Somewhere there’s speaking,
It’s already coming in
Oh, and it’s rising at the back of
You never could get it
Unless you were fed it
Now you’re here and you don’t know
Slowly, slowly... like bubbles trapped beneath the surface of a
darkened pond but still fighting their way towards the light,
consciousness was returning. And with it, pain. So much pain.
Aragorn moaned softly and tried to put his hand to his head, but his
hands wouldn’t move. This wasn’t too surprising considering they were
both bound quite securely in front of him, but the ranger was too far
out of it to understand that, all he knew was he couldn’t move. It
could have been his own body failing to respond for all he knew.
His head was on fire, sheer, throbbing pain worse than anything he had
ever experienced before. Hazy, unsteady images flashed through his
mind, parading across the insides of his closed eyelids, seeming to
take up physical space where there was none, like ghosts... horrible
phantasms; too nightmarish for words.
Questions, questions... they wouldn’t stop, they wouldn’t stop... but
he had to close his mind to them, he could tell them nothing, nothing!
He just wanted it to stop...
Blood. There was blood everywhere. Laener was screaming. Dear heaven
Aragorn had never felt so helpless... the young ranger stirred
restlessly, tossing his head against the pain, both physical and
mental. Aragorn’s foggy, reeling, swollen mind, still under the
influence of whatever had been in the broken pouch, recoiled at the
pain and horror of the memories, fleeing back into the past, seeking
escape... but here too there was pain. His father’s face, his brothers’
looks, the unshed tears sparkling in Arwen’s eyes... his home was not
his home. Aragorn moaned again as his injured mind pulled away from all
the hurt that threatened to overwhelm him. It was too much, the pain
was too great, he couldn’t handle it in this state so his mind pulled
up its barriers, blocking out the pain and everything that caused it,
shutting down the memories that hurt so badly, locking away that which
was too painful for it to handle... fleeing into the comfortable
darkness of forgetfulness. It was easy enough to do since his last
overriding thought had been to hide everything he knew from those who
sought that information from him.
"Is he coming around?" a voice asked, it seemed loud and unclear in
Aragorn’s ringing ears. The young Dùnadan flinched away from the
"I think so," someone else answered.
Aragorn blinked several times, but that didn’t clear his vision at all,
the only things he could see were shapes and colors and light that
seemed much, much too bright. A man was leaning over him and he guessed
another was nearby, but he couldn’t see them. He couldn’t even really
see the one above him. "W-who are you?" the young man’s voice slurred
so badly it could barely be understood. "Where am I?"
"Don’t you remember?" the voice asked with a smirk that almost seemed
frightening, but if he was supposed to be afraid, Aragorn couldn’t
remember why. And yet he was afraid for some reason. He shifted
slightly, again trying to move only to find that he was still unable to
"No," Aragorn murmured, his confused face darkening in alarm as he
sought for the information in his mind and did not find it... and in
fact, found nothing at all. It was like opening a door and expecting to
find a room full of people beyond, only to discover instead a vast,
empty darkness. "No, I don’t..." his head was still pounding and his
mind not completely there, but his alarm and panic went up several
notches. "I don’t... I don’t remember anything! Who are you? W-where am
I? W-who am I?"
The young ranger searched desperately for any sign, any clear
recollection in the vague, empty sea of nothingness confronting his
mind. He pressed his eyes shut again. Darkness, darkness was
familiar... he tried to grab the recollection, capture the fleeting
thought that danced teasingly on the edge of his consciousness...
Instantly a horrible flash of searing pain shot through his mind and he
cried out, his body physically jerking as if he had been struck, but no
one had touched him. However the fire in his mind did not relent until
he stopped trying to think and let the grey nothingness of his empty
memories soothingly smother the unbearable pain that accompanied any
attempt to circumvent the mental block that had cut him off from his
own memories. As he let go of the struggle to remember, consciousness
fled with it and the young man passed out again.
