The night was dark and quiet. Tarcil stirred the embers of the fire in
the pit that he and a few of the others sat around. Captain
Thorongil had returned with the rest of the army some days ago.
The harbor from which Umbar was massing its attack was still busy as a
beehive. The brazenness of the Corsairs was almost
startling. Their earlier victories against the unprepared troops
of Gondor must have affirmed their beliefs that the Gondorians were not
prepared, nor equipped to deal with their impending invasion.
They were about to find out how wrong they were.
Tarcil laid aside the stick he had stirred the embers with.
Thorongil had sent fifteen of them on ahead to spy out the lay of the
harbor and to see if they could discover what, if any, weaknesses the
Corsairs had overlooked in the small makeshift town and harbor they had
thrown together on the edge of the Anduin.
The men around him shifted quietly, unwilling to settle down for the
evening. They all knew that the safety of Gondor lay with them.
The wars with Harad had left their army weak. If they could not
stop the Corsairs, then it would be up to the remainder of the
contingent they had left behind on the fields of Pelargir.
And if they should fail...
It was best not to think such thoughts. The Gondorian soldier
glanced up into the darkened sky, noting the small pinpoints of light
in the black canopy. Even the stars held their breath.
Thorongil had thought it wise to split up the large contingent that
Lord Ecthelion had sent with the captain. He felt that stealth
would more easily overcome their enemy instead of sheer mass. The
harbor’s defenses were broad and wide-flung to prevent against any mass
attacks. It was Thorongil’s opinion that the Corsairs would never
expect a small group of soldiers from Gondor to infiltrate the harbor
and so the element of surprise would be on their side. The men
around the Gondorian soldier were merely the forerunners in the attack
that Thorongil had planned.
Sighing heavily, Tarcil shook his head. He just hoped it was
enough. He hoped they would be more successful in this than they
had been in finding the Captain’s elf friend. Tarcil had done his
best and searched for leagues in each direction, but there had never
been even the slightest trace of Legolas. The elf had vanished as
if he had never been. Telling Thorongil that hadn’t been easy,
but as always, the Captain was a just and a kind man. He did not
fault Tarcil for being unable to find what was not there. But the
soldier could still tell that the news had disturbed his commander
deeply. Tarcil sighed again. Now was not the time for such
thoughts; they could afford no distractions.
The main body of soldiers would join them when Thorongil brought them
up. They expected their commander to arrive any time now. A
few of the company would remain behind, near Pelargir, setting up camp
and readying for the return of the taken population of Lithiant.
The Corsairs, it was well known, sold most of their wartime prisoners
into slavery and they did not expect the people to return unharmed.
Pelargir was many miles to the north of the destroyed city of
Lithiant. From there, the people would be taken home to Gondor’s
capitol and then they would be relocated or, if Lord Ecthelion saw fit,
he would send them back with help to rebuild their ruined city;
depending on how safe the surrounding area was.
The men across the fire from the commander jumped, reaching for their
weapons and quietly gasping in shock as the form of a man stepped into
the ring of light the fire shed in the small corner of the woods they
had encamped in for the night.
Tarcil stood and turned quickly towards the disturbance, letting his
breath out in a loud sigh as Thorongil raised his empty hands slightly,
a huge smile spreading across his face.
“I didn’t scare you, did I?” The northerner chuckled softly before
grasping Tarcil’s arm in greeting and motioning the man back down to
the seat he had left only moments before. “Please, be at ease.”
Thorongil seated himself on a log that had been pulled up next to the
fire, the space recently and quickly vacated for him by the men.
“How is it you do that?” Tarcil leveled his commander with a stern
“Do what?” Aragorn laughed lightly knowing full well he had scared the
men out of their wits by approaching them so silently. Secretly
he had enjoyed himself and even more so he was glad he was still able
to walk with such stealth. Although men were easily distracted and not
as keen as elves, it was nonetheless no simple feat among these skilled
“You know exactly of what I speak.” Tarcil smiled in return,
shaking his head, “That...” He raised his hand and gestured towards
Thorongil, “That sneaking up on us like you do.”
“You should constantly be aware of your surroundings, Tarcil,”
Thorongil admonished lightly.
