Dark eyes regarded the fallen captain with something akin to amusement,
although there was nothing pleasant about the look in them at all.
“Alcarin?” Aragorn blinked in shock. Next to him Denethor and
Castamir were also staring in surprise.
“Quite un-dead I assure you,” the traitor in the Gondorian uniform gave
Denethor’s face was pale from pain and blood loss but his jaw quivered
in rage. “It was you. It was you all along, wasn’t
“Guilty as charged,” Alcarin smiled. His whole manner had
changed; he no longer seemed the soft-spoken officer they had
known. It was as if a mask had been discarded and they could see
with true vision now. He leveled the point of the sword in his
hand with Aragorn’s throat. “And now I have you all exactly where
I want you. Where I have always wanted you and all of your
The Corsairs, including the ones dressed in the uniforms of Gondor,
which Alcarin had led over, converged around Denethor and Castamir,
making any thought of movement impossible. Roughly they relieved
Castamir of his weapon. The soldier scowled darkly but did not
move away from the life-saving tourniquet he was applying. There
was nothing they could do against such numbers.
“Why?” Aragorn sat up slowly, wary of the blade hovering near his
neck. Shaking his head he rubbed his aching ribs. Trying
anything sudden right now would only result in all their deaths so he
acted with caution. Alcarin had the air of someone who wanted to
gloat about his victory, obviously, or else they would all be dead
already. Hopefully if Aragorn could nurse that desire along a
little, it would give him time to come up with a better plan.
“What could they pay you to sell out your own countrymen?”
“My own countrymen?” Alcarin spit in derision. “THESE are my
countrymen, my people.” He
snorted, motioning with his free hand to
the men standing behind him. The traitor pressed down a little on
his blade, pushing Aragorn further back onto his elbows to avoid being
“Or at least as close as I can get to having a people. I’m a
half-breed as you people so carelessly like to call us, but I’m sure
you never knew that did you? No, the high and mighty army of
Gondor would never have accepted someone whose father was a Corsair.”
He drove the blade down a little further. “All your high and
mighty prattle about laws and justice. My family never received
Aragorn, now nearly flat on his back, winced and reflexively pulled
back a little more. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the
fallen hilt of his sword just out of reach of his out-flung right hand,
hidden from their attackers' sight by the boulder beside them. If
only he could scoot a little to the right without Alcarin
“Oh but the best joke of all was that my father was far more loyal to
you than I have ever been.” Alcarin was still talking, a lot of
planning and pain had led to this moment and if he had the time, which
he felt he did, then these men would know how they had done this to
themselves before they died. “He was a mercenary soldier and he
fought and died in your blasted wars for you, but my mother and I had
to live in shame and ridicule as if we were traitors. We were
never accepted. The grief eventually killed my mother, but I made
my way to Umbar and found where I belonged. Your people called my
father a traitor, but he was loyal, and me...” he grinned.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” He drew back his arm a little, an almost
imperceptible motion, but clearly signaling to Aragorn that he was
preparing to end this talk. “The Corsairs didn’t buy me, don’t
you understand? They didn’t have to, I volunteered. I was
planted! Long ago. Years and years I have tolerated you
people and now it’s over. Now you pay. Now you all
“Yes, just like Elan and Krit died. You killed them, didn’t you?”
Aragorn was desperately trying to stall as he inched a little back from
the blade hovering above his neck and slowly stretched his hand out
towards the concealed weapon. People like Alcarin could almost
always be coerced into talking about themselves and their cleverness a
little longer, even in the middle of a battle and especially when they
felt so sure of their victory. “Did you always mean to blame it
on Legolas or was that just an accident?”
Alcarin laughed, but his face sobered a little. “Your elf friend
was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s the only
part of this I almost regret, but it was too good to pass up. He
almost made it too simple for me. You all jumped on him just like
I knew you would. Just as was done to my father. It is so
easy to distrust that which is different from you, isn’t it?” he
leveled his cold glare on Castamir.
The other soldier’s eyes burned with rage, but he still didn’t really
understand how all this could be yet. It didn’t make sense!
“But Castamir was right in his guess of what happened, he simply had
the wrong killer, isn’t that true?” Aragorn pressed, stretching his
fingers as all the pieces of the mystery came together at last.
“It was you who lured those
boys out into the woods and somehow shot
them with Legolas’ arrows.”
“Which he never even knew were missing since I played the part of
retriever in his little targeting exposition for the men. He
thought I broke them by accident when pulling them free,” Alcarin put
in, obviously very pleased with his own cleverness.
That was a fundamental weakness of a brilliant plan, Aragorn reflected.
There was no enjoyment in it unless you had someone to tell it to after
the fact. His fingers brushed the hilt of his sword.
