Running his long slender fingers along the page
edges of the book he
read, Saruman sighed heavily. The large tome was boring and he glanced
out the thin window that graced his study high in the mid-rooms of
Orthanc. He idly flipped the book shut and stood to his feet. He made
way out into the lush gardens that grew inside of the perimeter of the
high stone walls of Isengard, the fortress stronghold that
surrounded the tall elegant black spire that rose from its center, the
only dwelling in the encampment.
A frown crossed his gaunt features as the wizard
thought back to years
not long since when he had thoroughly enjoyed walking through the trees
and garden paths that surrounded his dwelling. The rich plant life no
longer gave him such pleasures and his mind roved to darker thoughts.
He was a being of great patience, but he knew his time was coming, it
was coming soon when he would no longer serve humankind or the
creatures that roamed Middle-earth. The time was coming when they would
serve him. A slight, grim smile decorated his countenance and he
in the middle of the path, his sharp ears picking up the faint sounds
of a flock of crows heading in from the west. The thin smile broadened
as he looked overhead. "So, my friends, you have returned. What word
you of that which I seek?"
Saruman stretched his hand out and held it slightly
up, the overlarge
sleeve of his robe sliding back down his arm. A sleek black crow
spiraled down from the flock that swirled overhead screeching and
calling one to another and speaking as one to the Maia.
"And the elf and the human have escaped Moria and
Paxcyn isn't even
close to their whereabouts? Why am I not surprised? Perhaps it is time
they had a bit of assistance. I think I'll send a troop of orcs to
point him in the right direction. That ought to encourage that fool to
take me more seriously. I have grown weary of men. Soon their time will
run out and I will suffer their company no more." Saruman glanced out
over the tops of the surrounding trees, his gaze thrown far into the
future. The crows had begun to settle in the sheltered canopies of
The bird that had lighted on his arm cocked its head
slightly, one dark
beady eye watching the wizard. "Very well. It is that fool Drelent's
turn. Let's us hope for his sake he is as smart as he thinks he is."
The white-haired man looked at the crow perched on his tunic sleeve.
"You know the one of whom I speak? The man with the scar," He drew a
line with one bony finger down the left side of his face.
The bird croaked at him, hopping closer to the
"Find him, tell him that the elf and the human are
heading towards him.
Make sure he knows what direction they are coming from, it is important
to me." He eyed the bird carefully. "Do you understand?"
The crow stood tall and loosed a high-pitched
screech that sent its
companions exploding into the air around them. Ruffling its dark
feathers the bird launched itself into the sky and headed back out west
the direction it had come from, followed by the cloud of black birds
that followed it.
Aragorn dropped easily over the edge of the craggy
stone ledge onto the
plateau below and Legolas followed. The ground they had been traversing
for the past several leagues was broken and rough, but they still
managed to keep up a good pace. Keeping to the wild areas and staying
away from any frequented paths or roads to avoid being seen, they hoped
to evade Paxcyn and his men. Other than animal tracks, the two had seen
no signs of any other living being having been in these parts in a very
"I don't suppose anyone's come this way in many,
many years," Aragorn
commented as the two friends scrambled over another rocky ridge,
battling their way through a choking tangle of barbs and bracken. In
places the grass was chest high and razor-edged so that it scratched
and tore at the two as they passed, and again, in places there was
nothing but loose, pointed rocks which made footing dangerous and
walking a tedious chore. The wilds could be quite inhospitable when
they wanted to be.
"Frankly that does not surprise me," Legolas
commented wryly, sparing a
glance around them. "But you are right. My people are fading away and
no longer wander the wide world as they once did, while the lives and
memory of men are short and many things are swiftly forgotten..." the
slightly wistful tone in his voice turned back to amusement once more
as he watched Aragorn try to disentangle himself from a prickly bush
the ranger had tried to push through and instead become ensnared in.
"But I suppose that occasionally some things are better left forgotten.
Are you quite all right?"
"Just - fine." Aragorn pulled the arm of his
overcoat free from the
sticky, piercing barbs of the sprawling, mammoth weed. Unfortunately
all that meant was that now the hem of his cloak was tangled up in it
instead. Bending down, he untangled that only to have it snag all over
his sleeve again. When he tried to stand it caught his hair. The young
ranger was quickly becoming frustrated and his friend's laughter did
not help matters.
He shot the elf his best "this is NOT funny" glare
but, since he was
still mostly tangled up with the sticky, pricker vines, all that did
make Legolas laugh harder.
"Of course I don't know... I think it is worth
coming all the way out
here to see this..." Legolas grinned devilishly.
