The cool of predawn darkness wrapped about the small group of beings
that quietly trekked across the oliphaunt fields.
The women, children and most of the men had been left to see to the
daily affairs of the house. Cabed and the elders had elected to take
turns standing watch over the still unconscious guards, what was to be
done with them had yet to be fully decided. When Aragorn and Legolas
had left that morning, the only ones awake had been those guarding the
Sircyn led Aragorn, Legolas, Timbrel and three of his cousins towards
the south end of the fields where Seobryn reportedly kept his secret
camp. This area of Rhuddryn’s lands dipped into the hilly places of
Harad. Gullies and valleys running with now dried up rivulets made the
companies passage more difficult and Legolas stepped closer to Sircyn,
guiding the Haradrim through the rough places that his eyes could not
A gentle touch to the elf’s shoulder stopped the prince in his tracks
and he turned to gaze into Aragorn’s dark eyes.
"Something follows us. Do you not hear it?" The ranger’s words frosted
on the cool morning air.
Glancing over the human’s shoulder, Legolas could see into the gulch
behind them. A mass of dark, slowly moving objects shuffled after them.
"It is the mûmaskil. They have followed us." He glanced at the
Olybryn about him.
"They must have scented us." Sircyn whispered.
"They will give us away." Timbrel’s worried voice came from Legolas’
"No," Aragorn glanced back at the animals; "they will cover our tracks
and our smells. The mûmaskil walk everywhere in these fields
unquestioned. No one will think twice about seeing them here. Let us
continue. They will not follow us into Seobryn’s encampment; they hate
the scent of taergs." He pressed the elf forward and followed him over
the next levy.
When they reached the lip of the ridge, Legolas stopped and dropped
down into the tall grasses, edging forward on his stomach. He turned
and glanced at the ranger as Aragorn eased up quietly next to him. The
glow from a dying fire lit the hollowed out bowl that Seobryn had
chosen to establish his compound in. The small valley was ringed on
three sides by rolling hills and eroded cliff faces, effectively
blocking in his quarry. Large cages butted up against the cliffs on one
side of the ravine. Taergs paced endlessly in small circles inside most
of them. However the two cages nearest the spies held wargs, but the
beast lay unmoving in their prison cells. Beyond these cages were even
more, built of a sturdier fashion they held an array of predatory
animals the likes of which neither the ranger nor the elf had ever
seen. Horrific creatures rattled the bars and chewed on the iron slats
of the cages, these animals were the deranged miscreations of Seobryn’s
evil attempts to create a new species. The beasts were misfits, ill
tempered and unequipped to survive on their own. Most died early in
their life spans, their bodies not capable of bearing the alterations
that had been worked on them.
"Legolas..." Aragorn whispered in horror as he viewed the compound.
"They have nearly done it."
"They have done it." The elf glanced quickly at his friend, his brow
furrowed in anger, "Once."
"How do you know this?"
"I killed it on the pasture lands. It must have escaped. It was like
nothing I have ever seen." He eased away from the edge and stared into
the dark eyes that watched him closely, "It was not like the ones down
there. It was fast, quiet and very lethal. It was capable of thought
like the wargs and it was wholly evil like them as well." He leaned
back and glimpsed the deranged animals on the far side of the
encampment; "I do not see anything like it. But if they accomplished
this once they will do it again even if that is through error."
Aragorn was nodding. This was worse than he had thought. "We need to
destroy those animals."
He leaned over and watched the large predators for a moment but the
elf’s gentle tug on his tunic brought him away from the edge. "What is
"Not the taergs." Legolas shook his head quietly.
"Why not? They kill the Olybryn, they hunt the younger mûmaskil,
they are a threat Legolas." Aragorn did not understand.
The elf pressed his face close to the ranger’s and spoke softly
slipping easily into Elvish; "They kill them because their own are
imprisoned here and they know it, but do not understand. They are not
evil Aragorn. They are frightened and they are striking back. Rhuddryn
and Seobryn hunt them. If we release them, they will return to their
own and leave this valley. There is not the water here now that there
was in the spring, which originally drew them down. They stay because
their families have been broken up and they want their own back. We let
the taergs go." The elf’s voice was decided.
