Water swirled darkly before them. Not the placid waters of a pond nor
even the rushing stream of the great Anduin, these were dangerous,
debris-littered floodwaters, seasonally swollen by rain upriver
overflowing the banks of what was normally a small tributary.
Alcarin and Castamir regarded the water with looks nearly as dark and
perilous as the swirling current. The grey, swollen sky above
reflected dully on the surface of the water as the sun sank towards the
Legolas, near the rear of the party, did not like the look of the
water, but he was not entirely surprised by it. It had been
raining incessantly for nearly a week now, such rain as was never seen
in northern Gondor. The daily deluge slowed the soldiers and
shortened everyone’s tempers. The elf had learned that silence
was the best policy for his health since the soggy troops, improperly
provisioned for their extended trek, were running out of everything,
“Another delay... I do not like this,” Alcarin shook his head. A
chance encounter with a group of bandits who were preying on a local
caravan some days ago had already slowed them up more than they
liked. The bandits were easily dealt with, but the farmers who
had been returning from a trip to market had needed much assistance to
get their now limping little party home safely. That had taken
the soldiers, who had nearly reached Minas Tirith, far out of their way
and across the Anduin below Osgiliath. Rather than back-tracking
when they were done, they had thought to proceed on the eastern bank of
the river until the more favorable crossings further south presented
themselves since Minas Tirith was still a few days travel in that
direction anyway. What they had not counted on was the
increasingly wild and swollen state of the river. The crossings
that were usually safe had been far too wide and dangerous to attempt,
forcing them further south until they were now actually quite some
distance south of their intended goal, wandering into the currently
sodden land of South Ithilien. The other thing they had not
counted on was running into this massive floodplain just below
“It’s not very deep, we could probably ford it all right if it gets no
worse,” Castamir apprised thoughtfully.
Alcarin looked uncertain. “Perhaps... I don’t wish to endanger
the men needlessly, floods can be dangerous. It’s a pity we have
no one familiar with this region’s weather patterns to advise us,” the
last part was a sigh.
“Well then we’ll have to turn back and take the crossing north of Emyn
Arnen and Hegdegon. There’s no other way across the Anduin between here
and there,” Castamir suggested their only alternative without
enthusiasm. None of them wanted to do that. It would mean a
backtrack of at least thirty or forty miles that would land them just
as far off course as they were now. If the weather did not
improve, that would be a very dismal journey. Several of the men
Alcarin shook his head. He did not want to do that unless it
truly was their last option. “The light is fading; we can go no
further today. We’ll camp here tonight and see what the morning
brings. Perhaps the waters will have receded.”
It was a dangerous decision, although none of them knew it.
Shortly after camp was set it began to rain again. The troops
swore as the already muddy grass under their feet turned to
puddles. The rain had ruined much of their supplies and they
weren’t even able to light fires. The water seeped under tent
edges and nothing was left dry.
Legolas knelt impassively in three inches of muddy water. It
would have been impossible for him to become any more uncomfortable by
this time, so there was no point in being annoyed. Usually he was
bound to a tree or staked down for the night, but since no pegs would
hold in the soggy earth and there were no trees readily available, his
guard was doubled.
Somewhere in the hills away to the left of camp, his elven ears caught
a disturbing, distant rumble. He lifted his bowed head and cocked
it to the side, listening. Now he could feel the ground beginning
to tremble ever so slightly beneath him. A wave of alarm swept
through the elf.
“Something is wrong,” Legolas spoke up for the first time in
days. “Danger approaches.” He did not know what or how, but
he felt sure that something was gravely amiss.
The two grumpy soldiers on either side of the elf gave him irritated
glances at first, but a moment later they too began to feel the
trembling of the earth beneath them.
Suddenly, loud shouting outside split the dark, soggy air and made them
all jerk. It was hard to hear above the pelting rain, but it
sounded as if a voice was shouting: “Get out! Get out!”
Exchanging worried glances, the two soldiers quickly rose to their
feet, prodding Legolas with them. The elf needed no encouragement
as the three of them tumbled swiftly out of the small tent into the
sleeting rain outside.
The camp seemed to be in chaos, although it was difficult at first to
understand why. The full moon, thickly shrouded in clouds, lent a
faint, diffused shine to the entire nighttime sky; however, grey rain
and the darkness of night obscured almost everything. A loud,
rushing roar filled their ears, seeming to come from everywhere at
Something made Legolas turn around, towards the darkened shapes of the
hills on their left. What he saw next was not an image the prince
would easily forget.