“Aware?! How can one be aware of what one cannot hear? Even
the woods did not silence for your approach.” Tarcil’s eyes
narrowed as he taunted his superior, “Makes me wonder if there isn’t
elvish in that blood of yours.”
Aragorn laughed aloud, his mirth contagious in the men around
him. He had never spoken of his past or his upbringing and it
pleased him that Tarcil had made the connection on his own. Yes,
this one would make a good leader. He made up his mind to appoint
his second-in-command over his men when he left; the Gondorian soldier
was respected and well liked. It would be an easy transition.
Ignoring Tarcil’s comments, Thorongil quickly changed the subject as he
accepted a warm mug of mead from the soldier on his left. Taking
a small drink he swallowed the heated liquid, feeling its warmth down
into his stomach.
With a nod of thanks he turned back to Tarcil. “What of the
Corsairs? How is their encampment laid out? Can we approach the
ships undetected? How many have they moved to the harbor?
Is there no weakness, no lax that we can exploit?” The questions
tumbled out as his war-honed mind, focus sharpened to the impending
and he easily switched into his role as commander.
The change was not lost on his friend who couldn’t help smiling at the
deft switch. Answering quickly, Tarcil began to fill his captain
in on the lay of the land around the harbor and the exact times when
the guards were changed. It seemed that the main contingent of
the Corsair forces slept in barracks they had crudely fashioned near
the wharf. The officers and shipwrights could often be found in
the evenings enjoying the bounty brought in by their latest raid and
strategizing on the forward-most vessel. The other ships were
occupied only with the crewmembers and the craft’s builders. The
time was nearly upon them when the ships would be completed and
readied. According to Tarcil, they had already been loaded with a
complete armory; they only awaited the command to set off and begin
Thorongil’s second-in-command continued describing what they would find
down to the smallest detail; he had been thorough. The ranger
found his description of the harbor master intriguing. The fellow
sounded imposing and he hoped they would be able to take him out
first. If not, he could prove a serious problem. Tarcil was
sure he would be in the forward boat as well, as he often occupied
himself with the mead that was fully stocked aboard the officers’
Aragorn stiffened visibly as the soldier continued to fill him in on
what they had discovered in the days they had been down here on their
own, and a plan began to form in his mind.
“Thorongil,” Tarcil glanced worriedly around the small group of
men. He leaned forward, his voice falling quietly. “The slaves
have all been loaded onto one of the ships. We saw them just last
night. They were in chains and were herded below deck. Men,
women and children; they do not care - they took them all. Not
just those from Lithiant either, but many others. The Corsairs
have been busy since our last battle and the countryside around has
felt the ravaging touch of their raids. Some of the slaves are
not Gondorian, but I would wish the Corsairs on no one, for they are
without mercy. The ship is readying to leave at a moment’s
notice. Why they have tarried I know not, but they will not
remain much longer. If we wish to rescue our people we must move
The tension rose in the small glade as Aragorn took in the new
information. Hot anger burned in his heart and he had not dropped
his gaze from that of Tarcil’s as he worked through this news. He
hated slavery and those who enslaved others held no special place in
his heart. His own slavery, years ago, had been cruel and
degrading enough to put a life-long disdain of it inside him. His
thoughts fell back to another time when he had endured chains and the
shame of being sold as nothing more than a possession, easily tossed
Rising swiftly from his seat, he crossed the camp and picked up his
pack from where he had dropped it on the edges of the ring of light the
When Thorongil’s gaze rested on his second-in-command the man knew
without a word that they were leaving at once. Ordering the men
up and the camp stricken, Tarcil set his full attention on his
“You said there were still vats of pitch near the ships?” Aragorn
focused once more on the Gondorian soldier he trusted so much.
“Yes.” Tarcil’s eyes narrowed, trying to follow where his commander was
going with the information he had been given. The pitch was used
for sealing the great ships. Once they were made seaworthy it was
sometimes necessary to patch here and there, so the large vats had been
moved onto the platform that created the harbors edge, off of the main
walkway but within easy reach of the ship builders.
Pulling several burning limbs from the fire before it was put out;
Thorongil passed the flaming torches among the men.
