“What do you mean?” Aragorn eased the man down onto the grass as
the medics reached his side. He kneeled over the prone
messenger. “What has happened? Where?”
“In Lithiant,” the man continued. “The Corsairs came back. Small
groups have passed by before, but they never stopped... until
now. They are taking the townsfolk for slaves. They came
from out of nowhere. We weren’t prepared. My Addie, they
“Shh...we’ll get them back. You rest, these men will care for
you.” Aragorn glanced quickly at the soldiers who cared for the
wounded, their curt nods answering his unspoken request.
Grabbing two of the men gathered around them Aragorn shoved them back
towards the interior of the camp saying, “Rouse the men, gather all who
join us, we leave for Lithiant. You!” He pointed to another, “Go get
Captain Denethor; Lithiant is under attack, hurry!”
Turning back towards the guard tent, Aragorn noted Alcarin talking with
Gariss and called to the soldier.
“Alcarin, round up your division. We leave for Lithiant, she is under
attack!” the young commander shouted. They needed all the
soldiers they had; this small force had, after all, not been intended
to see battle.
Alcarin nodded and raced back towards where he and his men had been
In seconds the camp was mobilized. Men were running in all
directions, obeying the shouted orders being quickly barked out.
In a matter of moments Aragorn was on the move, his soldiers on his
heels. They had no time to spare, the Corsairs were ruthless and the
ranger had no intentions of allowing those people to be taken.
By the time they crested the small hills to the north of Lithiant, the
town was in chaos. Corsair soldiers and brigands were running
through the buildings and setting the structures on fire. They
behaved more like ravening pirates than soldiers but, although the
scene was chaotic, the raid had evidently been very well planned ahead
of time to take the city down as quickly as it had.
With a loud war cry the Gondorian army beset the invaders, routing them
by the surprise of their attack into the southern reaches of the
sprawling farm village.
Aragorn led half the contingent in one direction as Denethor swerved in
the other, followed by his foot-soldiers as they swept in on the right
flank of the Corsair raiders.
Alcarin had split from the flanking force and joined Thorongil as they
drove straight through the center of town, dividing the invading forces
in half and trying to cut off their route of escape. Castamir
charged into the fray next to his commanding officer.
In moments the fighting was so heavy that the Gondorian soldiers were
easily separated from one another, fighting pockets of resistance in
the middle of the burning town. The buildings were falling around
them as their structures became unstable, sending showers of flaming
shards into the air. Smoke choked the alleyways and muddied
streets and still the Corsairs ran through the village, setting fire to
what few homes had thus far escaped their destruction. Horses and
livestock that had not been secured by the raiding armies ran through
the streets, adding to the chaos.
Aragorn leapt out of the way as a plow horse dashed between him and the
Corsair he was fighting. The animal, panicked by the fires,
careened into the midst of another group of soldiers, breaking up the
conflict. The momentary distraction benefited the ranger as he
quickly stepped back in towards his opponent and drove his sword into
the man’s midsection.
A shout to his right drew Aragorn’s attention and, in the momentary
of fighting around him, he spotted Alcarin one street over from his
position, in the midst of a group of Corsairs, battling wildly to stay
on top of the skirmish, but the odds were overwhelming.
“Alcarin!” The Gondorian commander ran towards the soldier, intending
to aid him in his fight.
Smoke swirled up from a barn that had been set ablaze, obscuring
Aragorn’s view and he faltered, choking on the thick air. Bits of
flaming straw blew into his face, scalding his cheeks and forcing him
back. The structure swayed uneasily in the slight breezes and as
the wind brushed the haze out of his eyes Aragorn watched in horror as
the Corsairs beat Alcarin to the ground. One of them raised his
sword high and drove the killing blow into the Gondorian officer.
He heard Alcarin’s scream followed by the shout of anguish from
A young soldier pelted up behind Aragorn, his sword drawn, his face
pinched in horror as he fled towards his downed leader. A rending
shriek diverted Aragorn and he glanced back to see the barn lean to the
right and topple into the street, cutting them off from the group of
soldiers around their fallen comrade, showering the area in an
explosion of flaming debris.
