Aragorn gently jostled his shoulder, the slight
movement meant to
alert the elf that was sleeping with his head resting against the human
for what slight comfort he could find. But it was unnecessary, Legolas
was already fully awake, watching their guards, his keen eyes alert for
chances to escape.
Paxcyn and his men entered the main hall. His lips
pulled back in
disgust as he walked through the refuse that littered the old marble
floor, leftovers attesting to the orc's makeshift camp.
As he approached the two prisoners, the dark
creatures that had kept
watch over them all night pressed out of the way, melting in with the
shadows that still marked the hall in the faint pre-dawn.
"Get up." Paxcyn kicked Aragorn's boot and stepped
back as the ranger
and the elf slowly made their way out from under the edge of the huge
stone table. "I see you made it through the night in one piece." He
glanced back at the orcs that shifted curiously in the wings of the
Legolas grabbed Aragorn's arm and helped the man to
his feet as their
guard moved away from the table. Neither one of them answered their
captor and he turned dull grey eyes back on his prisoners.
Motioning Dryxyn over, Paxcyn brushed past Aragorn,
laying his crossbow
on the table and spreading the map out once more on the top of the
stone behind them.
Dryxyn cautiously stepped forward and pulled a long,
from the sheath at his waist. Approaching Aragorn, he slowly moved the
blade in a clockwise circle indicating he wanted the man to turn
around. With a quick glance at Legolas, the ranger obeyed.
Blood rushed into his fingertips as the small man
cut the bonds from his
wrists, letting the ropes fall to the floor. Aragorn quickly stepped
away from Dryxyn, massaging his aching fingers and hands.
"Now him." The ranger motioned with his head to the
elf who stood bound
next to him.
"I don't think so," Paxcyn spoke calmly, not looking
back at the two,
his eyes intently roving the yellowed paper in front of him.
"You can't mean to keep him bound up the entire
time?" Aragorn felt his
"I can and I do." The older man finally turned and
stared at the
ranger. "You I can control easily." He glanced at the elf and looked
him over, "Him, not so much. And I don't trust him." Paxcyn leaned
against the table, half-sitting on the edge of it. "Besides you're only
getting a reprieve. When we move out you'll be bound just the same as
he is. I just want your hands in front of you so I don't have to watch
you every step of the way. You understand?"
Legolas glared at the man. Aragorn simply nodded
"Good." Paxcyn took a deep breath, the scowl
vanishing from his face,
"'Cause we need to talk. I want to know everything you know about this
Aragorn looked at Legolas in confusion, but the elf
was frowning as
well. "Everything we know?"
he questioned their captor.
"Do I need to repeat myself?"
Aragorn shrugged and answered, "We know nothing of
this place. I have
never heard that anywhere like this existed."
"And the markings on the building are not elvish if
that is what you
are thinking." Legolas added quietly.
"Damn, that's what I was afraid of." Paxcyn swore
"Why?" Aragorn tipped his head slightly, eyeing the
"What have you heard?"
Paxcyn stared at the ranger for a few moments,
obviously weighing the
need to even explain himself to his prisoners; in the end his desire
for more knowledge of the area won out and he told them what he knew,
hoping it would trigger something and they would remember more. He had
a feeling they would need all the information they could gather.
"Alright, this is what my employer told me," he
began to give an
account of what he had been told but Aragorn interrupted him.
"Who is your employer?"
The man scowled at the ranger, "Do you want to hear
what I know about
this place or shall we just go off down another tunnel where the floor
might drop out on you again?"
"It is well. We would hear what you have to say."
Legolas touched his
friend's arm with his fingertips, silencing the young human.
"Alright then," the frown slowly melted from the
man's face as he
recalled the conversation he had had with Saruman. The wizard had
seemed forthright, but Paxcyn was still uneasy about being in the
ancient building. "From what I was told this used to be some sort of a
place of wisdom and knowledge."
Paxcyn stopped speaking and glared at the orcs, they
amongst themselves while the man was distracted. When they noted his
attention they quieted, several of them crouching down, waiting the
"Anyway," Paxcyn pushed off from the table and
rounded the ancient
stone top. He walked to the far side and leaned down upon it, resting
his head in his hands and staring at the map as he spoke. He had no
qualms about the position his prisoners were in and trusted his men to
keep their eyes on them. "There was some catastrophe that brought the
Paxcyn glanced around them at the dilapidated stone
some of the things kept in here were never removed. I don't know why.