Seobryn knelt by the Dùnadan, a puzzled expression on his face
as he ran his thumb along Aragorn’s split temple. Could the ranger
really have lost his memory? He had heard of such things happening
sometimes as the result of a severe blow to the head, but had seen
many, many such injuries without ever coming across this result. He
wondered if it had anything to do with the ranger having gotten a
face-full of the magician’s unknown powder before he was injured.
Seobryn rolled thoughtfully back on his heels. Perhaps there was some
kind of magic that he did not understand at work here, or perhaps it
simply was one of those fluke happenings he had heard tell of... but
whatever the cause, if this young man really had lost his memory then
it presented him with a unique opportunity that he rather fancied.
Chadoc kicked Aragorn’s unconscious form lightly. "I think he must have
lost his mind. We’ll get no more useful answers out of this one. These
rangers are a queerly stubborn breed. I still can’t believe that other
one never talked. It’s almost not human. Still, no real harm has been
done, no one will ever know what they were unfortunate enough to find
out. I suppose we should just kill this one too and be done with it, an
easy death this time perhaps?"
"No," Seobryn shook his head. "We’ll wait. I want to see if he really
has lost his mind or just his memory. If the later is true, then he’s
no threat to us."
"But he’s no good to us either," Chadoc objected mildly.
"Maybe, maybe not..." Seobryn grinned as he pushed the ranger’s damp,
tangled locks off his forehead. They would have to get him out of his
singed, torn clothing. "But we might have a little fun... it’s not
every day a man gets to give someone a whole new identity. I think
there are ways he could be made useful to us. And if not, we can always
kill him later. Now help me get him out of these things, if he really
has lost his memory we don’t need anything bringing it back."
When they had removed Aragorn’s outer clothing Seobryn stood. Holding
the singed tunic, he walked outside the tent to the firepit and tossed
the shirt into the flames, sparks leapt skyward as the cloth was
quickly consumed. "That’ll make sure he is never found." Without
looking back, he stalked towards his tent, thoughts of his new prize
crowding his mind.
The next time Aragorn awoke the pain was little better than the last,
but his vision and his mind were somewhat clearer. He was also aware of
the dull ache of the mild burn across his back that he had been in too
much pain to notice before. He blinked up at the dark, animal-hide
ceiling of the tent over his head and lifted one hand clumsily to his
hurting head. He could move his hands this time.
He tried to figure out how he had gotten to where he was and what had
happened, but beyond some blurry recollections of having briefly awoken
who knew how long ago, his mind was still a disturbing blank. A quick
stab of pain that nearly made him sick to his stomach was enough to
convince the injured human that trying very hard to remember was not
worth the effort at this point.
"You awake?" a voice that seemed vaguely familiar speaking near him
made Aragorn start and look quickly in the direction from which the
words had come. That was a mistake, for the quick motion of turning his
head and eyes made his stomach lurch and the world spin dizzily out of
Aragorn moaned softly and covered his eyes with his hand, trying to
bring his perceived equilibrium back to an at least somewhat stable
position. "What happened? Where am I?" Aragorn felt like he’d asked
those questions before, but the memories were extremely hazy at best,
yet they were the clearest things he had as any indication of his
"You’re safe now Adrar, you’re back in my tent. Don’t you remember what
happened?" Seobryn cocked an eyebrow at the ranger as if he truly were
"No," Aragorn ran his hand down his face, hesitantly opening his eyes
once more. The face of the man who was now crouching beside him was
familiar somehow, but... the young man winced and grit his teeth as the
hot tendrils of pain in his mind severed the train of that thought,
leaving him to wonder where it had been going with no hope of an
answer. "No I don’t. Who are you?"
Seobryn did a passable job of looking surprised and almost hurt. He was
enjoying this game. "You don’t remember me Adrar?"
Aragorn could only respond to the negative once more. "No... Adrar...
is that my name?" he asked somewhat hesitantly. It was a horribly
vulnerable feeling, not even knowing one’s own name.