The ranger turned at the last moment, tearing his gaze from the burning
hulk of wood and catching the young soldier that was intent on reaching
Alcarin. He grabbed the youth around the waist and pulled him
back out of harm’s way as the wind caught the flames and pressed them
towards the Gondorians.
“It’s too late.” Aragorn consoled the soldier as he turned them both
away, shielding the younger man with his body and pushing them back up
“No!” The other fought the restrictions, “He’s my commanding
officer. I can’t leave him.”
“You can’t save him. He’s gone.” Aragorn pressed the boy back,
glancing quickly around them. Denethor was trying to get his attention,
pointing with his sword and shouting over the tumult of war. A
small group of soldiers stood round him.
“What’s your name?” Aragorn asked the soldier next to him.
The youth kept glancing over his shoulder, tears welling in his
eyes. The captain had seen this before: battle shock. It
was hard on the young ones sometimes when they had their first taste of
bloodshed. Nothing could quite prepare anyone for its
ruthlessness. Getting stuck in his shock, however, was only going
to get this young man killed before his time.
Aragorn shook the boy and dragged him along until they were both
running. “Your name, soldier!”
“Sir, y...yes sir.” The boy fixed him with a steady gaze, sprinting
next to him to keep up as they headed towards Denethor’s position. “My
name is Tyrion, Lt. Alcarin was the captain of our guard.”
Nodding in understanding Aragorn laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“He was a good man, his sacrifice will not be forgotten I promise you
tha...” Thorongil’s words died off as he made out Denethor’s frantic
“Wait.” He shushed the man next to him and concentrated, watching
the commander’s mouth as he spoke. The wind that had picked up
tore every other word away but understanding dawned on him quickly as
he read the man’s lips.
Denethor cupped his
hands to his mouth and shouted.
“The Corsairs are retreating and taking the prisoners with them! Take
your division and try to cut them off. I will send the others round
through the gap and try to box them in!”
When Thorongil nodded, grabbing the youth next to him and tearing off
after the retreating army, Denethor turned to the captain standing
beside him. “Rally what is left of the men who aren’t following
Thorongil and stop those blasted Corsairs no matter what it
takes. Assist the commander in anyway you can.”
“Aye, and you, Commander?”
“I’m returning to camp with these soldiers.” Denethor’s gaze
darkened as he watched his men running through the valley pursuing the
captured townsfolk and overtaking the stray groups of enemy
fighters. An inordinate number of Gondorian soldiers had already
fallen, both to the enemy and to the flaming town itself. Someone
of them had to stay to be sure that there were not more Corsairs hiding
out there, waiting to ambush those left behind with the camp and the
wounded. They had seen such tactics all too often in the war with
the Haradrim and could not afford to fall prey to any unpleasant
“We need to set up places for the wounded.” Denethor looked around,
sizing the situation up quickly, the storm clouds shrouding his face
darkening a shade. “...and I have some business to attend
to. This attack was
planned. The Corsairs obviously knew exactly when we would arrive
and where. They already had the people moved out, they were waiting
here just for us. That means they knew not only that we were
here, but also where we were camped. The town was bait to draw us
in and we fell right for it. Many good men have died today and
countless innocent people have been taken...” His voice was
bitter. This was turning into a disastrous mission, and he
felt the blame for it crashing down upon his shoulders with crushing
weight. He was in charge, which meant he was responsible even for
the things he could not control.
“I will not let it happen again if it is within my power.”
Denethor turned and stalked back down the small hill heading back to
camp, his muttered words lost on the winds, “And I think that it is
within my power to do so.”
Turning back to the soldier on the hill he glowered at the man, “Tell
Thorongil I have gone back to prepare the camp. Don’t just stand
there! Move! Do not leave him unprotected!”
The soldier’s feet, suddenly freed by the direct command, raced down
the opposite side of the hill. He rallied the men in the outlying
as they chased the Corsairs back towards the south and the harbors
where their main contingents where stationed.
Denethor returned to camp nearly an hour later in the company of the
dead and they dying. His men carried and supported those who
could no longer walk as those who had been left in camp raced out to
lend aid and set up a swift triage to treat the casualties.