And my employer has a special interest in the one spoken of on this
map." He flicked a corner of the torn paper in front of him. "This
thing is the last link to prove the existence of this place."
Legolas spoke up, "If it is as you say, and this was
such a place, then
I fear we tread where even the Valar would not dare to go. Places of
such knowledge are most often guarded by ancient powers that are best
not woken. There are reasons why those who have gone before you have
not been successful in retrieving what you seek. We dare not hunt for
this. We would do well to leave this place." He turned huge blue eyes
on Aragorn, imploring the human to believe him.
The ranger started to speak, but was cut off as
Paxcyn stood, shaking
his head; a look of disgust distorted his weathered features.
"Right." Paxcyn spat at the elf, rolling his eyes.
"Elves and their
damned horror stories, just tales to scare people off, if you ask me."
He motioned Vaeric forward. "If you can't tell me anything more helpful
than that then I think it's we best go exploring. Time is short
gentlemen, bind the ranger."
"Dryxyn, get the orcs on their feet. We're going
in," he called to his
Vaeric approached Aragorn with a length of rope. The
automatically stepped away from the man.
Paxcyn cleared his throat and tapped his crossbow
down on the tabletop.
Aragorn glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes and the man picked
the weapon up aiming it at the elf, quirking an eyebrow up as he
silently questioned Strider. The ranger stopped moving and raised his
hands before him, allowing Vaeric to bind them.
They chose to try entering the locked chamber using
a different route,
since the passage to the right had led to the dead end and there was
obviously no way anyone wanted to try a repeat of the previous day. Two
halls led from the main room that the men were assembled in and Paxcyn
led them down the passage that fell away towards the left.
Unlike the tunnel they had been in yesterday, this
one was dank and
smelled of mold. The eerie dripping of unseen water echoed off the
cold, dark walls. The floor beneath their feet was roughly hewn stone
and in places the rock itself had buckled, causing irregular breaks in
the flooring that tripped up the company. The passageway sloped gently
downward at first, dropping into a steep shaft. Into the floor of the
shaft shallow steps had been carved. The rock was deteriorating and the
steps crumbled as the company picked their way carefully down.
Legolas was sure-footed in the darkness and Paxcyn
shoved him out
front, following him with a sputtering torch; the pool of light from
the fire barely reached the steps that dropped away ahead of the elf.
No one spoke as they descended and the shuffling,
murmur of the orcs in
their midst echoed oddly off the broken walls of the passage.
Legolas' eyes were huge in the near pitch black of
the hall and he
swallowed hard against the fear and the dread that caught at him. This
was no ordinary darkness. A flicker of evil touched his mind and he
paused mid-step, catching his breath.
"What is it?" Paxcyn whispered, the sound of his
voice loud in the
"I do not know." Legolas glanced around them trying
to find the source
of the growing dread. "We should leave."
"Get moving," the man growled, giving the elf a hard
Unbalanced by the push, Legolas fell back a step.
The old stone under
his feet gave way and he lost his footing, tumbling down into the
darkness. There was nothing he could catch hold of with his hands bound
like they were and nothing to stop his fall.
"Legolas!" Aragorn shoved Vaeric out of the way and
passed by Paxcyn,
who raised his torch higher and slowly followed the two. The ranger
heard the sound of his friend's body as it hit the base of the stairs
some distance down. The darkness wrapped about the human, thick like a
living thing, slowing his progress to the bottom.
Vaeric rushed forward to stop the ranger, but was
halted by Paxcyn who
pressed his arm out to the side holding the man back. "Let them go
first. If there is anything down there, let them find it before it
"Legolas?" Aragorn reached the last step and
gingerly stepped down. A
moan to his left alerted him to the elf's position and he knelt near
the prince in the darkness. "Don't move. Are you all right?"
The sounds of the elf's quick, frightened breaths
echoed off the walls
and slender fingers grabbed the front of the ranger's shirt urgently.
"I am fine," Legolas answered, pulling the human down close and
speaking softly to him. "Something wakens, Aragorn, I can feel it. We
need to find a way out of here."
Before the human could question the elf further, the
soft light of the
torch touched the two and Aragorn could make out his friend in the dim
lighting. A cut marred the fair being's forehead and his leggings were
torn at the knees where he had taken the brunt of the fall. The
prince's wrists ached terribly from trying unsuccessfully to stop
himself; he feared they had been sprained by his attempts to slow his
sudden descent. Being numb and bound as tightly as they were hadn't
helped matters at all.