Aragorn would have done something to the prince for
that, but the vines
still held him and the harder he tried to get out the more stuck he
seemed to become. "Very funny," he said in a tone that suggested it was
not at all. "Are you going to stand there and laugh all day or are you
going to help me get out of here before Paxcyn and his crew find the
Palantir and waltz off into the sunset?"
Legolas really did try to stop laughing, but the
resulting smirk was
just as bad. "But you're doing such a good job on your own," he said as
he moved towards the ranger, trying to be careful to not get snagged
himself. "Besides, without the map no one but us knows where the stone
"Well he sure seemed to be able to find us pretty
well. Hurry up, I
think this plant is trying to eat me," Aragorn grumped, although he was
not quite as irritated as he acted.
"Patience, patience..." Legolas' nimble fingers
moved quickly, trying
to help extract his friend. "Stop moving. You're making it worse."
Aragorn rolled his eyes and sighed, trying to stand
still. That worked
for about five seconds. Then he started trying to disentangle himself
again, but whenever he moved it seemed that five new vines stuck to him.
"I said hold still." Legolas shook his head,
shooting his friend an
impatient look. "When one is stuck in a carnivorous plant I would think
they would wish to do all in their power to aid those trying to get
"WHAT?!! What do you mean carnivorous? Legolas!"
Aragorn's eyes were so
huge Legolas couldn't help laughing again. The elf rocked back on his
heels, almost unable to breathe for a moment.
Aragorn glared at his friend accusingly. "You made
that up. There's no
such thing as a carnivorous plant this big."
"Strider, all I said was if one was... You're the one
it eating you." Legolas' impish grin told the truth. It had simply been
too good an opportunity to pass up. Besides, the prince still had that
whole Moria thing to pay Aragorn back for.
"Legolas, you are so lucky I am stuck in this
thing..." Aragorn growled,
although his lips were beginning to curl into a smile without his
leave; his friend's mirth was infectious.
"Hm... well maybe I should leave you there then..."
for a moment, ducking his friend's swing. "All right, all right, there,
you're free!" Legolas pried the last barbs off the ranger's cloak.
"Now we can..." Legolas stopped as he noticed that
several of the vines
had caught about his boots and snagged at his leggings unbeknownst to
him while he was freeing his friend. He started to pull the
entanglements off, but
had about as much luck as Aragorn had been having.
Aragorn, now free, was dusting burrs off his cloak
as he turned and saw
his friend's predicament. The look of puzzled vexation on the elf's
face was very satisfying.
Legolas was surprised. He did not usually have
problems like this with
nature. The twisting mess of gooey-sticky prickers seemed especially
fond of the prince's long hair and caught and tangled mercilessly.
"You know... you're right..." Aragorn was grinning
like a Cheshire cat.
"Come to think of it that IS a rather funny sight..."
"Strider. Shut up." Legolas glared at his human
friend. "This is your
fault. Now help me out and if you say another word I swear I will shoot
Aragorn laughed, shaking his head. "Can't take as
good as you give eh?
All right, I won't let the carnivorous plant get you..." he stepped
Suddenly a vine shot out and twisted around his
ankle. Both of the
friends jerked in shock and Aragorn tried to jump backwards. The vine
however held tight and began winding rapidly up the ranger's leg,
jerking him off his feet and pulling him towards the center of the
mass, while the ones tangled about Legolas tightened down, catching his
wrists and ankles like snaking ropes. With a zing of panic, Legolas
realized that he couldn't move as he struggled against the suddenly
Humor changed to alarm very quickly. Aragorn drew
his sword, hacking at
the creepers around his legs, scrambling backward as more flung outward
to grab him. It hadn't been his imagination then, the plant really had
been trying to hold onto him before!
"Aragorn!" Legolas' call for help was choked and
urgent. The vines had
wrapped around the captive elf's chest and looped around his neck. Now
they were drawing tight and trying to strangle him.
Surging forward quickly, Aragorn chopped and hacked
at the deadly weed,
trying to cut away the vines holding the prince. A waving sea of
tossing, groping green tentacles curled quickly out
towards the ranger, trying to ensnare him once more as well.
Legolas couldn't breathe. He struggled with the
plant and managed to
wrench one hand free, but the thick vines around his neck continued to
tighten crushingly and black spots danced in his vision.
Aragorn reached Legolas and grabbed the coils of
vegetation around the
prince's neck. It was hard to cut them without cutting Legolas, but
somehow the ranger managed, dragging his friend backward out of the
The elf gasped for air as the pressure was released,
but there was no
time yet for relief. The angry vines shot out and wound around
Aragorn's sword arm, trying to wrench his blade from him and draw him
Grabbing his friend around the waist to hold him
back, Legolas slashed
the vines with one of his knives.