A dark outline blotted out the pale light of the cloudy sky, but it was
not the normal shape of the hills, it was much too close and moving
much to fast. A searing flash of lightning revealed an eight to
ten foot wall of water rushing down towards them.
By the time it could be seen, it was too late to react. The flash
flood tore through the valley, sweeping everything in it into the
rushing roar of the floodplain.
Legolas felt the water hit him and instantly he was weightless.
It was as if a strong hand had ripped the air from his lungs; picking
him up and throwing him, not once, but repeatedly. Water washed
over his head, filling his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Caught in
the current he could not tell which way was up as the darkened world
spun around him.
Breaking surface, he gulped down several rapid breaths of air before
being sucked under once more. The elf thrashed in the water,
kicking hard towards what he hoped was the surface. He was a fair
swimmer, but with his arms securely bound behind him it was almost
impossible to fight the raging current.
Legolas could hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing but the rough
swell he was caught in. Hard objects swirled around him; they
could have been tree-branches, debris, or even other people, there was
no way to know. Something heavy caught him in the low back,
forcing him down under the surface. The elf kicked upward with
all his strength, but he ran into what felt like a sea of tossing
branches, probably from some downed tree uprooted by the sudden
flood. The rough fingers caught and held Legolas underwater,
scratching and pummeling him as the fluxing current slammed and bumped
A strange, unearthly calm came over the panicking elf as he ran out of
air. All thoughts seemed to leave his mind. It was not so
much that he was giving up, as that he could not remember why he was
struggling. But as the dark, murky water reached up its swirling
claws to claim him Legolas felt himself run into something soft.
The soft thing flailed slightly in the water, reacting to hitting
him. Then strong hands grabbed his tunic and hair, pulling him
towards the tossing surface.
When his head came up Legolas coughed and gasped for breath; his lungs
and throat aching fiercely. He could not see who his rescuer was,
but the hands propelled him forward, pushing him up onto the broken
trunk of the tree that had nearly killed him. Legolas was unable
to grab the tree trunk because his hands were still bound behind him
and so he kept sliding back into the water.
The man beside him swore. “Grab on!”
Legolas realized with a jolt who his unlikely rescuer was, but now was
not the time to question a helping hand.
“I cannot!” he shouted back above the roar of the water around
The man’s hands caught against the knotted halter around the elf’s
chest and he swore again, this time in surprise.
“You?!” Castamir spluttered slightly, trying to keep his own head above
water as he clung to the log and supported Legolas’ weight. “Why
did it have to be you?!” He almost let the elf go, almost let the
water have him, but at the last moment he grabbed the wet ropes of the
halter and hauled the prisoner up onto the log instead.
Legolas winced as the knotted ropes dug into his chest and arms, but
felt better at having something solid under him, keeping him
afloat. He was honestly surprised. He had more than
expected Castamir to leave him to the mercy of the current.
Hooking the back of the halter over the broken stub of a tree branch,
Castamir kept the elf from sliding back down into the water again as
the tree swept and jostled its way downstream.
Legolas resisted the urge to cry out as his full weight fell against
the painful restraint of the halter. The water jerked and caught
at him, banging him against the tree that was keeping him afloat and
slamming him repeatedly against the punishing ropes that were both
saving his life and creating flashes of constant, stunning pain that
almost made him dizzy.
Legolas’ weight on one side and Castamir’s on the other kept the log
from spinning as it cut its way through the churning darkness.
Just how long that dreadful journey lasted was difficult to tell.
After what seemed like hours, but could have actually been much less
then that, the flood began to even out and lose some of its original
ferocity. Exhausted from their long battle with the elements, the
man and the elf slumped against their make-shift raft in cautious
relief as the current rushing them along settled down to a more
reasonable pace. In the near pitch-dark there was no way to see
if or where any dry land might be; for the present they could do
nothing but hold on and wait this nightmare ride out.
When grey dawn finally began to seep up the edges of the sky, Legolas
was beyond weary. He supposed Castamir must be as well, although
the human had not said a word to him since their first exchange and he
could not see the soldier from where he was.
The rain had stopped a few hours ago and the rising sun revealed that
they were no longer on the plains of Graveshead but in the middle of a
broad, flowing river. The flood must have emptied into the Anduin
at some point during the long night and now they were floating
downstream. It seemed that many of the other soldiers had fared
the same because as the sun climbed higher and the steep gorge they
were in narrowed out into flat plains on either side of the river, they
began to be hailed by comrades already on the sloping banks.
The eddy they were now caught in led them eventually to shore with a
little help and paddling. Tyrion and an older soldier named
Ostoher waded out and helped pull the log in.