Aragorn drew his breath in with a soft hiss as he
Legolas' hair away from the cut on his head. "Is anything broken?"
"I think not." Legolas tried to stand, but Aragorn
pressed him down.
"Just wait until they reach the bottom. Rest for a
moment while you
can." Aragorn glanced back up as Paxcyn descended the steps, followed
by his men and the orcs. The dark creatures shifted nervously, their
eyes darting far ahead, piercing the darkened passage.
"They feel it as I do." Legolas noted their
uneasiness as he sat up
slowly, finally having caught his breath.
"Can you walk?" Paxcyn towered over the two
prisoners, glaring down at
Legolas nodded once and stood stiffly to his feet
with help from
"Good. Then get going." Their captor motioned up the
dark tunnel with
Aragorn started into the passageway but was quickly
pulled back by his
friend. "No wait!" The elf was scanning the floor of the hall.
"What?" Paxcyn frowned at the prince. "You said you
Vaeric moved forward, "I'll get him going," he
growled as Legolas knelt
back down to the ground and carefully ran his fingers around the edges
of the tiles paving the walkway.
"These are the same stones that lined the passage
glanced cautiously up the hall. Turning to Paxcyn he asked the man,
"Lower the torch you hold."
Paxcyn obliged the elf. Vaeric had stopped, watching
as Aragorn knelt
beside the prince to get a better look.
The firelight jumped and danced across the stone
strange angled shadows about them. Throughout the hall, several tiles
seemed covered in shadow, depressed into the floor a bit more than the
others around them.
"Do you see it?" Legolas pointed them out to
Aragorn. "They are
different." He ran his fingers gingerly around a tile directly in front
of them that sat a fraction of an inch lower than the ones that
"I see." Aragorn reached out his palms and laid them
flat against the
stone intending to press it down and find out what they were dealing
with, but Legolas grabbed him, jerking him back.
"No!" The elf whispered fiercely, "Look at the
walls." Legolas regained
his feet once more, suppressing the moan that the ache in his knees
gave him. Cautiously stepping a few feet into the hallway, careful to
avoid the odd tiles, he approached the left wall. Holes more than an
inch wide decorated the long passageway at random heights and intervals.
Without being asked, Paxcyn stepped carefully near
the elf, making sure
his feet only touched where the prince's had. He raised the torch to
the height of the hole as they both tried to see into its depth. The
sharp glint of metal flickered in the yellow light and the elf glanced
back at the man who had drug him down here.
"The floor is a trap. We must walk only on the tiles
that are not sunk
in," Legolas informed Paxcyn.
The man nodded slowly and called back to the men and
him, telling them what they had found and to pay attention.
The walls were lined with sconces that still held
torches. As they made
their way slowly down the passage, Vaeric and Paxcyn cautiously lit
each one, shedding more light on their path and making it easier to
distinguish which tiles would trigger the trap that had been set.
A chill of darkness shot up Legolas' spine and he
stopped dead in his
tracks. A feral shadowy evil touched him, barely running its fingers
through his awareness. Something was waking, something knew that there
were intruders and the fact delighted it.
The elf swallowed hard and backed up a step. Aragorn
Legolas' reluctance to proceed and had stopped, turning back towards
his friend as Paxcyn and Vaeric came up on either side of him.
"I cannot go any further, and you cannot ask me
too." The elf glanced
back at the orcs. They sensed something too, but it was familiar to
and they advanced past the prince making their way warily into the
"Don't play these games with me, elf." Paxcyn spat
at the prince and
shoved him a step forward.
Legolas stumbled and quickly stepped back. Aragorn
walked up beside his
friend and touched the elf lightly, redirecting the prince's attention.
"What is it?"
"I do not know, but we have woken something.
Something that should not
have been roused. We must leave." Legolas' eyes were huge and
frightened in the firelight as he implored the man to listen to him.
"Look, if Legolas says it's not safe, then it isn't.
We need to leave."
Aragorn glanced back at the orcs that continued to cautiously creep
down the hallway.
Paxcyn was irritated. He wanted nothing more than to
find this stone
and leave, but a tiny voice in the back of his mind was warning him
off. As much as he had no love for elves, he had heard the tales of how
they could perceive things that humans could not. Before he could
respond, Vaeric stepped forward and smashed the wooden pommel of his
crossbow against the side of Legolas' head. The blow caused the elf to
stagger sideways and Aragorn jumped forward quickly to stop him from
over-stepping onto a depressed tile.
