Legolas simply nodded as the creature stepped out into the light of the
moon. The huge predator stalked slowly forward, the hair on the back of
its neck standing on end, edged silver in the moonlight. It bared its
fangs, revealing a mouth full of sharp pointed teeth, its growl low and
deep in its chest rumbled menacingly in the still night air.
Legolas crouched down, reaching for a thick branch from the woodpile,
his movements slow and measured as the taerg bared its long fangs and
unsheathed claws the length of the elf’s fingers. The beast hissed at
the being before it and its thin whip like tail thrashed the air as
Legolas stood slowly once more a piece of wood clutched tightly in his
Sircyn could contain his fear no longer and turned and ran behind the
wood shed. The taerg thinking its prey was fleeing rushed them, leaping
mid-stride and landing on the top of shed, glancing between the elf and
the slave. Sircyn fell back with a cry as Legolas taunted the predator,
jabbing the piece of wood at the creature to take its attention off of
the other slave.
Loosing a fierce roar, the taerg leapt at the elf, intending to take
down the being. But Legolas ducked under the animal’s advance, falling
to one knee and ramming the end of the wooden limb up underneath the
creature’s ribs. He half stood to his feet pressing into the animal’s
belly with his weapon and threw the taerg over his head into the wooden
fencing behind him.
"Run Sircyn!" Legolas yelled at the Haradrim who had gained his feet
and fled to the other side of the shed. He had watched the fight from
his sheltered position opposite Legolas over the small wood storage
bin. Legolas had fought these great cats before, but never unarmed.
The taerg had been dealt a serious blow and it staggered unsteadily to
its feet hissing at Legolas. Before the creature could attack again the
elf caught the large feline along side the head with the timber he
held, smashing the taerg with the wood and sending the animal crashing
heavily to the ground.
"Go!" Legolas turned and fled, pushing the young slave ahead of him
back towards the tents. All pretense at stealth was lost as the sounds
of the scuffle having attracted the attention of the guards brought the
distinct shouts and cries of the overseers, the light from their
torches weaving through the night towards the two slaves location.
The large cat behind them crept unsteadily away, its prey forgotten,
its only wish to escape.
The Haradrim guards skidded to a stop near the wood shed. The door to
the small covered enclosure was open and one of the men spotted the
faint black outline of a large cat limping slowly off out onto the
fields retreating from the compound. Further investigation was
unwarranted as the guards mistakenly assumed that a small animal must
have taken shelter in the shed and the taerg had followed it. Talft
stepped up and kicked a loose piece of wood back into the dark
interior. Closing the door he locked it and looked back for the feline,
the taerg had disappeared into the night.
With the attention off themselves and the guards congregated near the
woodpile, the elf and the Haradrim blended once more into the shadows
and quickly reached the tents with no further delays.
Sircyn stumbled into the tent first, tumbling onto the floor near
Mambre as Legolas backed in slowly, listening and watching to see if
their flight had been discovered.
He turned as Sircyn fished the small bag of herbal roots from his vest
and handed them over to Mambre. Without another word she and the other
females removed themselves from the fire and moved to the back of the
tent to begin crushing the roots into powder for the following day.
Dropping the tent flap quietly down Legolas left the doorway and
stalked back to where Sircyn was recounting the taerg attack for his
father. The elf sat down wearily on the mat next to Aragorn and gently
touched his friend. The ranger had fallen back asleep, his chest rising
and falling slowly with the depth of his rest. Wayward strands of the
human’s dark hair covered his eyes and the elf carefully brushed the
hair back, laying his hand gently on the man’s head. "Sleep Estel,
tomorrow will be a long hard day I think." He spoke softly in Elvish.
As if knowing his words Cabed glanced up, "He fell to sleep after you
had left. We let him rest. Tomorrow we will all need to be rested, it
is a big day."