“I’m going back to retrieve the main contingent. I left them
stationed not a mile from here. You and the men go ahead of
us. Find the vats and soak your arrow tips in them. As soon
as you see us, light them on fire and shoot them at the ships. We
will burn them down where they rest. While you are about that,
the others will secure the Corsair soldiers. Do nothing but focus
on those ships; we must not allow them to leave. I will take care
of the rest.” He grabbed Tracil’s arm as he stepped past the man
heading back to the encampment where he had left the main body of
warriors. “Do not let that slave ship depart under any
circumstances. Do you understand?”
“Yes my lord, I understand.”
“Good.” Aragorn nodded curtly, smiling gently when he noted the
tenseness in the other, “It will go well for us, Tarcil, you will
see. We will not let them take our brothers with them.” He
tightened his grip on the man’s forearm quickly before running back
into the woods the way he had come.
It was time.
Tarcil turned and stared at the men waiting on his command. He
sighed deeply and nodded at the soldiers; in moments the small
contingent of warriors was moving stealthily through the darkened woods
towards the harbor.
The moon was a mere sliver in the dark sky that overshadowed the
Anduin. The large Corsair ships sat in the harbor, gently swaying
with the river’s eddies. The sails were set on two of the great
boats near the northern part of the docks. A stillness lay over
the land as a warm, gentle breeze caught and rippled the white canvas
squares. Lights burned brightly through the portals set
horizontally, high in the ships' bellies, attesting to the fact that
there were some who were not yet asleep. The false sense of peace
had lulled the enemy warriors into a lax state, feeling overly
confident in the power they had amassed. Their plans were
fool-proof, they felt, and their recent victories against the Gondorian
Army near Lithiant only served to bolster that confidence.
Aragorn crouched in the shadows near the edge of the shantytown, his
sharp eyes scanning the dock-ways. Here and there a scattering of
men walked or stood around small fires haphazardly built on the wooden
planking. One man leaned drunken-like against a huge vat of
pitch; near his feet the ranger could just make out the shape of a
quiver lying against his legs – it was Tarcil. The men were in
position, they were just waiting. Now that he had found one of
them, Aragorn easily spotted the rest of his disguised soldiers,
standing in darkened corners, milling near the pitch vats, their
makeshift torches set into tall metal shafts that were used as crude
A small sigh of relief escaped the captain’s lips and the soldier next
to him glanced warily at the man in charge.
“They are ready,” Thorongil whispered. “Follow me, the
barracks are this way.” He backed slowly away from his vantage
point and motioned to the men hiding in the woods behind him heading
for the area Tarcil had described to him. In seconds the harbor
town was seething with a black carpet of Gondorian soldiers as they
swept towards the unsuspecting Corsairs.
Quietly rounding the corner of the barracks, Aragorn eased up behind
the nearest man on patrol. Moving too quickly for the guard to
report any trouble, the ranger grabbed the soldier from behind and
disposed of him. Handing the lifeless body back to his men they
raced forward, taking out the Corsairs who were on duty that night.
The Gondorians poured into the barracks as Aragorn stepped aside.
Although the element of surprise was on their side the ranger heard the
alarm being raised.
Corsairs spilled out of the windows and fought their way out the front
door, struggling against the overwhelming odds of the Gondorian
soldiers, taking the fight into the muddy streets. Those who
weren’t killed outright were taken as prisoners of war; those who
resisted joined the dead.
Fighting his way from the front of the melee, away from his men,
Aragorn exited the chaos and turned his attention to the harbor.
He watched as Tarcil lit another arrow and released the flaming
projectile against the bulk of the nearest ship.
The fleet of the Corsairs was in flames and his advance team was moving
rapidly down the harbor, making sure that there were no survivors.
Grabbing one of his men who stumbled closely towards him, Thorongil
righted the soldier and yelled instructions at him, “Find me one of
them alive and bring him out here. I want to know what the
compliment of each ship is. We can ill afford any
Raised voices calling his name caught the commander’s attention and he
glanced sharply to his left in the direction his men were
pointing. A group of three shipmates sprinted from a far building
heading towards the first of the great boats. The ship's hull was
on fire but their intent was clear, they were trying to get the
attention of the men inside.
They were calling for help.