Castamir stumbled up onto the sodden riverbank and sat down, rubbing
feeling back into his cold, stiff limbs while Ostoher waded back out
and unhooked Legolas. The elf’s legs felt a bit shaky, but once
he was released from his anchor to the tree he waded to shore under his
own power. Ostoher eyed him a little warily, but he need not have
worried. Legolas was too worn-out to attempt anything even had he
wanted to do so.
The elf sank to his knees, letting his head and shoulders sag forward
as he drew in deep breaths, filling his lungs in a way which the
constant pressure of the halter had not allowed him last night.
The bruised flesh under the knotted ropes was throbbing painfully and
it took him a few moments to regain his composure.
“Where are the others, do we know how many made it?” Castamir was
quizzing Tyrion. The young man shook his head, obviously still a
little shocked. He had never seen anything in nature with as much
fury as a flash flood before. None of them had.
“I don’t know sir. Ostoher and I were washed ashore upstream
sometime early last night. We’ve been walking downstream since it
was light enough to see, looking for others. There’s some over
there,” he nodded his head somewhat shakily across the river. “On
the opposite bank. And you two of course.” The young man
looked back at the river as if it were a dragon, calm now, but seething
underneath. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he
“That makes two of us,” Castamir muttered, contemplating rising but
opting for resting a moment longer. “We’ll have to keep going
downstream to find the others. If you haven’t found anyone else
yet, then chances are they are further ahead still, if they are to be
found at all.” The last part was spoken half under the soldier’s
breath. The uncertainty of what they would or wouldn’t find
weighed heavily on all of them.
“Right then,” Ostoher said at length. “Hadn’t we better get
started, sir?” Since Castamir was the only ranking officer
present at the moment, the other man turned to him for orders.
Castamir nodded, rising slowly and stiffly to his feet. “Spread
out so we don’t miss anyone further inland. Tyrion, you take left
point. Ostoher, you take right point, but everyone stay within
view. We don’t want to get separated.”
Ostoher and Tyrion quickly moved to obey. Ostoher glanced back at
Legolas. The elf was still kneeling on the riverbank. “What
“Leave him to me,” Castamir said with a hint of darkness creeping back
into his tone. Walking behind Legolas the soldier grabbed the
back of the elf’s halter and roughly pulled him upright. “On your
The Gondorian twisted the ropes in his hand, making the knotted cord
constrict. “You’re not going to give me any trouble, are
Legolas gasped softly in pain, unable to stifle the sound as the hard
knots ground deeply into his already injured flesh. Castamir took
that as a no. “Good. Then I won’t have to hurt you.”
He pulled the elf back against him and leaned close for a moment so
that only Legolas could hear his words.
“Don’t think that just because I saved your life means I’ll hesitate to
take it if you so much as look at me wrong, understand?” The
soldier’s hand remained firmly twisted in the halter, holding Legolas
against him and making the elf work hard not to squirm under the
painful pressure around his bruised chest and shoulders.
“I asked if you understood,” Castamir growled slightly, twisting the
ropes tighter. He obviously wanted a real answer this time.
Legolas nodded once. Yes, he understood. He understood that
if he was long left under Castamir’s care alone, he would probably
never make it back to Minas Tirith alive. Why the soldier had
even bothered to keep him alive this long was a mystery to him.
Castamir released the halter, shoving Legolas a few steps ahead and the
elf let his breath out in relief at the reprieve. “All right
then, move out.”
The sun had traversed the sky and daylight was fading to evening when
the little quartet met up with five or six more of their scattered
platoon. One of whom, to Legolas’ relief, was Alcarin. The
young Lieutenant looked haggard and upset.
“Castamir, you made it,” he greeted the newcomers. “Have you seen
The second-in-command shook his head. “Just three, across the
river. They looked as if they were also heading downstream.”
Alcarin nodded. “They passed us not long ago. They are going to
try to swim across a little ways down where the water is calmer.”
He ran his hand over his face. “I should never have camped us
“You had no way of knowing, sir, none of us expected that,” Castamir
sighed. He and Alcarin did not always see eye to eye, but the
soldiers were trained to pull together in times of crisis, and this
definitely qualified as such.
Alcarin nodded slowly. “Well, at least we are across the river,”
he commented dryly. “Although heaven only knows how far
downstream we are now. We have salvaged what we can as far as
supplies go, but they won’t get us very far,” Alcarin filled in his
second-in-command swiftly. “I sent several of the men ahead as
scouts earlier; they just reported back. There is no sign of any
town for many leagues. However, there is apparently a somewhat
sizable contingent of troops about a day and a half’s march south from
here. They were on the move, further south, but should not gain
more than another half a day or so on us by tomorrow. The scouts
who saw them from a high hill say that the troop movements seemed
stealthy. It was difficult to tell from a distance, but the
scouts are almost certain that they are ours, although their errand is
unknown. I think our best hope is to try to join up with
them. They will have supplies and they will know where we
are. But we must be cautious; if they are attempting to hide
their movements, we do not want to give them away to whatever they are
trying to avoid.”