"Of course it is," Seobryn laughed easily. "You really have taken quite
a bad knock. There was a fight with some bandits who raided the camp
two or three days ago... you do remember the fight don’t you? When you
got hit on the head?" the older man was doing more than playing now, he
wanted to be sure that the ranger’s condition was not temporary, or
something that could be reversed if Aragorn thought about it for a
Aragorn tried to remember, tried hard, but there was nothing there and
he began to feel dizzy again the more he tried. "I’m sorry, I don’t..."
"Seobryn," the other responded when he saw the Dùnadan searching
for his name. "But you can call me Master, as you always have... but I
guess you don’t remember that either? Nothing of the last eight years
you have been with me? Nothing of your owners before that? We’re in
South Ithilien, past Minas Tirith, west of Mordor, heading into South
Gondor and going to Harad... does any of this sound familiar to you?
Try Adrar, try hard. Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember anything?"
the older man pushed, endeavoring to prod any memories that might be
there, while at the same time planting his own version of Aragorn’s
history into the Dùnadan’s hurting mind.
Aragorn did try, attempting to snag the vague wisps and illusions that
danced somewhere just beyond the empty space in his mind. It hurt, it
hurt horribly, but he pushed himself into the pain, trying to get
through it... "I-I remember your voice... and darkness... and..." the
young human cried out and clutched his head, tears of pain wetting his
dark lashes as he rolled onto his side, pressing his fists into his
eyes as the unbearable agony he had just brought upon himself tore his
consciousness apart and felt as if it left his mind in bleeding shreds.
"T-there’s nothing there, I-I c-can’t... I’m sorry, I can’t, it hurts,
it hurts too much, I can’t remember!" Aragorn half murmured, half
cried, trembling from pain, fear and frustration. "It hurts when I
try... and there’s nothing there. Nothing."
Seobryn patted his shoulder. "Then don’t try anymore. What’s done is
done. Maybe your memory will come back with time, but if it hurts don’t
force it. There’s nothing much about your life worth trying to remember
anyway. You’re a slave Adrar, my slave. I bought you from an auctioneer
eight years ago. A few days ago our camp was attacked and you were
injured. That’s really all there is to tell. Go on and rest, regain
your strength. We’ve got a long road ahead of us." Seobryn gave him one
more pat before rising and going back about his business, leaving the
confused young man he had just lied to to ponder his new-found
Aragorn rolled onto his back again and covered his face with his hand.
His whole body hurt. He didn’t know what had happened to him, but the
results were miserable. He had no reason to disbelieve the things that
Seobryn had told him, but it disturbed him greatly that he could
remember none of it on his own. It was terribly uncomfortable and
disconcerting for everything to be so totally unknown.
Seobryn glanced back at Aragorn as he sharpened his hunting knives in
the doorway of the tent. The young man had swallowed his lie without a
second’s hesitation. Aragorn would accept whatever he chose to tell him
as truth. This was going to be interesting. And more than a little
Legolas stood next to his horse, patting the dappled grey’s gracefully
arching neck as she drank carefully from a shallow pool. The elf had
been riding hard and covered a good amount of distance. Together the
horse and rider stood on the plains of Parth Celebrant and Legolas
scanned the area with his keen gaze while Avornwen took refreshment.
Behind them, in the distance, the great river Anduin lay like a curling
silver ribbon across the landscape and ahead the smaller River Limlight
snaked across their path, marking the north-most border of Rohan.
At first, Legolas had been riding mostly on faith, only recently had he
been able to detect any signs at all of his friend’s passing. Finding
one man who did not want to be found in the vastness of Middle Earth
was hard enough, if that man was a ranger it was nearly impossible. Yet
Legolas had not spent as much time as he had with Aragorn and not
learned the young human’s ways. He knew the kinds of places Aragorn
would seek shelter in; he knew the sorts of towns he would frequent. He
knew the ranger trails in these lands that were known to none save the
rangers who used them.
Thus it was that a few days ago Legolas had finally come upon what
looked to be traces of a camp in the woods. Warg tracks traced over the
human tracks, although it did not look as if there had been a battle.