Aragorn raced towards their position, flanked by two of his own
soldiers. As they gained on the fleeing Corsairs, he recognized
one man as the Harbor Master. Tarcil had described him
correctly. They had watched the man for some time learning his
ways and patterns. Tarcil said he was called Raldush by those
around him, and he stood out strikingly among the Corsairs. A
tall muscular man, he was patterned on his face and arms in the tribal
ways of some of the fighting Haradrim. His dark hair was tied
back from his face in a long braid and a scar ran the length of his
face, marring the tattoos that decorated him forehead to chin.
Arrows split the air on either side of Aragorn as he chased up the
gangplank nearly catching Raldush. The weapons found their marks
in the backs of the ship crew that ran next to the Harbor Master.
One crewmember fell from the top of the gangway, his body carried off
by the river, the other slipped back onto the plank, tripping up
Aragorn. Clumsily he threw the dead man’s body out of the way and
leapt onto the ship’s deck, frantically seeking which direction the
Harbor Master had fled. If he got away and rallied his men, it
could be disastrous.
Raldush stood near the anchor winch, winding the thick, wet rope on a
huge wheel as he shouted in his native language to the men below.
In moments the deck would be full of Corsairs and Aragorn stood alone
mid-ship, staring at the hatch, his mind working furiously. The
ranger glanced up at the huge sails over his head, the soft snapping of
the wind against them attracting his attention. Ignoring Raldush
for the moment, he ran to the edge of the railing and shouted down at
Tarcil. His second-in-command was interrogating a prisoner and
quickly searched about him for the source of the sound of his
“Tarcil, here, up here!” Aragorn motioned with his hands, “Light an
arrow and put in the ship's main mast!” The northerner didn’t
to see his commands carried out but raced back to the large vertical
shaft. Unsheathing his elven blade he began to cut through the
thick cords that held the sails furled.
The mainsail fell first, the white canvas falling in on itself and
folding down to the deck covering the ship with its heavy fabric.
Seeing Thorongil’s intent, Tarcil shouted to the men around him to
target the ropes and bring the sails and spars down upon the
deck. Aragorn was hoping their weight would be enough to pin the
hatch closed beneath them.
Seeing his men trapped below and his exit from the ship cut off as fire
raced towards the prow, Raldush gave up on the anchor and stalked back
to the Gondorian commander with death in his eyes.
The fire was racing out of control. Aragorn had to leap aside to
avoid a flaming sheet of canvas as it fell to the deck with a crash,
sending up a biting shower of sparks and heat. Before he could
react or even fully register the threat, Raldush was on him.
The swiftness and surprise of the Harbor Master’s attack left Aragorn
reeling. He found himself driven to the deck as Raldush slammed
his fists down between the ranger’s shoulder blades. Pain lanced
across Aragorn’s back and he gasped raggedly for air as his lungs
attempted to recover from the shock of the blow.
Tarcil saw Raldush’s intentions but his attempts to stop the Corsair
failed. He watched in helpless horror from the dock as the Harbor
Master drove Thorongil to the deck of the ship, out of their line of
sight, his voice drowned out by the chaos around them.
Before Aragorn could recover, Raldush grabbed the Gondorian commander,
hauling him to his feet by his hair. His large, thick hands
wrapped around Aragorn’s neck and pinned him to the main mast, choking
him. Flames leapt high behind the fighting silhouettes, sending
sparks flying far up into the backdrop of the star-flecked sky.
The ranger twisted in the vice-like grip, trying to pry the man’s
fingers from his neck. He lashed out at the Corsair who neatly
moved out of reach of the short elven blade, slapping the weapon out of
the captain’s hand.
Behind the fighting men, the foresails fell to the deck, their main
boom crashing down upon the top of the hatch and sealing it shut even
as the men below pressed their combined strength against the weight of
the collapsed mainsail’s rigging. There was no escape for them
now. The white fabric fluttered to the deck of the ship as the
aft sail’s halyards snapped, cut clean through by the hail of arrows
that Tarcil’s men fired repeatedly at them.
Maintaining his grip on the Gondorian commander, Raldush punched the
soldier brutally in the stomach, forcing all the air from Aragorn’s
lungs. The ranger’s eyes widened at the new punishment and he
felt panic begin to flood through his being when he couldn’t get his
diaphragm to cooperate.
The sound of an arrow cut close by his face, causing him to move as
much as he could to the left as one of the projectiles impacted the
mast to the right of him, splattering burning pitch against the wood
and dripping the thick substance down onto the sail beneath their
feet. Aragorn flinched as a splatter of pitch streaked across his
cheek, burning the soft skin.