Castamir inclined his head in agreement. It was the only thing to
do. Besides, if they failed to catch up with the other soldiers,
there was at least a higher probability that if they headed south they
would run into Lithiant or some of its border towns that must still be
ahead of them somewhere. True, it took them well away from their
previous course for Minas Tirith, but being unsure of just how far
south they had already been carried by the river, it was a safer bet
than wandering aimlessly north which, if they were anywhere near the area of
Lithiant, would mean miles and miles of unpopulated wilderness between
themselves and the South Road or the more populous areas surrounding
Lossarnach. Let alone Minas Tirith.
Legolas cared little what the soldiers decided. His body ached
fiercely and he felt worn out by the sleepless night and long day’s
travel in a way that he knew he should not be. He was beginning
to question his presence here. Yes, he wished to prove his
innocence and remove the taint from his name, but at this rate he
wondered when they would even get
to Minas Tirith. It was as if an ill fate conspired against
Fires were being started against the growing evening chill, although
since almost everything in the area was wet it was no easy task.
At least it had not picked up raining again. That was one small
comfort. It was nearly dusk by the time the fires were going
properly and the soldiers gathered around. The light drew in a
few more lost stragglers, and the soldiers were somewhat heartened to
find that they had not lost as many of their number as they had
originally feared. In the end only two men were missing, although
most of their gear, tents and supplies had been washed away.
Legolas was placed with his back against a tree on the dark edges of
the fire-ring and the soldiers prepared to bind him there.
Alcarin stopped them.
“Put him against the tree closer to the fire. He’s just as cold
and wet as we are.”
Actually that was only half true, since Legolas did not actually suffer
from cold as the humans did, but he was wet and aching and the warm
fire felt good upon his stiff, bruised body.
Save for the ones standing watch, the humans slowly dropped off to
sleep one by one. The elf however, remained awake. Weary as
he was, he could not sleep. He almost never slept anymore.
It was disturbing, but he simply could not. Elves, they say,
could wander in waking dreams of their own choosing, but all Legolas
could find now were nightmares. His helpless, vulnerable state
kept him on edge and denied his body the full relaxation needed for
The elf watched the fire slowly burn down into glowing embers with
weary eyes and wondered what the next day would bring. More
soldiers, new men, new captors... would the change be a curse, or a
blessing? He had no way of knowing. Only the gnawing
uncertainty that had become part of his daily existence.
Thorongil exited his tent, throwing the flap back and glancing around
the small encampment. He and Denethor had brought a comparatively
small contingent with them, considering the size that they were
accustomed to commanding in the wars against the Haradrim. This,
however, was a reconnaissance mission and nothing more. They were
not to engage the enemy or start anything with the Corsairs if they
found them. They were not even to be discovered as they traveled
into southern Gondor approaching Lithiant by way of stealth using the
woodland paths that bracketed the Anduin. They were a half a
day's march from the port where, if the fishermen from Lithiant were
telling the truth, the majority of the Corsair ships were rumored to be
docked, awaiting only supplies and troops before they made their way
deep into Gondor. If
those reports had been accurate.
Aragorn knew that Denethor not only hoped, but firmly expected to find
nothing. Although he knew the other captain would never believe it,
Aragorn hoped the same thing, even though his common sense and the
warning of his heart told him otherwise. He would like nothing
better than to be wrong in this instance, for the threat to not be as
real as it seemed... but he doubted that was the case.
The small company of soldiers had pressed back into a thickly wooded
area to hide their encampment and cooking fires now sparked merrily in
the small glen that Thorongil had found for them.
Sentries constantly scouted the borders, checking in regularly. A
grouping of three soldiers had just checked in for the evening and
their replacements left the fire ring as Denethor reseated
Thorongil watched the other captain. The Steward’s son sighed and
ran his fingers through his hair; the long days of travel were wearing
on him. He was more weary than he would admit. He tired of
war, he tired of his father’s seeming displeasure of him and he longed
for peace, fearing it would never come in his lifetime.
“Thorongil.” The softly spoken words stopped Aragorn
mid-stride. He had meant to go and sit near Denethor and try to
speak to his Captain. He was determined to continue trying to
reach the man, believing that there could be a friendship there between
them. He wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
Turning at the sound of the voice, he was met by Tarcil. The
dark-haired Gondorian soldier stood a good head above his captain.