Denethor saw the movement and tensed slightly, but made it a point to
not look at the other Captain so as to not draw any attention
thither. He began to see what Aragorn was doing and chimed
in. “You dragged the bodies into the woods where your Corsair
friends were waiting, they were the ones who fired on the elf and then
retrieved the arrows after he left, casting all the suspicion on
him. Then what? You stymied them and dragged them down here
so you could carry on your treacherous ways?”
Alcarin’s grin turned condescending. “I had no control over
bandits and sudden floods, those were accidents. But when I heard
that a Gondorian troop was heading south, stealthily as if not wishing
to be seen... well. I knew I had to join them. And when I
found out you knew, or were about to know, far too much about our
doings downstream... let’s just say I didn’t get much rest when
everyone thought we were sleeping before you returned. I had
people to warn.”
“So you wipe us out before we can take word back to Lord Ecthelion and
thus leave Gondor unprepared for your little invasion, is that it?”
Denethor’s voice was hard. “You faked your own death to gain the
element of surprise and now your mission is to kill the two of
us. Without captains the whole army would be temporarily
crippled. That’s been your goal all along, hasn’t it, to cripple
the army in any way you could?” It struck the captain hard to
realize that Legolas had been telling the truth all along, but he did
not have time for the luxury of remorse right now.
Alcarin nodded approvingly. “You’re not as stupid as you
look. But I hope that gives you no comfort on your way to the
Halls of Mandos. There are only two pieces of knowledge I want
you to take there.” His look darkened. “That you have all brought
this on yourselves, and that your land will fall and your people will
serve us in chains!”
He thrust forward sharply, meaning to kill Aragorn, and at the same
giving the signal for his men to finish the other two.
Aragorn’s hand closed tightly around the hilt of his sword and he
brought it up quickly, rolling to the right and knocking Alcarin’s
blade aside. The traitor’s sword cut a deep groove across his
collarbones as he pulled away.
Denethor, already prepared to act, grabbed the bandage on his leg as
tightly as he could, freeing Castamir’s hands. No order was
necessary to spur the soldier to action. Grabbing up Denethor’s
sword, which had been hidden at his side by Castamir’s body and
therefore not confiscated with the others, the soldier jumped to the
Alcarin swung at Aragorn, making the ranger roll away once more as the
blade crashed into the ground where he had been, tossing up
sparks. Gaining his feet, Aragorn crossed sabers with him again.
“You can dress it up in a lot of words, Alcarin, but you’re still just
traitor! You murdered men who trusted you with their lives and
let the innocent take the blame!”
Seeing another Corsair about to go after Denethor, Aragorn kicked
Alcarin hard, his boot connecting with the man’s chest as he broke away
from the fight, jumping over the rock to give assistance. Alcarin
quickly regained his balance and attempted to follow the ranger, but
his forward motion was suddenly checked when Castamir leaped on him.
“You sold us out! You lied to us! You killed my nephew and
made me believe an innocent was guilty!” the soldier raged as he threw
Alcarin backwards with the force of his rush.
Alcarin recovered quickly. “No, Castamir, you did that perfectly
well on your own.” Spinning around he stepped inside the other
soldier’s guard and got a clean swing at Castamir’s head. But the
stroke never fell and instead Alcarin’s eyes went wide. He
stumbled forwards a step, his mouth opening silently before he fell to
his knees, the knife from Aragorn’s boot imbedded firmly in his heart
Unfortunately there was no rest for the weary because the enemy just
kept coming. Aragorn and Castamir found themselves being slowly
hedged in once more as they stood on either side of Denethor’s prone
Holding the bandage on his leg with one hand, Denethor struggled and
tugged at his tangled gear with the other. With some difficulty
he managed to extract the large horn which hung strapped across his
chest. Lifting it to his lips he blew several quick, clear notes:
an obvious distress call.
For a few minutes no one seemed to have heard, but presently a wave of
Gondorian soldiers pressed the position from the rear, driving through
the enemy as they rushed to answer the Horn of Gondor; all there knew
that it was only blown at direst need.
Given a lull in fighting, Aragorn dropped down beside the future
Steward, but Denethor was unconscious, his blood flowing much too
freely. Clamping the bandage down once more, Aragorn and Castamir
lifted the fallen Captain and carried him off the battle field as their
fellow soldiers cut a clear path through the enemy, pressing the
Corsairs back away from their leaders and slowly turning the tide.
Some hours later the fighting finally died down. The last of the
Corsairs were either dead or fled and the small, rag-tag remnant of
Gondorian soldiers were left the victors, if victors they could be
called at this point. At the moment it seemed their only victory
had been survival, but that was enough.
Aragorn was weary beyond measure, but he would not rest until he had
seen to all the wounded. Most of the medics had been killed,
leaving precious few who knew more than just rudimentary care.