Legolas nodded slowly, glancing to the far side of the tent where the
women were preparing the drug. He only hoped they had enough of the
thick nodular roots to cover all of Rhuddryn’s guards. Sircyn had been
very sure, reassuring the elf that it took very little of the potent
herb to drug a full grown human. Tomorrow would tell them.
With a deep sigh Legolas laid down next to Aragorn. Tomorrow would
bring them one day closer to going home.
Aragorn sat quietly in the predawn, listening to the muted sounds of
the bugs that buzzed and chirped outside the tent. Even the Olybryn had
yet to waken.
Glancing down at the form of the elf asleep next to him, he smiled
softly. There was so much on his mind, so many thoughts and memories.
All of his anxieties were coupled with the day that faced them. Today
they would take the guards out and secure the house after Rhuddryn
left. Once that was done they would be able to procure weapons and then
go after Seobryn and stop the crossbreeding that he was performing to
create this new army that had been ordered by... by whom? The mystery
behind the question still bothered him, but he let it go for the
present. Today had enough troubles of its own and he wanted to make
sure that that trouble was visited on the guards only and not on the
It would be tricky. Nenil, one of the household servants would tend to
the wine vats kept in the cellar by Rhuddryn. If all had gone as
planned the serving staff already had the nandani drug in their
possession; Sircyn should have taken it to them during the night while
Aragorn slept. If the guards stayed true to their routines, as the
Haradrim were adamant that they would, then by midday they would be lax
and Rhuddryn’s main sentries that watched the house would begin to help
themselves to their master’s draughts. Then came the tricky part,
drugging the rest of the guards in the fields and the groves without
anyone catching on. But then what if...
"We have been over it many times. It will all work out well." Legolas’
soft voice interrupted the ranger’s thoughts and he glanced quickly
down at his friend.
The surprise of being caught in the act of worrying shown easily in the
young man’s eyes and the elf smiled as his friend quirked a questioning
eyebrow, the lopsided smile that crossed his face caused the prince to
"Yes my friend, you are that easy to read." Legolas sat up and smoothed
the hair out of his eyes, "I know you too well. You worry that
something will happen to these people and it will be somehow your fault
for suggesting they could be free."
"Am I truly that easy to
The elf snickered lightly, "Yes you are. And I have been in your
company long enough to know how you think." He laid his hand gently on
the human’s shoulder and easily changed the subject, "How feel you this
"Well enough." Aragorn moved closer to the elf and lowered his voice so
as not to wake anyone else. He switched effortlessly into the Elvish
tongue and continued speaking. "I slept hard, I did not hear you
return. In fact I had not realized that I had fallen sleep. I take it
all went well last night."
"We retrieved the nandani, and then Mambre and the women crushed it
into fine powder. All is ready. It will be well. Trust me." Legolas
gave the ranger a gentle shake.
"As always, my friend." Aragorn whispered back.
"What are you whispering about?" Sircyn’s quiet voice broke into their
"Why are you awake?" Aragorn questioned.
"It is time to be awake." The answer came back through the inky
Legolas laughed, "So it is. Then let us begin the day." He smiled at
the ranger and stood nimbly to his feet. His eyes, easily adjusted to
the morning gloom, allowed him to step lightly over the still sleeping
slaves to the fire ring.
Kneeling next to the well-used pit in the center of the tent he quickly
started a fire with the smoldering coals in the bed of the ring.
Turning a brilliant smile on the ranger he nodded as the room lit with
the warm glow of fire, their day had begun.
When the slaves had all been assembled in the court yard for their
morning assignments the guards, instead of issuing the daily orders,
fell into rank as Rhuddryn rode past his household staff seated on the
back of one of the large male oliphaunts. Aragorn recognized the
creature as the one who had a habit of following him around and
demanding the Olybryn’s undivided attention; the large cantankerous one
who let no one else tend him. The ranger barely held out his hand when
the mûmakil reached out for him with its trunk as it passed by
his station. The soft touch of the animal caused him to smile and he
glanced up quickly at the intelligent dark eye that watched him. Talft,
at the end of the line of slaves to Aragorn’s right, cleared his throat
and the man swiftly dropped his hand to his side and returned his gaze
to the ground.