“How are the borders, Tarcil?” Thorongil smiled up at the man he
had come to trust not only as a good under-officer and troop commander,
but also as a friend.
“They are safe, my captain. I doubt that we will have troubles
tonight. Not even the Haradrim would venture into the woods this
deeply. You have found us a safe place to rest.” He
continued his report as they walked slowly across the field. They were
camped a good league to the north of Lithiant and where the rumors
placed the Corsair’s newly built harbor.
“Lithiant is quiet tonight,” Tarcil continued. “No one threatens
her borders and the Corsairs are not near it, but if the reports we
have been hearing from the Lithiants are true, then their encampment is
not far south of the town. They say you can see the lights they keep on
through the night from the highest lookout.”
Noting the direction they were walking, the soldier’s gaze flitted
quickly over to where Denethor sat staring dejectedly into the
fire. “You were going to go accompany the Commander?” The
question held the slightest tinge of wariness. Tarcil was not
overly found of Captain Denethor. He had seen the jealousy in the
man and was not pleased with the other’s treatment of his friend.
“Yes, I was. Care to join us?” Aragorn’s smile spread wider
as the soldier glared at him, questioning his sanity. “Oh come
on, what can it hurt?”
“It is no use, my lord. I have seen you try time and again to win
Captain Denethor over. The man is intent on being quarrelsome and
strong-headed. He will never change.”
“Every man can change, Tarcil. He is not as you assume him to
be. The burden he carries is great and he fears to share it with
any others. Everyone deserves a second chance.” Thorongil
clapped the man on the back and steered them both towards the fire.
“And a third and a fourth?” Tarcil muttered darkly.
“If need be, yes.” The young captain laughed at the soldier’s
reluctance, knowing deep in his heart that the man was right. He
had given Denethor many chances to get to know him and had tried on
many occasions to smooth the rift that grew ever wider between
them. All to no avail.
“Denethor?” Thorongil rounded a log that had been placed near the
fire and sat down a few feet away from the steward’s son. “How are you
faring? You seem tired, my lord.”
Dark, distrustful eyes shifted wearily to gaze at the two men that had
joined him. It was a few minutes before Denethor spoke and
Aragorn feared he may have overstepped himself again. The silence
had nearly become unbearable and Tarcil shifted uneasily next to
Thorongil. Then Denethor quietly spoke up.
“I pray that we find you wrong, Thorongil.” The words were soft
and held a tone of slight disdain.
“My lord?” Aragorn turned towards the Commander, his full
attention on the man. Tarcil sighed quietly next to him but the
ranger shushed his second-in-command with a slight touch to the man’s
“I realize now that you truly believe the Corsairs are massing for an
attack and I hope more than anything I have ever hoped for that you are
incorrect. I want nothing more than to walk back into my father’s
chambers and tell him you were wrong.” Denethor cast his gaze
back to the fire, his face losing some of the anger that marked
it. When Thorongil started to speak the young man cut him off
with a wave of his hand, shaking his head at the unspoken words, “You
don’t understand. It is not because of you that I wish it.
I do not believe Gondor can withstand another war. I am not sure
that I wish to either.”
“Denethor, you are not being honest with yourself,” Aragorn spoke
softly. “Both you and Gondor are stronger than you deem.
Whatever we find, you must have faith that it can be overcome, or
everything is already lost.”
Denethor sighed deeply and dropped his gaze to the dirt beneath his
feet, scuffing his boots into the forest debris. “You want
honesty? Then try this. My father would take your word over mine
no matter what I say. It is a wonder he has not put you in charge of
Gondor over me long ago.” There was a clipped bitterness in the future
Steward’s voice as he met the other’s eyes. “I would that he saw
me as he sees you. I grow weary of hearing your name and being
compared to you. My father loves you, the people love you. You
have no idea what it is like to be second in the eyes of all that you
hold dear. Was that honest enough for you?”
Thorongil turned to Tarcil and quietly dismissed the man. The
soldier was only too glad to leave; his captain had been right,
underneath it all Denethor was simply weighed down by a burden too
heavy for him to carry. Why he tried to carry it alone rather
than letting others close enough to help him, the younger man might
never be able to understand.
When Tarcil had left, Thorongil answered the Denethor. “You are
wrong.” The northerner threw a small branch into the fire,
watching the flames devour the dried greenery that clung to it.
A snort of derision caused him to glance sharply up. Denethor was
shaking his head a small smirk on his face. “That would not be a
first,” he answered darkly.