"Paxcyn said move, do it now!" the man growled at
the elf. He kicked
out at the prince as Legolas tried to stand up, catching the fair being
in the ribs and dropping him to the ground as the air was forced from
his lungs. "Get up, you lazy elf!"
Paxcyn himself walked down the corridor, the orcs
had gone so far down
the hallway that he could not see them in the dark. "Be careful damn
it! All I need is you to step on a trigger stone and set this whole
thing off." He peered into the darkness not caring if Vaeric killed the
prisoners or even the possibility of the orcs getting themselves
killed. He didn't want one of the oafs setting off the trap they were
all precariously standing on, however.
"Stop it!" Aragorn rushed Vaeric as the man turned
to kick the downed
elf again. The ranger brought his hands down hard between the man's
shoulders, stunning him and stopping him from attacking the prince.
Vaeric turned on the ranger with barely concealed
anger. He quickly
drew a blade from his belt and approached Aragorn who was trying to
step away from the angry man without touching down on one of the wrong
The knife sliced through the air near Aragorn's face
as he ducked the
blow, spinning quickly out of the way and dancing lightly over a
depressed tile, barely missing stepping down on it.
Paxcyn turned and walked back towards the scuffle.
Dryxyn was watching
in muted surprise from the back of the hall.
But the man paid his captain no heed and rushed
after the ranger.
Aragorn sidestepped another arcing swing as Vaeric
caught up with him.
He slammed his fists into the side of the man's head, stunning him and
sending him staggering sideways. Taking advantage of the surprise of
the moment he drove Vaeric against the wall, intending to knock him
out, but the man was holding his knife in a defensive position. Unable
to compensate for the driving blow of Aragorn's shoulder he slammed
into the rock wall, his hand pinned in front of him, and the blade
slipped into his abdomen. With a stifled cry he slumped to the ground
in shock, curling into himself.
"Legolas, run!" Aragorn turned back to the elf to
see his friend slowly
gain his feet once more. "GO!"
Paxcyn was running back up the passage now as
quickly as he could
without triggering the trap. "Dryxyn, stop them!"
The small man stood in front of the steps they had
descended and drew
his knife but the elf was already pelting towards him, easily avoiding
the darkened tiles on the floor. As Dryxyn brought the sword up,
Legolas kicked out at the man's midsection, felling the human with the
fierceness of his blow. He leapt over the downed guard and fled up the
Paxcyn shouted back down the hallway to the orcs and
the dark creatures
materialized out of the inky blackness they had retreated into. "Bring
them back here now!" He pointed down the way the prisoners were heading.
Aragorn was a good pace behind Legolas. It had taken
him a moment to
gain his bearings and map a safe path back to the stairway. He could
hear the orcs running down the passage behind him. A spear thrown by
one of his pursuers shot past his head, missing him by a hair's
They were gaining on him.
"Get out of the way!" he yelled at Dryxyn, motioning
with his hands for
the man to move and ready for him if he didn't.
Aragorn spied the very first tile that Legolas had
different and sped towards it, a plan forming in his mind.
Dryxyn followed the ranger's gaze and noted the
determined set of the
man's jaw as he ran back towards his position.
"Paxcyn!" the small man screamed at his boss as he
turned and raced up
the stairs away from the hall.
Somehow Paxcyn understood. He was too far away from
the steps to reach
safety. Raising his torch he saw that the tiles ended not a hundred
ahead of him and raced for the opposite end of the tunnel.
Aragorn gained the edge of the hallway and
purposefully stepped on the
depressed tile. The floor moved beneath his foot as the tile slipped
out from under him and he fell onto the stairs, barely catching himself
with his bound hands.
The orcs were not as lucky. The sing of arrows
filled the passage as
crossbows hidden in the depths of the wall aimed and cocked for just
such an occasion released their deadly volley, catching the foul beasts
in a killing cross fire.
Bolts filled the air and Aragorn glanced back as he
heard the orcs
screaming, caught between the firing weapons, their bodies littering
the hall behind him. Throwing himself forward, the ranger slipped on
the crumbling steps and staggered up the ancient stairs.
Legolas gained the upper hall and raced toward the
main chamber. He
skidded to stop on the threshold of the room, as he took in the scene
A small contingent of men filled the hall, scouring
remnants of the orcs' camp from the previous night. They stopped and
stared, surprised by the elf who stood in the passageway.