Rhuddryn stopped his mount and addressed his guards, explaining that he
would be gone for the next three days, attending the local yearly
festival and auction. He admonished his slaves to behave and with a
hearty farewell he urged the oliphaunt forward. The mûmakil
lumbered off, a trail of servants and guards following in its wake,
chosen by the master to attend him on his journey.
When the train of people has passed out of sight the guards quickly
sent the slaves off to their posts, roughing up those that did not move
as fast as they wanted them to.
Aragorn shot Legolas a sidelong glance out of the corner of his eye as
Lur walked by them and cuffed the elf alongside the head, demanding
that he pick up his pace.
The slaves for their part were more docile than usual but the festive
air that colored the guard’s perception of the three-day holiday from
their employer made them oblivious to the changes in those under them.
Talft and Lur were especially jovial and overt in their actions. As the
Olybryn reached the mûmakil fields Talft hooked his arm around
Syna’s waist and pulled the young slave from the file of people passing
through to the meadow beyond. Sircyn bristled and stopped mid-step,
trying to move around the slaves and get back to his sister’s side.
Seeing the Haradrim’s intentions Legolas grabbed the young man and
whispered fiercely in his ear, "Do not follow your anger. It will not
serve you here. Wait." The elf nodded his head in Aragorn’s direction.
The ranger had quickly backtracked his steps and headed towards the two
guards and the female slave they had trapped. He feigned clumsiness as
he swiftly picked up a bucket filled with brackish water from yesterday
and stumbled in the direction of the small scuffle that had ensued.
Syna was desperately trying to get away from the sentries, who were
enjoying the challenge of keeping hold of the young girl.
"Syna can you help me?" Aragorn questioned as he walked towards them.
He pretended to stumble, loosing his balance and tipping the bucket of
water so that it splashed into Lur’s face causing the guard to lose his
grip on Syna.
Wrenching away from Talft the young Haradrim ran through the gates and
into her father’s arms, watching in fear as Lur disgustedly brushed
"What is wrong with you Adrar?" Lur forcefully shoved the northerner
away. Aragorn stumbled slightly but kept his balance, trying to keep up
the act without giving away that he still was not the idiot they
thought he was.
"I only needed help with the water bucket. I’m sorry, I forgot..." His
apology was interrupted as Talft walked to his side and cuffed him
roughly across the back of the head, forcefully shoving him through the
gate and giving a swift kick that caught the young ranger in the
"Next time you pay better attention or we’ll have to teach you not to
interrupt us when we are having a conversation with someone else." The
guard slammed the gate shut, causing the animals to jump and shy away.
Aragorn had been unable to stop himself from collapsing in the field
and he lay for a moment on the ground, catching his breath.
A gentle hand was laid on his back as Legolas crouched next to him.
"I’m alright." The ranger sat slowly up, helped by the elf.
"That was foolish."
"But it worked." The human smiled up at the elf. He knew, or at least
had hoped, that he could get away with that because they thought he was
a simpleton, whereas anyone else would have probably ended up with a
much more severe beating. "Besides," He whispered in Elvish as Legolas
helped him to his feet, "That is the last time he will ever do that to
"Let us hope." The prince shook his head; his own smile uncontainable
as he walked out towards the animals that waited them. "For now though,
we tend the oliphaunts."
The day passed like any normal day. The only difference was the
waiting. At midday there had still been no word from the house staff
and Aragorn was beginning to worry. Talft and Lur were unusually lax in
their overseeing of the Olybryn and the slaves for the most part were
left to themselves.
"Something has gone wrong." Aragorn whispered to Legolas as he smoothed
ointment around the eye of the large mûmakil he was attending. He
passed the small vial of thick balm to the elf.