The two friends scrambled back quickly, trying to
get as far away as
they could. Whether the vines decided they were too much trouble, or
because they got out of its reach, they would never know, but after a
few moments the vines followed them no more and they made their escape
quickly down the rocky slope.
After putting a safe distance between themselves and
the thing that had
attacked them, the two friends stopped to catch their breath and
collect their thoughts.
Legolas rubbed his neck, his breathing slowly
returning to normal.
Aragorn was staring back up the hill with a wary
gaze, still breathing
hard. "What was that... thing?"
"Apparently it was
a carnivorous plant..." the elf shook his head,
who would have thought that his jest would turn out to be true?
Aragorn looked at his friend with a wry gleam that
well. A smile was beginning to replace the alarm in his young eyes.
"Legolas, what is it with us?
Even the shrubbery wants to turn us
into a snack!"
Legolas rolled his eyes and did not bother
responding. "Oh Strider,
"Only I what? You were stuck in there too!" Aragorn
protested as they
"Only you could find humor in these kinds of
returned, although his smile gave away that Aragorn was not the only
"Well I don't care," Aragorn shrugged it off with a
laugh. "I am never going to
be able to look at a weed the same way again."
It was nearly dusk and Drelent sat near the sparking
fire watching the
men he had recruited to help him retrieve the map Saruman sought. By
all rights they looked the part of merely a hunting team out scouting
the region for game. It was the cover they were using as they passed
from Isengard and headed north, the Misty Mountains towering over them
on their right as they made their way towards Moria in an attempt to
find the two companions that carried the map.
Four men accompanied Drelent, his long time
associate Gyn was egging on
a rather rough game of target practice. The older tracker was in his
late sixties and his love of ale had given him a rather rounded look
about his girth and he continually engaged those around him in amusing
small talk. His appearance however belied what Drelent considered to be
one of the sharpest wits he had met, not to mention that the old hunter
was an expert with the crossbow and always hit his target. He had not
seen another man possess such accuracy. The two had become fast
friends, accompanying one another on many hunts and excursions. He
smiled ruefully as Gyn taunted the younger hunters who were trying hit
a small target he had carved into the trunk of a tree a good hundred
yards away with throwing knives.
The younger men in his employ were new to Drelent.
Gyn had recommended
the brothers Rhyddry and Selvic. The two hailed from East Emnet, their
accents giving them easily away. It seemed the older hunter had found
them in a small town on one of his escapades and had been rather
impressed with their developing skills in tracking and hunting.
However the dark-haired youth that comprised the
fifth member of their
party was something much different. Drelent watched as he stepped up
and tossed a heavy double-bladed knife with deadly accuracy at the
tree. That one worried the tracker. His background was a mystery and he
would not speak of it. Neither Drelent nor Gyn could place his accent
and no one in the town Drelent had first met him in had even known who
he was. But the hunter had quickly discovered that the boy had a love
for killing and it did not seem to matter to him what his prey was, he
excelled at dispatching it with swiftness and precision. It was his
coldness as a killer that had convinced Drelent to seek him out for
this particular job; he had the feeling he was going to need someone
like that before this was all over.
Drelent hid a sneer as Gyn tormented the dark-haired
"You call that a hit?" The rounded older man rocked
back laughing as
Romyr turned towards him, a dark glare on his face.
"If you think you can do better old man, go right
Drelent feigned innocence as Gyn glanced back at
him, raising one eyebrow
slightly at the implied dare. Returning his gaze to the angry youth his
smiled turned feral and he answered softly, "In my sleep, young one, in
He hadn't moved from the fallen log he sat on. His
crossbow lay in his lap
notched as always, ever ready. Romyr stalked back towards the older
hunter, ready for a fight when Gyn released the catch on his weapon.
The bolt sang through the air, barely brushing the sleeve of Romyr's
tunic as it flew by, slamming itself directly into the center of the
carved out target.
Rhyddry whistled softly as he quickly ran to the
tree to inspect the
bolts placement. "Mighty pretty, Gyn," he called back as his brother
joined him snickering softly.
"Messed up that fancy blade handle of yours Romyr."
Romyr turned on his bootheels and paced to the tree
jerking his weapon
free of the wood. Gyn's bolt had in fact scraped a deep line in the
polished handle as it had buried itself in the target.
Whirling back towards the older hunter he held the
knife up and
threatened, "If you ever do that again…"
His warning was cut off as the woods around them
erupted with the
raucous calls of a hundred crows shrieking and crying at once. The
sound of their wings beating the air was like the rush of a river and
the younger hunter cringed involuntarily.