As much as he wanted to sleep and never wake up, Aragorn knew that he
was the only real healer present and the only one who could save some
of the more seriously injured. Tarcil and Castamir stayed with
him the whole time, helping as best they could. Tarcil, he had
been instructing in the healing arts, and so between the three of them
and their handful of helpers, they somehow managed.
Dawn had already risen and the sun was high in the sky before Aragorn
tied the last suture and placed the last bandage. He stood up to
stretch his back. When he ended up on his knees again he didn’t
know quite what had happened or how he had gotten there, except that he
didn’t want to rise.
Tarcil saw the Captain’s knees buckle and hurried over. They were
all dead tired, but Thorongil had extended himself beyond his reach
these past few hours, pouring all he could into the injured he sought
to save. Lord Denethor alone had required hours of attention and
much work to sustain since he had lost so much blood.
Taking Thorongil’s arm, Tarcil gently pulled him to his feet and guided
him towards the sleeping area. Aragorn shook his head, trying to
protest. “Have to... have to check on Denethor once more...” his
words were starting to slur.
“I’ll check on him. He was doing fine the last time. You rest now
or you’ll kill yourself.” Tarcil let the man down easily and laid his
cloak over him since there were no blankets left to be had.
Aragorn didn’t have the strength to protest, but his mind would not
rest. He had not yet found Legolas, either among the living or
the wounded... or the dead. That bothered him greatly.
“Legolas...” he murmured. “Must find him...”
“We will,” Tarcil assured. Grabbing Castamir by the arm as he
passed by he pointed at Aragorn. “Make sure the captain stays
put. Sit on him if you have to. I’m going to check on Lord
Aragorn couldn’t have risen if he wanted to, so Castamir just sat down
and stared at him for a moment. Now that the danger was past the
soldier wasn’t sure what his position was. He could have run any
number of times, but for some reason he had stayed. It was hard.
Alcarin’s betrayal had confused him greatly and feelings of shame and
horror over the way he had behaved towards someone who was truly
innocent were beginning to gnaw at his conscience.
“Legolas...” Aragorn murmured again and Castamir flinched, looking down
at his hands. What had they all done? He knew he could be
horrible when he’d been drinking, but that was no excuse. He had
never liked the elf and he still didn’t, but he would never have
treated him the way he had if he hadn’t truly thought him a heartless
murderer and traitor.
“Captain Thorongil?” he said quietly.
“Hmm?” the tone suggested that the Captain was not really awake.
“I’m sorry.” It was barely murmured and stiffly said, as one not used
to making apologies. “I-I didn’t know... I was wrong.”
Aragorn was too weary to hold the man any hatred and too exhausted to
think much. Instead he just nodded slowly as he drifted off to
rest. “Hate destroys us all and always hurts the innocent,” he
murmured and was asleep almost before he’d finished.
Castamir buried his head in his hands, shaking slightly from the
adrenaline run-off and emotional shock of recent events.
That it did. That it certainly did.
In the end, hate had hurt them all.
The wind was strong today and it caught the flags and banners flying
from the ramparts of the white tower, making them stand stiffly at
attention over the heads of the mustered forces waiting outside the
city gates for their commander.
Inside the city, Aragorn stood in the great hall before the Lord
Ecthelion. With the report they brought back there was no longer
any doubt that action was needed and Aragorn had easily obtained the
Steward’s permission and blessing to take a force up to Umbar or at
least as far was necessary.
Ecthelion squeezed the Captain’s shoulder one last time in
parting. He had come to care for the younger man like another
son, but something in his heart told him this was the last time they
would see one another in this lifetime. “Go with blessings,
Thorongil. May your mission be successful.”
Aragorn nodded and bowed. There were no words of final parting
spoken, but it seemed somehow an unsaid understanding between them as
Aragorn turned and exited the hall.
Leaving the great hall behind, he made his way towards the gate, but
slowed and stopped when he saw Denethor sitting in the courtyard,
watching him. The other Captain’s broken leg was splinted and he
was seated on a litter on which some of the servants would carry him
about until he could make use of the limb once more.
The injury made it impossible for him to go with the army, so it was
only natural that Thorongil should lead this venture, even if not
taking into account that he had been its main advocate in the
first place. All the same, Aragorn wondered if Denethor resented
him this mission. The future Steward had said very little to him
since regaining consciousness on the journey back to Minas Tirith,
almost as if he were half-avoiding the other Captain.
For a moment the two men said nothing. Before the impasse could
become uncomfortable however, a small voice broke the silence.
“Daddy!” the tiny child to whom the voice belonged catapulted
unsteadily through the archway behind Denethor. The little boy
couldn’t have been quite two years old yet but his bright eyes danced
as he ran to Denethor’s chair.