Quickly grabbing the weapon, Aragorn awkwardly jerked it out of the
wood piling and shoved the flaming arrowhead into his opponent’s
Raldush fell back, releasing his grip on the ranger. A second
flaming arrow sent him stumbling forward as it embedded itself into his
back, rupturing his heart. His gaze locked onto Aragorn’s as he
fell forward and the young commander pushed him into the midst of the
pile of white fabric that lay in mounds on the decking. Already
the sails were on fire and the flames raced up the halyards that had
caught in the rigging, hanging up on the disjointed spars and booms
that had fallen with the sails.
Aragorn stumbled backward towards the aft of the ship. He could
hear the crewmembers and soldiers trapped below but he found that he
had no pity for them as he moved away from the spreading flames.
These men built their lives on the broken backs of cruelly subjected
slaves; they massacred women and children and mutilated the dead.
Fire had engulfed much of the ship by this time; there was nothing he
could have done for them now even had he wanted to.
Quickly recovering his breath, Aragorn raced to the edge of the
ship. Most of the railing and the whole side of the great boat
was aflame. Looking over to his men below he heard them shouting,
but the roar of the fire and the wind that whipped up from the flames
cut off the exact words. Following their frantic pointing he saw
a large ship edging slowly past the boat he stood upon.
This ship was smaller than the one he was on and carried no complement
of soldiers. Its hull was black and its markings were
foreign. With a start Aragorn realized it was the slave ship and
it was making a run for it. Using the burning hulks of the
Corsairs' warships as shields, the slavers were attempting to
Glancing down the line of ruined vessels, Aragorn noted that there was
no way his men could stop the ship. He couldn’t let them get
away. The deck behind him was partly on fire, the flames edging
closer to where the ranger stood. A tattered rope hung just above
the back of the aft deck. It had caught on the main mast high
above the ground and swung freely.
The slave ship had nearly passed; it was picking up speed as its sails
caught the strengthening winds. Shaking his head as he thought
through his options and finding his only idea to seem completely
foolhardy, Aragorn raced up the short stairway to the aft of the ship,
grasping the trailing rope and pulling himself onto the edge of the
rail. Taking a deep breath he kicked off of the railing and swung
in a large arc towards the passing ship, releasing the edge of the rope
as he was thrown across the deck.
Landing on his shoulders and rolling up onto his feet, Aragorn pulled a
small knife from the back of his belt. The thin, tapered blade screamed
through the air, embedding itself in the neck of the captain who was
steering the vessel down the wide, deep channel. The man fell
forward onto the large wheel, inadvertently causing the ship to steer
to the right. The hull of the slaver craft scraped against the
burning hulk of one of the warships that listed on its side in the
river, pressing the dead ship out of its way as it churned towards the
The rending sound of wood on wood drew the Gondorian soldiers’
attention and those who were not guarding prisoners or chasing down
stragglers ran to the edge of the harbor where the ship slammed
forcefully into the harbor deck, breaking the planks easily and
grounding its hull on the rocks beneath. Lacing their hands
together the soldiers lifted their own up to the top of the railing and
the warriors swarmed the deck, quickly subduing the slave master’s
crew. The shipmates gave up without a fight, seeing their boss
and captain killed so skillfully by the irate commander and noting the
swift destruction of the warships all around them.
Aragorn raced to the hatch and beat the lock off of the wooden door
with the handle of his sword, flinging it open. Kneeling on the
deck he called for a torch and leaned down into the large pit of the
hold. He could hear the people below, their soft cries of fear
and distress mingled with the distinct rattle of chains.
Tarcil knelt next to his commander, his eyes quickly assessing the man
and passing him a torch. Thorongil had been known to continue on
even when seriously wounded and it had fallen many times to his
second-in-command to know when to the pull the higher ranking officer
out of the fray. The northerner’s neck was red and bruises and
welts from the near choking he had taken were beginning to
appear. There was a nasty burn on his cheek that would need to be
seen to and he had sustained several cuts and bruises. Nothing
life-threatening, Tarcil sighed softly in relief before returning his
attention to the hold.
“Shh... be at peace.” Thorongil spoke loudly enough for all to
hear but his voice carried a tenderness and gentleness that had a
calming effect on the people below, “We are here to free you. Be
still, we’ll be right down.”