Aragorn had no love for the predators, but everything he had learned
about them, had been from the Olybryn who feared the large animals.
Legolas was always right about these types of things; there was no
reason not to trust him on this as well. Finally nodding in agreement,
he edged back down on his stomach and pulled the elf with him,
indicating the thrown together buildings that sat opposite the rows of
"Very well, you release the taergs. Put the wargs down, we can't have
them escaping down here in the south, I don’t care what shape they are
in. I will take care of those abominations that Seobryn and his evil
intentions have created. When we are through with the animals, we can
take on the humans. It looks like Seobryn only has eight men. Six that
travel with him and two that must stay here full time. We can take them
easily if the animals don’t alert them to our presence. Besides even if
we fail to stop Seobryn now, we must put an end to the crossbreeding,
we can risk no more successes." He glanced sidelong at the elf to see
if the prince agreed.
Legolas wasn’t sure that leaving the men to the last would work, either
way it would be risky. "Have the Haradrim stay here until we call for
them. They are not warriors by nature Aragorn and they will only get
themselves killed if we aren’t careful."
"Good thinking." The ranger slid backwards through the tall grass and
easily leapt the short distance down the small sloping incline to where
Sircyn and the others waited for him. They stood among the
mûmakil, patting the large creatures and talking softly to them.
Legolas was correct, he smiled softly to himself, they were shepherds,
not warriors although they would have to learn now that the compound
was theirs once more.
Legolas joined him at the foot of the hill. He listened as the Haradrim
argued with the ranger, but the argument was short lived and in the end
Aragorn won them over. They would wait until they were called for.
"I do not like it." Sircyn muttered softly as he rubbed the forehead of
the large oliphaunt that butted up against him, vying for his attention.
"You do not have to." Aragorn smiled leaning in front of the Haradrim
and patting the mûmakil. "But I need you to do this for me."
With a nod the five Haradrim followed the elf and the ranger around the
side of the hills and entered the natural valley through the dead
streambed that cut through it. The oliphaunts had followed and their
feet crushed the small pebbles of the riverbed, making soft sounds in
the predawn. Morning was only an hour way now; they had to move
quickly. Motioning the Haradrim to stop, Aragorn crept quietly after
They entered the compound near the cages that held the wargs. The elf
crouched low next to the large iron cell. The beast inside did not
move. Its red small eyes tracked the elf dully and its breathing was
Aragorn moved stealthily behind his friend, touching the prince lightly
on the back as he knelt behind the elf. Turning slightly Legolas
whispered softly, "They are dying."
"Then be swift and end their misery." Aragorn eased around the elf and
glanced down the row of cages, his eyes darting to the low-lying
buildings, nothing stirred inside of them. "I’ll meet you in the
middle." He called softly before he darted swiftly into the darkness
heading for the far side of camp.
The caged taergs paid him no attention as he moved quickly down the row
of pens. It was when the ranger had reached the cells that held the
deranged miscreations that their trouble started. The animals in the
steel cages looked like someone’s worst nightmare. Their body parts
mismatched to oversized heads or paws. They threw themselves at the
bars of their prisons as Aragorn crept towards them, creating a racket
that could not be silenced.
Knowing they had given themselves away, Aragorn stood from his hiding
place and called back to Legolas.
The elf had already put the wargs down, ending their tormented
existence with mercifully quick, deadly arrows. He knew their weak
points and gave them swift deaths. Quickly he threw open the slats on
the cages that held the taergs, easily releasing the animals as Seobryn
and his men spilled out of their tents.
The camp filled with cries and chaos. The released taergs were confused
by the torches that the men held and they scattered easily, some racing
to the hills others heading out onto the flats. One unlucky taerg fled
up the ravine towards where Sircyn was hiding. The smell of the
creature frightened the oliphaunts.