Legolas glanced up at the ranger; his thoughts lay along much the same
path. He feared the slaves that worked in the house might have been
discovered. Hiding their conversation in his work, the elf knelt and
rubbed the balm into a scratch on the oliphaunt’s leg next to him
before glancing back up. Instead of answering the human, motion on the
shaded path behind Talft and Lur caught Legolas’ attention and he
touched his friend, gently redirecting the ranger’s worried glance.
Nenil’s sister, Tali walked up the garden path a flask of wine held in
"I think all is well." Legolas whispered softly.
Aragorn stooped quickly and retrieved a small stone from the ground. He
threw the flat rock so that it smacked Sircyn in the back, garnering
the slave’s attention. With a nod towards the guards, Aragorn silently
informed the Haradrim that it had begun.
Tali glanced quickly at the Olybryn before coyly approaching the
guards. "I have brought you some wine from the master’s cellar. A
gift," she spoke softly, her words musical as she taunted the two
guards with the soft smile she laid on them, "a gift from Alkyn."
Alkyn was the head sentry that oversaw the comings and goings in the
house and it was a cue for the Olybryn that things were indeed moving
along as planned.
"And did he send you to us as well?" Lur questioned, his eyes
everywhere but on the flask that the female slave carried.
She stepped easily out of their reach as Talft relieved her of the wine
and smiled sweetly, "No. Alkyn said to tell you that I am his tonight
and that you had best not keep me."
The Haradrim guards smiled wickedly at Tali, "Saves the best for
himself does he?" Talft joked coarsely, "Then be off with you or he
won't have you at all." The guard uncorked the flask and took a long
drink, passing it to Lur who was still watching the female slave as she
walked away. Talft shoved the other guard teasingly holding the flagon
up in front of his friend’s face and blocking his view. "Here drown
those thoughts before you get us into trouble."
Aragorn deftly moved the mûmakil he was working with closer to
the fence, gently pushing his body weight against the animals side
until he was as close to the guards as he could possibly be with out
seeming obvious. Legolas watched the ranger carefully, making sure he
had a good view of his friend and the two Haradrim overseers.
Talft and Lur were so busy toasting each other and the three days ahead
of them that they failed to notice when every Olybryn stopped to watch
them drink the drugged wine.
Aragorn glanced back at the slaves, seeing they were all watching the
guards and fearing the unusual attention would give them away he kicked
a dirt clod in the direction of Sircyn and mouthed the word ‘work’ at
the Haradrim. Realizing what they were doing, the young slave cleared
his throat, catching the attention of the others and motioned for
everyone to continue as if nothing were amiss.
By the time the two guards had drained the wine container Aragorn was
sure they were in trouble. Both were still busy recounting past
holidays and the conquests and fun they had had at the slave’s expense.
The ranger sighed in frustration and glanced at Legolas turning his
palms up in question, but the elf only shrugged his shoulders.
Passing near Sircyn, Aragorn whispered fiercely, "I thought you said
that drug would work."
"Nandani is slow acting but they will be out for a long time when it
"If it hits them." The northerner muttered darkly as he walked back to
the feeding trough a bucket of fruits in his hands.
Sircyn slowly stopped his work, his eyes locked on guards. Talft yawned
and stretched his legs out from the bench he was seated on. He slouched
down on the wooden seat and laced his fingers behind his head. Lur
slipped off the low resting-place and leaned his head back against the
base of the bench with a soft sigh. In moments they were both asleep.
Silence fell on the small group of slaves as they watched intently,
hoping that the guards were not merely napping and that the drugs in
the wine had indeed done their job. Breaking the stillness Aragorn
opened the gate and walked quietly to the shaded watch post. Legolas
leapt nimbly over the fence and followed his friend. He could see the
steady, even rise and fall of the men’s chests as they breathed.
Cautiously Strider reached out to touch Talft. The guard fell limply
over onto the seat when the ranger pushed him gently.