Turning back to his men he ordered the keys to the chains be found and
in short order a small man was pushed to the front of the press of
soldiers. He was obviously a member of the slavers.
Hesitantly he held the keys out to the Gondorian commander.
The contempt in Aragorn’s eyes caused the slight man to flinch
visibly. “Throw him down there and make him unlock them
himself. When he is through, bind him in his own chains and bring
him out. I want all the slavers locked in their own iron collars so
they can see first hand how it feels.” Thorongil growled as he
pushed the man towards one of the soldiers, instructing a few standing
around to climb below as well and help release the prisoners.
The ship listed heavily onto its right side, its hull having been
compromised when it grounded itself. The boards in the bottom
gave way and water began to seep into the compartment that held the
slaves. The situation had changed immediately and Thorongil was
pulled away from the hatch as soldiers quickly shimmied down the ropes,
handing freed slaves out through the small portal as fast as they
Tarcil led his commander off the ship and out of the way of the stream
of people that was exiting the sinking vessel. Pity rose in
Aragorn’s heart as he watched the men, women and children being led
safely away from their captivity. Some were injured, some were
carrying others but most wore lost looks of fear and shock was written
on every dirty, tear-stained face.
“We need to get them away from here, Tarcil. They need food and
blanket. Look at them.” He motioned toward a small child that
clung to his mother’s leg. The woman’s left hand touched the
matted hair of the youngster and she fearfully followed the soldiers to
join the others.
Aragorn moved from where he stood and scooped the small boy into his
arms, quieting his mother’s fears as she turned towards the soldier
with a small cry. He led the group of refugees away from the
ships to the edge of the woods were his men were caring for the wounded
among them. The former slavers, now prisoners, had been shackled
and contained in their own chains and were being led back to the main
camp ahead of those they had claimed as slaves. There was no need
to torment the freed people with the sight of their captors any
longer. Few were the Corsairs that had survived the raid and when
Aragorn inquired about how his men had faired he was pleased to learn
that they had only lost a small handful of men, although they had quite
a number more who were wounded. He would see to them all later
and make sure they were well taken care of.
A shouted warning drew his attention and he glanced up quickly from
helping an elderly man down onto the grassy knoll. The slaver
ship, having taken on too much water, listed dangerously on its
side. The last of his men and the freed refugees jumped from the
side of the ship as it rolled completely over in the riverbed, its main
mast sinking into the soft mud of the waterway and holding fast.
With an inhuman groan the ship broke apart and dipped beneath the top
of the water, submerging in the deep swirls of the river.
“What do we do with the harbor, sir?” Aragorn recognized the man
as one of the commanders under him.
“Torch it,” he answered quietly. “Burn it all, burn it to the
ground. Take a small contingent and destroy it utterly. I want
them to know they have been completely defeated. Return to the
rendezvous when you are through.” He smiled tightly as the man
nodded and ran off to obey, taking a group of ten soldiers with him to
accomplish Thorongil’s commands.
Aragorn started to walk to the front of the column of people that was
beginning to assemble as the soldiers started the refugees heading back
towards camp. He wanted to make it there by morning; these people
wouldn’t be able to travel much farther.
A small commotion to the rear of the company caught his attention and
he stopped, wondering what the shouting was all about.
“Adrar! Adrar!” a voice was calling.
Whipping quickly around, Aragorn made his way to the back of the column
of newly freed slaves. A young, dark-skinned man was being
restrained by Tarcil and another soldier.
“Adrar!” The youth’s frantic cries increased when he saw that he
had garnered the commanding officer’s attention.
Frowning slightly, Aragorn stopped in front of the young man and
ordered his men to release him. Few were the people who knew him
by that name and none of those who did should have been in this
place. The dark-skinned youth, nearing the end of his teenage
years, smiled widely, his eyes glittering with excitement. The
face was strangely familiar but... the name escaped Aragorn. He
tipped his head slightly to the right as he looked the young man up and
“You don’t remember me?” The boy’s accent was thick, although his
common was easy to understand, “You promised you would never forget
“Kidrin?!” Aragorn whispered the name in disbelief. The
small child he remembered in his mind’s eye had grown and changed
much. “Is that you?”