In his arms Denethor carried the broken body of a three-year-old boy
who had died only a few minutes before they reached camp.
Tenderly he took the small body to the grassy knoll where the dead were
being laid out and set it next to that of a deceased woman who could
have been the child’s mother. The future Steward’s eyes clouded
as he looked over the growing lines of dead and realized how many of
them were children.
“Cold-blooded murderers...” he murmured to himself, shaking his
head. “They have no feelings!”
A voice beside him unexpectedly concurred with his thoughts.
“Vipers, the lot of them! The Corsairs have no use for the very
young; they do not make good slaves, so they are viewed as liabilities
and, therefore, disposable.”
Denethor looked up to see Castamir standing beside him, looking down at
the bodies with saddened disgust.
The future Steward’s face hardened. Disposable.
Liability. That could be his little son lying there, or his
wife! What kind of animals did this? And more importantly,
how could they be stopped? He drew in a deep breath. That
last question at least he knew an answer to.
“Castamir, come with me.” Denethor turned on his heel, beckoning the
other to follow. “We have some questions that need
I hear a voice saying “don’t be so
Telling me all the things that you
would probably hide...
Legolas knew something was wrong the moment Denethor entered the tent,
soldiers in tow. The fact that Castamir was one of those soldiers
did not make matters any better. Everything that had happened
recently had taken its toll on the elf, and despite the small reprieve
he had been given here, he was still run down from his rough journey
with Alcarin’s division. However, it did not take much strength
or clarity to read the look on Denethor’s face and Legolas knew it
boded ill even before the guards pulled him to his feet and prodded him
to the center of the tent.
“You and I need to have a little talk, Legolas,” Denethor fixed him
a piercing glare. “I don’t pretend to know how you got involved
in all this, but I cannot now afford to wait for an official inquiry in
Minas Tirith, too much has changed too quickly. It’s time you
started giving us some answers.”
“Where is Thorongil?” Legolas asked apprehensively, trying not to show
the fear that was building inside him as Castamir and the other soldier
holding him roughly removed his tunic. Aragorn had promised him
that everything would be all right, but the elf was not sure that
Aragorn had as much control of this situation as he thought he
did. The elf was weary and felt horribly as if he knew where this
was going to go, where it had been destined to go from the very start.
“You can hide behind Captain Thorongil no longer,” Denethor said
seriously as the two soldiers pressured Legolas onto his knees, binding
his hands around the center support pole of the tent and pulling the
ropes tight. “I am in charge of this mission, not he. It’s
my head these lives that have been lost today are on for not taking
action sooner. I was blind. I did not see the danger
because I did not wish to see. I did nothing to stop
this.” The human’s eyes were dark with his own guilt. “But
I will change all that right now.”
“By beating me?” Legolas asked quietly. He wasn’t stupid, he knew
what the position he was being placed in meant, he had been there too
often to not know. He held no illusions about what kind of
‘questioning’ this was going to be. His heart drummed loudly,
sinking under the weight of a heavy prick of dread that was quickly
pulling it down.
“If I have to, but I’d rather not.” Denethor paced back and forth, his
hands clasped behind him. He was disturbed, he was troubled and
he was going about this the only way he knew how, even though some
small part of him warned him it was wrong. Silencing his
conscience, he continued. “That’s up to you, really. You
can’t have been working alone. I begin to see now that there are
more traitors in our ranks, and out of them, than we could ever have
known. All I want is for you to tell me who they are and how it
is that the Corsairs knew we were here? How do they seem to know
our every move before we make it? What they are planning and what
“Oh, I see, that’s all,”
Legolas’ tone held a bitter edge. He
already knew how this would end. “I’d say it is obvious what the
Corsairs want. They want
Gondor and they mean to take it by war
if they can. And think you that if I knew who it was that is
betraying you to them, I would not have already told you? If for
no other reason than to prove it was not myself?”
Denethor caught Legolas’ chin in his hand and tipped the elf’s head
up. “A barbed tongue will not serve you here, master elf. I
want answers and I want them now, before
any more of my men are
slaughtered or any more innocents carried off! Do you have any
idea of the lives that have been lost today? The men, women,
children?! I will not
see it happen again, I will not!”