“Boromir, what are you doing out here?” Denethor questioned in
surprise. His tone attempted to be stern, but his true feelings
showed through as he dropped his hand down to run through the boy’s
short, wavy hair. “Did you leave TaTa behind again?”
“Boromir! Boromir!” the child’s nurse called in reprimand as she
hurried through the archway after him. But the little boy had not
been allowed to see his father since Denethor’s return and was not
about to be put off any longer. The tall chair was too high for
the child to scramble onto, but he was trying.
Aragorn stooped and lifted the small boy up, placing him gently on his
father’s lap, careful of Denethor’s bandages and splint. Denethor
smiled in spite of himself as his son burrowed happily into the
crook of his arm.
His nurse came over to take the child away, apologizing for the
interruption, but Boromir was ignoring her attempt to get him to come
“Missed you, Daddy. Take me with you next time. I can fight
too!” the boy said seriously in his infant voice.
“Not just yet, little one,” Denethor shook his head softly, letting the
child play with his fingers. “When you’re older. It’s all
right, Tatiana,” he waved the nurse off. “Let’s go find your
mother, Boromir,” he said, much to the child’s delight.
The servants standing silent and ready lifted his chair at the indirect
Aragorn watched father and son with a small smile. Interacting
with Boromir was the only time he had ever seen a gentle side to
Denethor and he hoped for the sake of the child and any who followed
after that the future Steward would not drive them with the same
relentlessness with which he drove himself. He feared the result
would only be heartache.
Denethor hesitated a moment, his gaze going back to Aragorn. “May
the campaign be successful and Gondor prevail,” he said at last in way
of parting before motioning the litter bearers to take him away.
Aragorn nodded and watched them leave. He sighed slightly as he
passed out of the gates and made his way swiftly through the city to
where the troops were awaiting him. He did not understand
Denethor at all sometimes. He knew that the Captain felt badly
about how he had treated Legolas, but the fact that he had been wrong
and Aragorn right had not furthered their relationship.
Denethor was a good man. If only he could understand that he
didn’t always have to be right in order to not be a failure. That
sometimes it was all right to admit when you were wrong, not just
ignore it... the ranger shook his head. Relations between he and
the future Steward would never be what he would wish he supposed, but
he also understood that it was becoming too late to change that now,
for his time here was drawing to a close. He considered this to
be his last mission for Gondor. Once he could report that the
Corsair threat had been eliminated and the people were safe again then
his job here was over. Just as well, since if
Ecthelion was right and his time was failing, Denethor would most
likely not continue to welcome or tolerate his presence once the
Stewardship passed to him.
A small, dry grin touched Aragorn’s lips. At least he and
Denethor had not parted enemies. That was something.
As Captain Thorongil passed out of the city and moved to take his place
at the head of the assembled troops he put all other thoughts
aside. He had a job to do. He had to ensure the safety of
the people of Gondor and then...
Then he was free.
Many thoughts and concerns about the coming campaign crowded his mind,
but even so, one concern remained ever near the surface.
He had not seen the elf since the last battle with the Corsairs.
The day after the fight he had searched for hours, he had re-examined
all the wounded, checked every body before it was buried, scoured the
surrounding area. Not a trace of the elf, not even his weapons or
a piece of his gear left among the ruins. Legolas was gone
without leaving a single clue.
Aragorn’s first thought, and his lingering hope, was that the elf had
taken advantage of the chaos as an opportunity to do what the ranger
had been urging him to do and run, since once the attack began there
was no longer any way that anyone could definitively blame Aragorn for
his escape. But the human couldn’t be sure, and even
if that were the case, he still wanted to find Legolas, to let him know
that he was freed from the false accusations, and that he hadn’t killed
anyone, by accident or otherwise.
For that purpose Aragorn had left Tarcil and a small company of men
behind. Partly to keep the area secure, but mostly to look for
the missing elf. Tarcil was the only man Aragorn trusted with
that charge and the commander understood the weighty trust his captain
had placed upon him. Aragorn hoped that his second-in-command
would have good news for him when he returned with the rest of the
troops. If not... if not, then finding out exactly where Legolas
had gotten to and tracking him down, all the way back to Mirkwood if
necessary, was on the top of his to-do list as soon as his current
obligation was fulfilled.
Legolas moaned softly. All he could see was darkness. He
could feel nothing, sense nothing. The world was a dim, unreal
“Hey, Goldie-locks is coming around again.” Rough, disembodied
voices spoke from somewhere far away.
“Well put him back out for crimminy’s sake!” a second voice
snapped. “You want him trying to get loose again? I can’t
afford to lose any more men.”
Legolas felt what could have been a damp cloth pressed against his
face, over his nose and mouth. He tossed his head and struggled
weakly, but in vain, as leaden unconsciousness crept back over his
body, plunging him once more into the darkness.