The large creatures trumpeted in terror at the familiar scent and
sight. Sircyn, Timbrel and the others clung tightly to the animals,
trying to calm them, but it was no use. The tension in the air and the
presence of the taerg spooked the oliphaunts who broke away from their
handlers and stampeded towards the large cat. The taerg yowled and
sprung quickly away, darting for the hills, but the rampaging
mûmaskil did not seem to notice. In their frenzy, they stormed
into the camp, adding to the bedlam that already raged there.
The earth shook; thundering with the pounding, stamping feet of the
huge animals, the cool morning air pierced with their loud trumpeting
cries. Unheeding of where they were going, the Oliphaunts crashed into
the buildings, tearing the sleeping quarters to shreds and crushing
those unlucky enough not to escape under their huge feet.
The Olybryn chased after their charges, trying to calm the frightened
Aragorn had only succeeded in destroying two of the deranged, crossbred
animals when the mûmakil stampeded through the gulch. He turned
towards the chaos, trying to see by firelight what had happened. At his
inattention, the beast in the cage in front him threw itself at the
bars of its prison, rocking the pen off its foundation and loosing the
slats that held it captive. It leapt out of the cell, knocking Aragorn
over and landing several feet behind the ranger. Saliva dripped from
long jagged fangs that jutted out at intervals from underneath its
upper lip. Stringing an arrow onto his bow as quickly as he could,
Aragorn had nearly released the projectile when a dark shape fell from
the cliff above him, rolling the ill-created creature off its feet. A
huge taerg sunk its fangs deep into the animal’s neck and shook its
head violently, snapping the others neck with a lethal ferocity.
Stunned, Aragorn stood with his bow at the ready as the beast turned
quick, bright on eyes on him.
The ranger’s glance darted towards the far side of the gully and he
spotted Legolas leaping across the tops of the now empty cages, running
in his direction. When he looked back to where the taerg had been, only
the dead half-warg lay there; of the predator there was no sign.
Legolas jumped down next to the human and pushed him aside, his bow
strung, he quickly began dispatching the miserable, wretched creatures
that were the examples of Seobryn’s failures, calling to Aragorn over
his shoulder, "Our element of surprise is gone my friend and the
Olybryn are in trouble. We must be quick."
Shaken out of his surprise, Aragorn left the elf to his task and raced
towards the middle of camp where Timbrel was locked in combat with
Malk. Of Seobryn’s men only Chadoc and Malk seemed to have survived the
initial onslaught. Vavon, Teek, Zelbo and the two that Aragorn had
never met appeared to have either been crushed by the oliphaunt
stampede or slain by the taergs as they attempted to escape. The ranger
leapt over Vavon’s mauled corpse, running towards Malk as the
northerner knocked the young Haradrim in the face with the pommel of
his sword and Timbrel fell backwards. Quickly reversing the hold on the
blade Malk drove the sword towards the incapacitated slave.
"NO!" Aragorn’s loud cry startled the northerner and he only had a
brief glimpse of the ranger as Aragorn threw his weight into the man
and rolled him away from Timbrel.
He struggled with the trader, as they came to a halt. Malk had gotten
the upper hand and knelt on top of the ranger, pressing the blade of
his sword against the flat of Aragorn’s, trying to overpower the young
man. Malk pushed with all his might, driving the ranger’s own blade
dangerously close under Aragorn’s chin.
Aragorn resisted violently, slowly moving his knee up between them,
trying to get an edge over the heavier man that held him down. He had
nearly gotten the upper hand when a rake of pain sliced across his
stomach, separating Malk from him. He watched as the trader was tossed
high into the air over the back of a large mûmakil that had come
upon the fighting men. The Oliphaunt lowering its head had caught Malk
on its huge upper tusk and tossed the man away from its Olybryn. The
sharp edge of the tooth had dug into the ranger’s soft skin, leaving a
deep, nasty welt across his abdomen.
Standing quickly to his feet, the ranger patted the enraged
mûmakil, trying to calm the animal. He stumbled to Timbrel’s side
and pulled the Haradrim to his feet. "Get the oliphaunts out of here."