Rather, the wargs had come after... when Legolas found the recently
concocted makeshift flet in the trees above the tracks, he knew he was
on the right trail. The way the small platform in the tree had been
quickly and easily pulled together for a safe night’s stay high above
the heads of the forest predators was an elf trick, one that Legolas
was fond of and had taught Aragorn. From the tracks it was obvious that
two men, and no elves, had been here, so one of the men must have been
Heartened that he was indeed heading the right way, Legolas continued
to find such tracks and trails as he could, heading south towards
Rohan. Now he had nearly made his goal. It seemed highly probably that
Aragorn had indeed been making for the area of West Emnet, as the twins
had said, and Legolas only hoped that the ranger would still be there
when he got there. He would hate to have made this whole journey only
to find that the Dùnadan had already headed back north.
He smiled, shaking his head at the thought. "It seems I am always
chasing you around lately my friend. At least it’s not snowing this
time... but it’s still a long way for a conversation mellon-nín.
If I get there to find you’ve already doubled back on me, you had
better hope I *don’t* find you," he murmured in jest to himself.
Patting his horse again, who had finished her drink, he easily swung up
on her back and urged her onward once more.
Aragorn swung the heavy pack off of weary shoulders and let it drop to
the ground. He ached everywhere. His head still hurt him but his master
had deemed he was more than ready to be traveling and putting in a full
day’s work for several days now.
They were heading further and further south and some part of Aragorn
kept hoping that it was only a matter of time until he saw something
familiar, some place he recognized... but this land was wholly strange
to him and none of it brought anything back. As the days slid by he had
no choice but to accept these people and this life as the one that must
be his. It was not an easy existence, but he had no comparisons to make
that judgment, so he simply accepted and tried to make the best of the
hand dealt him.
After they set up camp for the evening, Seobryn sent Aragorn out to
Chadoc watched the ranger leave with a cautious eye. "Do you think it’s
wise, how much freedom you’re giving him? Shouldn’t he be guarded a
Seobryn shook his head. "He won’t run. We’re all he knows and all he
has. Where would he go?"
Aragorn returned a few minutes later with an arm load of scrub wood.
One of Seobryn’s men casually stuck his foot out in the young man’s
path, tripping Aragorn and making him drop the firewood. "Hey careful
stupid, pick it up," the other man laughed.
Aragorn took a deep breath and slowly stooped and began gathering the
scattered wood up once more. This amused the other fellow and he aimed
an off-handed blow for the side of the young ranger’s head. Aragorn saw
the blow coming with his periphery vision and before it even became a
conscious thought his body reacted to the threat with reflexes the
young man didn’t know he had.
Dropping into a lower crouch and spinning on his boot heels, Aragorn
dodged the blow and kicked the other man’s feet out from under him in
one fluid and totally unexpected motion.
"Adrar!" his master’s harsh voice made Aragorn freeze. The ranger
blinked several times and stood slowly to his feet. He didn’t really
understand what had just happened. He hadn’t intended to react that
way... and from the way Seobryn was glaring at him he guessed this was
probably a bad thing.
Seobryn stalked over and slapped the young slave sharply across the
face. "What was that?" he demanded harshly. "What do you think you were
Aragorn didn’t know how to answer. He hadn’t thought, he had just acted
on an impulse he couldn’t explain. "I-I don’t know. It just
happened..." he said quietly, the anger in Seobryn’s eyes making his
stomach knot coldly.
"So you’re an idiot as well as rebellious?" Seobryn snapped. "I swear I
don’t know what’s wrong with you Adrar, I think you must have lost your
brain along with your memory. I guess I have to teach you again why you
never, *ever* strike out against or resist the will of one of your
"I’m sorry," Aragorn murmured. He didn’t like the sound of this at all.
"Not half so sorry as you’re going to be," the elder trader assured
coldly. "An untamed slave is a useless one. Take off your shirt and
kneel Adrar, now!"