“I mean that you are wrong about your father and the people and the
fact that I do not understand what it is like to come in second to
others.” Aragorn smiled softly as Denethor glanced at him.
The young steward’s eyes were wary and still not entirely
“I have two older brothers.” Thorongil’s smile widened and he
laughed quietly as memory caught him up, “Two brothers who can do
everything perfectly. They have always been faster, better
marksmen, better horsemen and by far better with weaponry than I.
From the time I was old enough to understand our difference, I could
never out-climb them, out-run them or out-smart them. It was not
until just before I left to join Éomund and the Rohirrim that I
even began to excel in tracking and hunting, but it has been years in
the coming. And often I believed that my father loved them
best.” Shaking his head and laughing lightly again Thorongil
continued, “They are twins, you see, and they are the apple of his eye,
well other than... than my sister, but she was rarely around.” He
stopped speaking as thoughts of his family momentarily took him away
from the world of men and his heart ached once more to return. He
never felt right referring to Arwen as his sister, not with the way he
felt about her, but there was no time or need to go into that confusing
tangle of emotions with Denethor. There were some things that
Aragorn kept very private.
Denethor was watching the young captain intently, a frown creasing his
brow. He had never heard Thorongil speak of his family.
Indeed he had never thought to ask the northerner about them at
“But my point is, my father never loved them more. He loved us
all the same but he was often...” Aragorn searched for the right
word, “...often more stern with me, if that is the right way to explain
it, than with my brothers for he could foresee the path of my life and
knew I would need it.” Thorongil’s silver eyes glanced up and locked
onto the green ones that gazed at him so openly, “And so it is with
your father. Denethor, your father loves you. You think he
disapproves of you but he knows you will be the one to take his place
and he has only so much time to help train you to that position.
You will make good Steward someday and he sees this.”
“He has told you that?” Denethor looked quickly down to his hands
fiddling nervously with a twig that he had found near him.
“Not in so many words, but yes.”
“Then why does he not tell me?” The commander looked accusingly
at Thorongil, the pain obvious in his voice although he tried to
disguise it through the accusation, “Why would he tell you? You
are not even his blood.”
Aragorn shrugged slightly; answers were so difficult to come by.
“You both need to talk to each other. Denethor, you are his son.
I am not and I will not remain in Gondor forever. While I am here
let us not find ourselves on opposites sides of every argument. Can we
not agree? I do not wish for your place and I do not seek
it. I only want Gondor to see peace, and peace in your lifetime
Denethor stood swiftly, he gaze hard on the man that sat next to
him. “If you truly want peace for Gondor then stop trying to find
war under every threat you think
is at our borders. Let me do my job.” Turning, he stalked
away from the fire ring.
Aragorn sighed deeply and rested his head in his hands.
Just outside the circle of light from the fire Denethor stopped and
stood where he was. He knew that deep in his heart he was truly
only jealous of Thorongil and longed to be the one whose name was on
the lips and hearts of the people. The young captain was a good
man and had never done anything to deserve his hatred; it was simply
hard to see through the hurt. He turned back and glanced over his
shoulder noting the slumped position of the captain.
Aragorn jumped slightly and glanced up at Denethor, his gaze
questioning the steward.
“Thank you,” the commander whispered softly before walking back
to his tent.
Turning towards the fire once more Aragorn threw a log on the dying
embers and stretched his legs out towards the flames, warming his
booted feet. He smiled softly to himself and shook his
head. People were so complicated that sometimes he wasn’t sure he
would ever understand them. Glancing skyward he sought out
Eärendil and tracked the star’s slow progress across the night
Tomorrow would tell if he was correct. For Denethor’s sake he
hoped he wasn’t but, deep inside of him, he knew that peace for the men
in this land would not come so easily.
It was a new moon and the shades of nightfall were on their side as
Thorongil and Denethor crept through the darkened streets of the small
town that bracketed the makeshift harbor the Corsairs had quickly set
up some leagues downstream from Lithiant. The soldiers spread out
behind the two captains, silently making their way to the docks.
It had taken the small troop nearly all day to reach here from their
previous encampment near Lithiant, but they had brought only a few
soldiers with them. Their hope right now was in stealth and
keeping their presence a secret.
This was supposed to be a trading outpost, a harmless little stopping
point for the river trade routes... except that Gondor did almost no
business with the Corsairs and the size of the make-shift settlement
they were beginning to see was totally unjustified for its supposed
Wordlessly pointing to his right, Thorongil put up two fingers before
his eyes silently indicating that he intended to head in that direction
and look. The unspoken communication he had developed with
Legolas, his elven friend, had been put to good use with the other
The shipwright’s house was just beyond the darkened shop they knelt
behind. As soon as they cleared the building they would be able
to see the harbor without obstruction.