He instructed the terrified Olybryn. "Now, Timbrel quickly!" He gave
the young man a good shove towards the large, agitated animal that
stood behind them, "Seobryn will begin killing them if he sees they are
a threat. GO!"
Regaining his senses, Timbrel nodded and grabbed the oliphaunt’s large
tusk, steering the animal back towards the end of the valley and the
route out through the riverbed. Aragorn heard him calling to Sircyn and
his cousins as the Olybryn began to round up the mûmakil and
attempt to exit gulch.
Aragorn glanced back through the debris that littered the valley. The
fire pit had been destroyed and the fire had leapt out of the ring of
protective stone, burning through the heaps of destroyed canvas and
wood that had once been Seobryn’s housing. The smoke hung thick and low
in the small ravine and it was difficult to see through the shroud that
wrapped the camp.
Morning was coming; the skies were streaked with red fingers that
seemed to reach out over the destruction that marred the landscape.
Across the compound, the ranger caught site of Legolas putting down the
last of the misbred creations. Movement to the left of the elf drew his
attention and he recognized Chadoc slowly gaining on the prince.
"Legolas, your left!" He called out in elvish, warning his friend
seconds before Chadoc got the upper hand. Intending to aid the elf,
Aragorn ran towards the far side of the camp only to be knocked to the
ground as a spear that had been thrown in his path impeded his legs,
tripping him up. He rolled hard onto his shoulder and came up in a
crouch, the surprise of the attack catching him off guard.
Seobryn walked slowly towards him, his sword drawn. His face was a mask
of anger as he stalked the ranger.
"Well I guess Chadoc was right for once." He circled Aragorn as the
young man gained his feet. "I should have killed you when I had the
chance Adrar." He spit the ranger’s slave name at him.
Aragorn wiped the sweat from his eyes with the sleeve of his tunic,
smiling back mirthlessly into the face of his tormenter, "Would have
saved you a lot of trouble Seobryn."
"Damn you rangers and your entire race!" He shook his head, "You have
no idea what you have done. You have no idea who you are up against.
I’m the least of your worries. You are on the wrong side."
"Oh and I suppose you’d let me join you now." Aragorn feinted at the
trader; the man quickly sidestepped his thrust.
"Too late for that now my pet," he growled. Moving closer to the ranger
Seobryn swung his blade low in a wide arc that Aragorn jumped, narrowly
avoiding. "I made you. Now its time to get rid of you, like I should
have done before." He rushed the ranger and attacked him fiercely.
To the trader’s surprise, Aragorn gave him no ground, but met and
parried every blow and strike. Spinning around quickly and ducking
underneath a sweep of Seobryn’s blade Aragorn slammed the pommel of his
sword into the man’s face, throwing him off balance and breaking his
Seobryn stumbled backwards, one hand covering his face, breathing hard.
He looked at the blood that cover his palm and licked his lips where
the blood had dripped down his face; his eyes were hard and fierce.
"Who is your employer?" Aragorn questioned.
Ignoring the question, Seobryn stepped back in towards his opponent,
his anger igniting the fierceness of his attack. Unable to keep up with
the trader, Aragorn swept low and spun in a crouch, attempting to get
out from underneath the onslaught, but Seobryn was ready for him.
Moving in close to the ranger, he twisted his ankle around the young
man’s pivotal foot and jerked back wards, slamming his fist into the
side of Aragorn’s head. Momentarily stunned senseless, Aragorn did not
move. Seobryn grabbed the collar of the ranger’s tunic and pulled the
semi-conscious man towards him before punching Aragorn hard.
The trader dropped the younger man to the ground and stood over him,
spitting out the blood that had accumulated in his mouth, he smiled
down grimly at the youth. "You were never cut out to be a ranger.
Neither you nor that pathetic excuse of an old man that you drug around
with you. If I had the time, you’d die the same way he went -
screaming." He spit the words at Aragorn, hefting his blade; he
prepared to drive it through the young man’s heart.