A tall, dark-haired man stepped forward and
approached the bound
prince, taking note of the elf's disheveled appearance and the ropes
that tied his hands tightly together. "Do you need assistance?" he
asked cautiously. His dark hair was shot through with streaks of grey
and his eyes were deep brown like the forest floor. A scar decorated
his thin face and he wore leather arm guards. A matching buckler
covered his chest.
Legolas quickly glanced behind him as the cries of
the orcs reached his
ears and he stepped towards the man who addressed him.
"My friend and I have been taken captive and we are
being used by a
band of men and orcs to help them hunt for things in this building.
Will you help us?" The elf did not reveal the full truth to the man,
uncertain of who these newcomers were.
The man raised one eyebrow and stepped closer to the
Unsheathing a short blade he cut the elf's bonds and glanced down the
darkened passage. "We will help you. We were just passing by and saw
the camp set up outside. We have heard tales of this region. It's not
safe to be in here."
"That we know," Legolas agreed breathlessly. He
turned swiftly as he
heard footsteps pelting up the hallway behind them. Aragorn tumbled
into the main hall, falling to his knees as he gained the safety of the
He was breathing heavily and slowly looked up as
Legolas knelt beside
him. "Strider, are you all right?" The elf squeezed his shoulder
sharply and the human glanced up and out into the room catching his
breath as he stared at the five watching him intently.
"A ranger and an elf?" the man who had freed Legolas
two. "Odd traveling companions I would think."
"Some of them..." Aragorn watched the men in front
of him, cautiously
wary of them as he tried to warn the other, "not all gone..."
"What?" Legolas glanced back down the hall and
caught sight of a black
tide rushing forward. Some of the orcs had actually survived the
onslaught of the loosened crossbows and they heedlessly followed their
prey into the main chamber, intent on recovering the two prisoners.
"Yrch!" The elf pulled the human with him, jerking them out of the path
of the creatures and pressing them against the wall beside the tunnel
opening, shielding the man with his body.
The men in the main chamber had little time to react
as the orcs
spilled out into the hall. They unslung their bows and felled the
beasts as they rushed towards them. In moments the creatures were dead.
"I thought you said there were men!" The dark-haired
man glanced at
Paxcyn stepped out of the tunnel, followed by
Dryxyn, his crossbow
strung and ready. His eyes narrowed as he saw the man who stood in the
center of the room. Angry recognition flashed through his eyes. As he
started to speak, a bowman to the left of the leader of the small
group fired a single bolt into the man's heart. Anything he would have
said was silenced as he looked in shock at the shaft that protruded
from his chest. Confusion crossed his weathered face as he locked eyes
with the dark-haired man and he shook his head not understanding the
turn of events. His body dropped to the floor, his spirit gone before
Dryxyn laid his drawn sword on the ground and
stepped away from
Paxcyn's dead form. He was quickly taken into custody and bound. Two of
the men escorted him outside.
"You didn't have to kill him." Aragorn watched the
"Was he not the one that took you prisoner?" Dark
brown eyes stared at
the silver ones.
"Well yes but..." Aragorn glanced at Paxcyn. "Did
you know him? He
acted like he recognized you."
"Recognized that he was in trouble more likely.
Never seen him before
in my life. But he did have a weapon and my men thought him a threat or
they would not have fired on him." The dark-haired man walked over and
held his knife out to Legolas, proffering him the pommel of the weapon.
"My name is Drelent. My men and I live not far from here. We were just
on our way into the woods to hunt. The storehouses are getting empty
and it looked like a good day for it when we passed by your campsite."
Legolas severed Aragorn's bonds and passed the knife
back to the man,
nodding his thanks curtly.
Aragorn hissed as the ropes fell away and he
massaged his tender
wrists. "Really? Didn't know anyone lived out this way," he pressed
"Well, the game has been poor this season near our
village so we have
been forced to go farther to seek food." He glanced around the inside
of the building, "This really isn't a safe place to be. Why don't you
come outside? We've set up our camp on the plains and you're welcome to
stay with us tonight if you like. I'd be very interested to hear how
you got into this mess." Drelent glanced at the bodies of the orcs and
the human, "And why a human was working with orcs." He kicked Paxcyn's
body, turning the dead man over onto his back.
Legolas bent down and quickly removed the map from
the man's inside
pocket. "Something that he took from me," the elf explained as he stood
and gazed back at the questioning look Drelent was giving him. He
passed the map to Aragorn who pressed it inside his tunic, following
their rescuer out of the collapsing building.