A cheer rose behind them from the slaves and Aragorn spun and quickly
shushed them. "The other guards in the groves may not yet be drugged.
We do not need to tip them off. Sircyn, you and Timbrel go check on the
slaves in the groves and in the house. If all is well and the guards
have all been taken out then instruct the workers to bring them to the
punishment hut. We will contain them there. Go! Quickly and bring back
word." He called after the two young Haradrim as they ran beneath the
trees, Sircyn heading for the house and Timbrel veering off making for
the manga groves to the south of the mansion.
Legolas turned Talft over and stripped the guard of his weapons. Laying
the large hunting bow and quiver aside the elf tossed the Haradrim’s
knife, sheath and all, to Aragorn who quickly buckled the blade about
Disarming Lur next and passing the weapons to Cabed, Legolas pulled the
empty flask from the guards fingers and broke the gourd open, burying
the pieces of the broken flagon in the ground as instructed by the
older Haradrim. The flask could never be used again because traces of
the nandani would always be in the flesh of the gourd itself.
Aragorn talked quietly with Mambre, asking the women to finish caring
for the mûmaskil while they rounded up the drugged guards. It
would be safer for them here and not all the animals had been seen to
Sircyn came running back down the path from the house. He skidded to a
stop near where Talft had left the cart that they had followed out to
the fields that morning. Easing the large bulls back into the heavy
wooden yoke he steered the animals closer to the pasture fence. When he
reached Legolas and Aragorn he was still trying to catch his breath but
the smile on his face gave away his report.
"It went well?" Aragorn asked as he and Legolas picked up Lur’s limp
body between the two of them and tossed the man onto the back of the
"Very well indeed." Sircyn answered as he and Cabed eased Talft onto
the wagon next to the other. "Timbrel said to tell you he went with the
manga workers to take their guards to the hut. He will meet us there."
The Haradrim quickly strapped on the scabbard that his father passed
him and leapt onto the wagon to make sure that the guards did not fall
off on their way back to the house.
When they reached the punishment hut they were met by a number of
nervous but excited slaves. Legolas and Aragorn drug their former
overseers into the low building and bound the men with rope that Nenil
had procured from the main house.
With more gentleness than he felt towards the Haradrim, Aragorn leaned
Talft in a corner of the building, his hands tied behind his back.
"When will they wake?" He asked Nenil without turning around, helping
Legolas to lay Lur on the ground near Talft.
"At least they will have each other to talk to when they wake." The elf
teased. He did not like the guards, nor their attitudes towards the
slaves and it pleased him slightly to see them bound in their own
building where they dealt out such cruel punishment as they had to him.
Aragorn laughed lightly before looking over his shoulder to where Nenil
was helping to bind the last of the household sentries. "The guards are
not likely to wake until well into tomorrow if I got the dosage
correct." The small Haradrim answered absently, quietly directing the
others as they finished their tasks.
"If?!?" Aragorn turned fully towards the shorter slave and questioned
Realizing what he had said Nenil raised his hands in a placating
motion, "No, no I got it right. I am sure." The dark skinned man
repeated himself. "Yes. I am sure. It is right."
Legolas exchanged a questioning glance with Aragorn before smiling
ruefully. They both hoped the small slave was correct.
Leaving the older men to stand watch over the guards, the ranger took
Nenil aside and spoke with him quietly, "Nenil, did your master have an
"I do not know." The Haradrim answered softly. "I was part of the
kitchen staff only. It was just recently that the master even let me
down into the cellar you see. I never saw any other parts of the house."
Legolas noted the quiet conversation and stepped nearer Aragorn; "You
look for the armory?" He unconsciously switched to elven to disguise
"You know where it is? You have seen it?"
With a nod the elf stepped over the sleeping bodies of the guards and
led the ranger into the house. Slaves came and went through the large
doors, some going about their everyday chores others preparing beds and
dispersing sheets and pillows, blankets and coverings that the slaves
had not had the privilege of using in years. Clothing was passed out to
those who needed it and soon the closets were empty of all save the
shelving units that were once full.