Drelent stood and moved to the center of the
campsite making himself
seen. He was fully aware that his employer often used odd means to
communicate with those in his service and he had the feeling that
Saruman was attempting to contact them.
A large crow dove through the canopy of the trees
and swept the camp,
espying it. He turned for another pass and lighted down on the rock
that Drelent had occupied moments ago. The flock of birds circled just
feet over their heads watching intently.
Out of the corner of his eye Drelent saw Romyr heft
his knife, flipping
the blade casually in his hand to a better throwing position, his
sights on the bird that had entered the camp.
Preventing the young man from following through, the
towards him and motioned with his hand palm out, "Stop! Don't. I want
to know what it has to say."
Selvic traded confused glances with his brother.
Drelent heard the
young tracker question him, "See what it has to say? It's a crow,
The hunter chose to ignore his men and concentrated
on the bird that
hopped closer to him. When the creature saw that it had the man's
attention, it repeated in croaking, harsh words the message Saruman had
Upon completion of its speech, it vaulted skyward
and swept back towards
the south heading away from the woods with the cloud of birds that
The occupants of the camp sat in silence after the
crows had left, no
one daring to speak. What they had just witnessed was not something
common but rather an act of magic and they were unsure of how to
proceed. The snap and crackle of the fire dominated the night sounds
and after a few moments the soft singing of the nocturnal insects took
up once more.
"That was a crow," Selvic repeated himself quietly
Drelent nodded his head. "Did you hear what it said?
The man and the
elf are heading our way. They have escaped Moria and Paxcyn's lost
them." He sighed heavily as the implications weighed on him. He cast a
dark glance at Gyn. The older tracker simply looked to the forest floor.
"Paxcyn's a good tracker, Drelent." Gyn didn't like
what his friend was
"So what is the problem?" Romyr seated himself on
the ground near Gyn
and gazed up at the older man.
"The problem is, young hunter, that our employer has
ordered us to take
care of Paxcyn if he couldn't come through."
"And he hasn't," Drelent finished Gyn's unspoken
thoughts. "Damn I wish
"Again I ask you, what is the problem?" Romyr
glanced at Drelent.
"We have to get rid of Paxcyn in order to take over
job. He will never
stand down and let us have at it. He will do all he can to thwart us
and he will blow our cover. We need to gain that elf and human's
confidence and we can't risk him ruining that. Saruman won't tolerate
is a problem?"
"You are a cold-hearted one aren't you?" Gyn glared
at the dark-haired
youth. Shaking his head he eased up onto his feet slowly and walked
around the fire away from Romyr, seating himself next to Drelent.
"Well, I can't do it." Drelent sighed. "I've known
the man too long."
why you hired me," Romyr spoke softly. "I know him not and I
do not care about him. I will take him out. Tell me what he looks like."
Gyn turned towards his friend, the worry evident in
the furtive glance.
Drelent nodded slowly. The young hunter was right, this was exactly why
he had hired him. "Fine. Then you'll have to take him out quickly and I
want it to be merciful. Do you understand me?"
Romyr simply nodded his head, a small smile creeping
onto his face.
"Now, they have a head start on us. Saruman said our
destination lay in
the fiery plains below the peak of Methedras. We need to move out now.
They'll be there a day or two ahead of us even if we leave right now."
"It's late, Drelent." Gyn observed.
"Very well, everyone catch an hour or two of sleep.
We'll head out
before dawn. I have no intentions of disappointing Saruman. We get our
hands on that map or the seeing stone, whichever we can. He'd like both
but if we can get the stone, I think we'll be alright." He glanced
around the somber ring of men. "Everybody agreed?"
"When we have the information that we need from the
elf and his friend
we'll kill them," Drelent nodded his head at Romyr who smiled even
broader, "that will be the job of you three. And then we'll retrieve
the items. Until that time we are gamers out on a long hunt. You will
civil," his gaze lighted on Romyr, "And you will be polite."
Again he waited until every head nodded in
compliance. "Good, then
either I or Gyn will do the talking. Now all of you bed down and rest.
I'll wake you before dawn."
Drelent watched as the men turned in for the night.
He remained seated
on the rock long into the late watches, his eyes focused on the fire,
his thoughts far flung to the task that awaited him. The world was no
longer the safe place he once knew it as, no one could be trusted these
days. Glancing down at Gyn he smiled as the man snored deep in slumber.
Well, perhaps some he told himself. Within moments the heaviness of
their job flooded back in and he sighed, kicking a log back into the
fire that had shifted out of the ring of rocks as the wood burned down.
Dawn was not far off. Closing his eyes for a moment he allowed himself