Thorongil eased around the corner of the store and crept quietly
forward. Years of time spent hunting in the darkened woods with
Legolas and his brothers had given him an advantage over his fellow
soldiers and he easily sidestepped a hole in the dirt street, grabbing
Denethor’s elbow and steering him clear of it.
The light from midnight torches lit the alley in front of them and
Aragorn pressed himself against the wooden wall behind him, flattening
out in the deep shadows as a group of laughing men exited a bar up the
street and staggered past their position.
The docks were bathed in torchlight as scores of men worked round the
clock on the ships that sat docked in the harbor. And they were
most certainly not merchant
ships. Nor were they only docked here, it appeared that many had
actually been built here. From his vantage point Aragorn counted
no less than fifteen of the large warships, each outfitted with enough
weaponry to destroy an entire village. Gangplanks connected the
low, slooped decks to the shore as more provisions, supplies and caches
of weapons were loaded into the cargo holds. The buzz of
nighttime activity indicated that whatever time-table the Corsairs were
running on must be winding to some kind of apex, and soon.
The touch of a hand on his back alerted Thorongil to Denethor’s
presence as the man crept up next to the captain. Aragorn watched
the man’s face as he took in the sight of the Corsairs bustling about
the armada, readying it for war.
Deep green eyes locked onto the silver ones that watched him
“I’m sorry,” Aragorn mouthed silently. He truly wished he had
With a soft sigh Denethor nodded and dropped his gaze, signaling the
men to withdraw; they had seen enough. It would do them no good
to get caught here.
Aragorn’s keen eyesight caught motion to his left and he spied Tarcil
in the shadows near the shipwright’s house. With a small motion
the captain warned his second-in-command and the men pulled back,
fleeing into the safety of the shadows and heading for the rendezvous
point some distance back up the Anduin, outside Lithiant. There
was nothing more that could be done here tonight.
“Halt, who goes there?” the Gondorian sentry questioned warily as a
small party of men approached camp from the north. They were not
Denethor, Thorongil and their party who had departed this morning,
although as they came closer the guard could see that they were wearing
the blue and silver uniforms of Gondor.
“Alcarin, lieutenant commander of what is left of the Ramanna division.
We are friends.” Alcarin introduced them, keeping his hands up a little
since the sentry still had his weapon pointed at them.
“Ramanna division?” the guard questioned in surprise, putting up his
sword. “What are you doing this far south? Your place is in
“That is a very long story which we would be glad to tell,” Alcarin
informed wearily, “but not just yet, I pray. My men have
been marching for days without rest or supplies in order to get
here. And we have wounded comrades who need tending, and a
The sentry quickly called up several other officers and the small,
disheveled group was ushered without further ado into the center of
camp, explaining the details of how they had gotten to this sorry state
as they went.
“It is our first stroke of luck in days that we met up with your
company,” Alcarin told the young soldier who brought him a warm mug of
mead. “You’ll forgive me if I note that your trail was rather
difficult to follow.”
“It was supposed to be,” the youth said with a touch of pride as more
blankets were distributed. “I’m surprised you found us at all.
We’ve been very careful. There are reports of Corsair activity
somewhere near here. The captains have gone to investigate.”
Castamir and the other soldiers of the Ramanna division were settling
gratefully around the fire nearby. Legolas had been taken off
their hands by several of the camp sentries and escorted to the guard
tent for safe keeping.
“Captains? Who’s in charge here?” Castamir inquired, looking up
from his place by the fire.
“Captain Denethor and Captain Thorongil sir, but Captain Denethor is in
charge of the mission,” the young man informed.
Castamir whistled softly. “Then this mission must be important if
it requires the attention of both
Captains of Gondor.”
The younger soldier shrugged somewhat uncomfortably, not wishing to
make too free with men he did not know. “I don’t know sir. I
suppose we will find out when they return.”
Alcarin looked around. “Where is Legolas? Excuse me, the
prisoner?” he inquired of their host.
“They took him to the guard tent. You needn’t worry, our men will watch
him. If you’ll pardon my saying so, sir, you and your men look
beat. I suggest rest for all of you.”
The lieutenant nodded. “That sounds unreasonably good. Wake
me if the captains return before morning, I must speak with them about
our prisoner. It may have some bearing on your mission here, or
it may not. But it is best they know as soon as possible.”
“Yes sir,” the soldier agreed to Alcarin’s request. “If there’s
anything else I can do for any of you, just ask.”
