword. Rolling to a stop he leapt into a
crouch and froze as he stared up the length of the blade that Losmir
held pointed straight at him.
“You have done nothing but lead us into trouble from the moment we
joined up with you, and now this? When I said you weren’t needed
anymore, what part of that didn’t you understand?” Losmir
questioned him darkly.
Slowly slipping his hand to his boot Kaldur kept his opponent off
guard, speaking nonchalantly as though nothing were the matter between
the two men. “You’re forgetting one thing. You can't kill
me.” He smiled irritatingly at his second-in-command.
“You think you can't die?”
“That’s right. I’m Kaldur DeCahr.” With a flick of his
wrist Kaldur produced a small knife from his boot-sheath and tossed it
at the man in front of him, catching Losmir high in the shoulder.
The man stumbled back, screaming in rage as he pulled the tapered blade
from his shoulder and ran after the retreating form that dodged through
the burial mounds.
Aragorn raced to Legolas’ side and kicked the legs out from under the
man that was fighting the elf. He pressed his knee down hard into
the small of the thief’s back as the prince quickly bound the man’s
hands behind him. Calling over his shoulder to Elladan he showed
the elf where the fallen robber lay.
Leaning down hard against the thief, Aragorn ran the edge of his
hunting knife along the man’s cheek, “Move and I’ll feed you to the
wights. Now stay put until my brother comes for you.
Understand?” He pressed down harder when the highwayman’s answer
was not forth-coming. The slight nod that the actions garnered
was enough for him. These men were terrified, more intent on
escaping the barrows than escaping their captors. Legolas’ voice
jerked his attention from the thief and he jumped lightly to his feet,
following the elf.
For a moment Aragorn’s gaze passed through the mists enough to see the
mouths of a dozen open barrows, the terror of them catching at the back
of his throat. These idiots! They had stirred up the real
Barrow-wights, and now their would-be captors were going to have to
save the thieves from their own folly.
“Strider! It’s Kaldur!” The prince pointed with his bow as
he raced through the vale, heading for the two fighting figures in the
center of the Downs.
Losmir easily caught up to Kaldur. Swinging his blade down with a
cry, he sliced through the air as his captain stopped up short and
sidestepped, bringing up his own sword and catching the edge of the
weapon on his blade.
“You’re not up to this, Losmir. You can’t beat me.” Kaldur
spun left out of the way as his second-in-command twisted to the right
trying to catch the dark-haired thief on the tip of his blade. “I’m
better than you are.” He smacked the flat of his blade alongside
Losmir’s head in warning but the thief was far too enraged for any
thoughts of restraint.
With a cry of rage Losmir charged forward, his sword screaming through
the air in a side sweep strike. Running up the slope of the
nearest barrow, Kaldur vaulted in a backwards somersault over the arc
of the blade and thrust at his opponent, raking his sword across the
man’s upper arm.
Legolas reached the fight first and stepped underneath Losmir’s wild
swinging. Deftly flipping the elven knife in his hand so that the
blade pointed towards him, Legolas rammed the pommel of his weapon into
the thief’s face knocking Losmir back.
Kaldur danced out of the way, jumping backwards as Aragorn brushed past
him. He was outnumbered and he didn’t even try to run as the
ranger flashed him a dangerous look and pointed the knife he held at
the thief. Kaldur raised his hands, affecting an innocent gaze,
and stepped out of the way. He rather fancied watching Losmir
taken down by the elf.
Aragorn however was more worried about their proximity to the barrow
behind Losmir. Legolas’ blades flashed in the moonlight, drawing
a fine red line across the highwayman’s cheek and knocking the sword
from his hand. Stunned, Losmir stepped back frighteningly close
to the open barrow, his footing unsteady as the elf wore him out.
“Legolas, the barrow!” Aragorn called out, stepping in between
the two combatants and pulling the thief from the threshold of the dark
Blinded by rage and shocked by the repeated blows the elf was dealing
him, Losmir spun, twisting wildly in the ranger’s grasp and spinning
them both around. Striking out, his fist connected with the
underside of Aragorn’s chin.
Stumbling backwards, unbalanced by the unexpected blow from a man he
had been trying to help, Aragorn flung his hand out behind him to
steady himself, but there was nothing to stop his fall. His
groping hand met only air.
The world swirled into a blackened field and the light of the stars
seemed to be sucked up as through a portal that closed around
him. He fell with a hard thud against a dry dirt floor.
Disoriented, the ranger rolled over onto his hands and knees, pushing
himself up. The ground beneath his fingers was gravelled and
hard. He was not on the Downs any longer; he had fallen into the
With sickening fear Aragorn lurched forward, his hands coming into
contact with the hard, compacted earth of the interior of the
mound. Here there was no sound and no light, but something moved
in the darkness - more of a feeling than anything else - and his heart
pounded wildly. He had to get out.
In the split second it had taken for Aragorn to fall through the
doorway Legolas had taken Losmir down, tripping the man and forcing him
roughly to the ground, his knives held at right angles to one another
under the man’s chin.
Kaldur stared open-mouthed at the mound, waiting for the ranger to
reappear. He did not. They could hear him calling for the
“Legolas!” the cry was desperate, but strangely distant, as if coming
from farther away than it really was.
“Strider!” Legolas’ gaze shot to the barrow; even now the doorway
was disappearing. The elf felt his heart jolt as a cold stab of
fear squeezed his lungs. “Strider! Get out of there!”
“I can’t! The door is gone! I can’t find it!” The
panic in the ranger’s voice heightened, sounding all the more desperate
because Legolas had rarely ever heard that amount of fear in his friend
before. “Legolas, I can’t see! Get me out of here!”
Rushing forward, Kaldur knelt on Losmir’s back, wrenching one of the
elf’s blades from his hand. “Go!” He motioned to the barrow. The
prince stared at him, undecided. He couldn’t leave Aragorn to the
wight and he didn’t trust the thief. “GO! I’ve got him; get your
friend out of there before he’s lost!”
Legolas jumped up and threw himself through the disappearing doorway
just as the wight sealed the portal to the barrow closed. It was
the only thing he had time to do, the only thing he could do. But
it was like jumping into a sea of dark ice and as the blackness closed
like water over his head, the elf felt a terrible dread fill his heart.