"The armory is back here," Legolas glanced over his shoulder at the
ranger and the young Haradrim that were following them, easing his way
past a group of women who were walking in the opposite direction,
bedding piled high in their arms, "It is behind his study. I was able
to see it once. Rhuddryn was found of bragging and Seobryn had goaded
him into letting him see it. I was there that day with them."
The elf easily pushed the door open and stood aside. Normally the room
would have been guarded so there was no need to keep it locked, but
with the sentries all subdued the house was wide open to the wishes of
Aragorn brushed past Legolas and quickly began handing out bows and
quivers to the Haradrim that had followed them in. Once the others had
been outfitted with weapons, he chose a sword of good weight for
himself and strapped the weapon to his side before selecting his own
bow. Legolas had taken down one of the large recurve hunting bows that
the guards normally used out on the fields to combat the growing Taerg
problems. He ran his hand up the spine of the weapon, feeling its
weight and checking its craftsmanship. Stepping into the curve of the
bow he bent the top down towards the floor and expertly strung it,
testing the tension before slinging it over his back.
"I wish I had my own." He murmured softly.
The northerner watched him quietly before speaking; "We’ll find it.
Knowing Talft and Lur they have it hidden out in their things."
"And what will we do with the guards Aragorn? What happens when they
wake?" Legolas turned a worried look on the human that stood behind him.
"They can choose. They can leave of their own free will or they can
leave under duress. I do not think that they will have the courage to
stand up to the slaves now that they have been disarmed and the very
ones they have tormented stand in their places. The slaves outnumber
them dozens to one, now that they are armed and roused, it would be no
contest, and surely they will see that. If they are truly cowards like
their actions show, then we will have no troubles. If they choose to
fight it, they will either be driven out or..." He stopped and
considered his words carefully, "or they will die. It’s a simple
choice." He met the serious eyes of the elf with his own gaze.
"It may not be so easy." Legolas cautioned.
"I know but we will deal with that after tomorrow."
"And what of the master?" a soft thickly accented voice interrupted
their conversation, "What will we do about him? He returns the day
after tomorrow and he may not be so willing as the guards to let this
Aragorn glanced at Legolas; the elf shook his head slightly. They
didn’t have answers yet. The future was mapped with possible
difficulties, but the only way over them was to take them head on. They
had made the first step; there was no turning back now. "We’ll deal
with that when the time comes also. One step at a time Cabed." The
ranger smiled at the older Haradrim.
"No matter what, he will be made to see that he can stay and work with
you or he can leave and find a new place elsewhere. This is your land
now. It has always been your land." Legolas spoke quietly.
Cabed tipped his head slightly and gazed up at the tall elf, "And you
think it will be that easy? Rhuddryn is a powerful man with many
connections. We could have serious trouble."
With a slight nod, Legolas replied, "Yes it will be that easy. Aragorn
will convince him."
Aragorn shot the elf a quizzical look, "Oh I will, will I?"
"Yes you will." The elf smiled conspiratorially at the human. "After
tomorrow morning we will have what he wants most. From the letters we
both have seen, Rhuddryn’s benefactor will not tolerate his failure
with the crossbreeding project. He will have the choice; he can leave
and we will report his demise and the collapse of the project or he can
stay and face the wrath of this one who has threatened him already if
he does not come through. He will not want to stay on once he finds out
what we have done and you my friend have your memory back and can
implicate him in the murder of Laener. That alone will earn him a death
mark in the northern places. He will leave of his own free will and he
can start a new life, elsewhere." Legolas turned to Cabed and smiled
gently, "It will be fine."
Clasping his friend’s shoulder Aragorn steered them out of the small,
now empty room. "Let's go discuss Seobryn’s encampment and get some
rest. We’ll head out well before dawn. I want to catch him unaware."