It was barely morning by the time Thorongil and the reconnaissance
party met up with the men they had left behind below Lithiant. It
had been the perfect place to set up their encampment. The
Gondorians in the small town were glad for the presence of the
soldiers; the rumors of the Corsairs so close near their border had
unnerved the citizens and some whispered that it was only a matter of
time before the southerners raided their storehouses and stole their
families as was their wont to do.
Having the soldiers camped so near had given the leery townspeople some
of the first days of security they had felt in a long time.
As the men walked back into camp, the first touches of light were
coloring the sky. Gariss, a young soldier barely out of his
teens, ran out to meet the captains. He did not even ask the
outcome of what they had found but breathlessly informed them that a
supply contingent that was coming up from Dalthad had met up with them
and that they had been ambushed and lost the weapons to a group of
Corsairs who took them by surprise. They had further suffered in
a flash flood somewhere upstream where the rainfall was heavy and
sought permission to join Denethor and Thorongil’s contingent.
“They say they caught the traitor who set them up for the enemy.
They’ve brought him with them, sirs.” Gariss walked briskly
beside Denethor and Thorongil as he filled them on all that had
“There was another traitor amongst our people?” Denethor could
hardly believe his ears. It was not enough that the Corsairs were
massing so close to their borders, but now there were more traitors in
their midst. He could feel his heart growing cold in response to all
the bad news.
“Where is this one?” Thorongil questioned further.
“He is being brought even now but, captains, he is not one of
ours.” Gariss turned towards the camp and noted the small knot of
soldiers that approached them. The sentries had heard the
commotion stirred up by the return of their leaders and had roused
Alcarin and his men as requested. The refreshed Ramanna soldiers
dragged the traitor out of the tent he had been kept in and brought him
out to meet the two returning captains.
Alcarin stepped to the front of his men, temporarily blocking the
captains’ view of the person they had brought out with them. The
young lieutenant looked tired and worn as if he had not slept well, or
even at all, but he did not let his weariness interfere.
“My lords, forgive me for the news I must bring and for failing
you. Captain Denethor, Captain Thorongil, not only have we lost
some of our men, but we have lost the shipment of weapons and armory
bound for Osgiliath.” The soldier’s eyes fell to the forest floor
beneath his feet.
“It is a loss that we could have done without. Alcarin, but tell us,
how many of your men were lost?” Thorongil gently touched the
man’s arm, bidding him look at them once more. They all knew of
the large and costly weapons and armory consignment that was supposed
to have been delivered to the weakened border fortress of
Osgiliath. Having it fall into the wrong hands was serious, but
it looked as if these men had already been through quite a bit and
castigating them for their loss would help no one.
“We lost six, sir.” Alcarin swallowed hard as he reported the
dead. “Four when the Corsairs attacked us, and two a few days ago
in the sudden flood that brought us to you.”
“You caught the traitor?” Denethor cut through the small talk; he
wanted the one responsible for this.
Alcarin sighed deeply, “Perhaps,
my lords, but we are not sure. He says he is innocent. The
evidence is strong against him, but it is somewhat circumstantial in
nature. We were taking him to your father in Minas Tirith for
trial when we met up with one misfortune after another... and well,
here we are.”
“Where is he?” Denethor glanced around the soldier as Alcarin
stepped out of the way.
Castamir and Ostoher stepped forward, manhandling their prisoner to the
front and sweeping his legs out beneath him so the being fell onto his
knees with a small groan. A cruel rope halter encircled the
traitor’s chest and his hands were tied behind him. Long blonde
hair spilled down over slender shoulders, hiding his features. He
knelt on the forest floor, breathing heavily and unwilling to meet the
eyes of his newest set of captors.
Thorongil caught his breath and started forward, stepping in front of
Denethor and surprising the captain by his sudden movement.
It couldn’t be. It had been so long since he had last seen
Aragorn’s thoughts whirled wildly out of control as he bent and slid
his hand gently under the proud chin, tipping the prisoner’s head
up. But the being before Aragorn jerked away from his light
touch. The motion caused his captors to twist the bonds that held
the prisoner, making the hard knots of the halter dig harshly into the
deep bruises hidden by the accused traitor’s clothing and causing him
to cry out softly under the cruel treatment.
“Stop at once!” Thorongil glared at the soldier who had administered
At the sound of the human’s voice the prisoner looked up, his surprised
blue eyes meeting the silver ones that stared down at him and when
Thorongil touched him again the elf at his feet did not move away.
“Legolas?” Aragorn whispered; he could barely believe his eyes
and his world tipped out of control. “Legolas?”