Something in Aragorn protested. This felt wrong, it didn’t feel right
submitting to anyone like this... but as far as he knew he had no
choice other than to obey his Master. Slowly he did as he was told
although everything in him wanted to resist. That didn’t make sense
however and he knew it would only get him in more trouble.
Seobryn unfastened one of the thick leather straps that held the
supplies fastened to the pack mules during the day and came back,
wrapping one end of the strap firmly around his fist and letting the
other end dangle free.
There was no preamble, no warning before he brought the strap down
sharply across Aragorn’s shoulders.
Aragorn jerked slightly and rested his hands on his knees so that the
blows didn’t push him forward. He gripped his knees tightly, trying to
breathe deep as Seobryn struck him again and again. The strap didn’t do
any real damage, but it hurt badly.
The young ranger closed his eyes. Bright, unreal light flashed across
the inside of his eyelids. In the lingering trails of light the
impression of a small room flashed through his mind and the sneering
face of someone with dark blonde hair. The being wore a golden circlet
over pointed ears and was holding a whip. The phantom opened his mouth
to speak but the searing flash of pain in Aragorn’s head ripped the
scene away. Seobryn caught the young man with a vicious strike below
his shoulder blades at the same moment.
Aragorn cried out softly at the dizzying mix of pain and fell forward,
catching himself with his hands on the ground.
Seobryn did not let up, intent on making this lesson stick.
Dully, Aragorn wondered who the other person he had seen in his head
was. He felt like they had beaten him too... perhaps they were a past
master? Or maybe just meaningless images like the disjointed figures
who often paraded across his dreams at night. He didn’t know and didn’t
need the extra pain of trying to figure it out right now. He wanted
Seobryn to stop, he wanted this to be over, his back was on fire and
his head was throbbing again.
Seobryn finally stopped when the welts he was raising started to bleed,
leaving Aragorn kneeling in the dust and sobbing for breath. Crouching
down next to his slave, Seobryn took one of the young man’s sore
shoulders un-gently in his hand and turned Aragorn towards him, forcing
the pain-glazed eyes to focus on his.
"Now you’re going to remember this, right Adrar? Because if I have to
remind you again it’s going to be much, much worse. You understand?"
"Y-yes, Master," Aragorn nodded, trembling slightly from the pain. He
would do just about anything to avoid a repeat of this. He was hurting
and humiliated and dropped his gaze to the earth.
Seobryn grabbed his chin and forced his eyes back up. "Good, because I
don’t need you causing trouble just because you’ve become some kind of
half-wit, all right? You pull more stupid stunts like that and I’ll
sell you so fast it’ll make your head spin. And you wouldn’t like that
Adrar, trust me, there’s a lot worse masters out there than I am and
the world is not kind to the slow-witted."
Aragorn nodded again. "I won’t cause any more trouble," he said softly.
He may have been miserable here, but the known terror was at least
preferable to the unknown terror.
"All right then," Seobryn nodded, glancing at the young man’s back. The
open welts would quickly become infected in this climate unless they
were treated. "Stay here," he ordered Aragorn while he rose and
retrieved a handful of salt from the provision packs. Salt was a
preservative for food, but he knew that it also helped keep wounds
clean and close them quickly. It stung like wildfire too, but of course
he didn’t really care about that.
Aragorn stiffened and stifled a sharp moan as Seobryn worked the salt
swiftly and roughly into the bleeding lacerations across his back.
"Hold still Adrar," the trader admonished, grabbing his slave’s
shoulder and pulling the young man back towards him. "This is for your
The salt stung horribly when it was applied, but the worst thing was
that it didn’t stop stinging, it stayed in the wounds and continued to
burn even when Seobryn had finished. Aragorn grit his teeth against the
Seobryn finished up and wiped his hands clean, rising once more and
giving Aragorn a nudge with his foot. "Now get this wood picked up and
the fire going. You’re holding up dinner."
Aragorn nodded and rose shakily. His knees felt somewhat weak and his
head was spinning, but he did as he was told. He had no other option.