“I cannot tell you things which I do not know.” Legolas pulled his head
away. Why did men never believe what he told them? Perhaps
the better question was why he continued to expect them to believe him
when they never did. “And the things I do know you will not heed,
so of what then shall we speak?”
Denethor caught the eyes of the man behind Legolas and gave his head a
small, downward jerk. Castamir nodded.
The prince tensed and pressed his lips into a tight line as the fiery,
familiar bite of a single-tongued lash drew a red, painful stripe
diagonally across his back from his right shoulder down to his waist.
“Don’t bandy words with me,” Denethor’s face was steely. “You are
alone in this, elf; you had better look to your own concerns.
Corsair friends do not care what happens to you and you have burned
your bridges with any friends you had here. My patience with you
has run out and you have only the choice to answer me or accept the
alternative. Not even Thorongil will stand up for you now, so
think carefully before you reject your chance to take the easy
Another blow. Slow and deliberately painful, meant to aid his
decision-making. Castamir was enjoying his work far too much,
although he knew better than to let the captain see that.
he’d felt the traitor had this coming for a long time and was glad
someone was finally taking the initiative.
“Do not speak to me of Thorongil as if you knew his mind. One
falsehood makes all your words sound false.” Legolas’ voice was curt;
he was rewarded with another blow, this one quicker and meant to
“I am not the one who speaks falsely. If Captain Thorongil did
not think this was what you deserved, would he not be here?” Denethor
swept his arms around them to prove his point. True, he knew that
Thorongil was not in the camp, but in his own mind he really didn’t
think that the other captain could with any conscience continue to
stick up for the elf after what they had seen today, so he did not
consider himself to be speaking untruths. “No one can stomach
what we have seen and not know you for what you are.”
“You lie.” Legolas’ gaze was hard. Denethor’s words were
unnervingly lacking in deceit, but the prince would not believe that of
his friend, he could not. It may have been many years now since
he and Aragorn had been together for any length of time, but Legolas
refused to believe that his friend could have changed that much.
That was not the Aragorn he
had talked to only earlier today.
Denethor clenched his fists, but did not strike the elf as he would
have liked to. He had a job to do here, nothing more, and petty
thoughts of personal vengeance had no place. He’d done enough
things wrong lately. He’d ignored a threat that was now proving to be
very deadly indeed, and he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes
Another steady, deliberate stroke made Legolas close his eyes and
Denethor was silent now for a time, but he watched the elf intently as
Castamir metered out the beating with careful deliberation. Let
the pain loosen the elf’s stubborn resolve a little, then he would try
again. He wanted to look away, but forced himself to be still and
watch. Denethor did not like having to witness the way that the
fair being flinched each time he was struck. Torture was not a
first, or a preferred resort in Gondor, and Denethor had only witnessed
such a small handful of times in his life. But he had never been
the one in charge before. The notion that he was responsible for
the pain of another did not sit particularly well with the Captain, but
when he remembered the twisted, heart-breaking bodies of the children
who had been forever silenced, his resolve deepened and he swore to
himself that he would not be too weak to see this through.
Legolas leaned forward, letting his head hang down and allowing his
tousled, unbraided hair to slide forward off his shoulders and hang
beside his face, half-obscuring his tense features. He didn’t
want to show them the hurt they were inflicting, but that was becoming
impossible. At least they would not get to see it on his
face. His loose hair shielded him from their sight and he hid
behind that protection as the pain drew more and more of a reaction out
Jaws tight, the prince braced his bound wrists against the support pole
that his arms were tied around, letting his forehead fall forward to
rest against the smooth wood as the whip drew another thin line of fire
across his back, rocking him forward from the force of the blow and
eliciting a soft grimace from the silent elf.
Legolas was one of the Firstborn, his body always healed without
scarring, but just because his smooth skin hid the true tale of how
many times before he had felt the bite of a lash, or been beaten
senseless at the hands of another, that didn’t mean he did not
remember. Although he was young yet for an elf, sometimes the
prince felt incredibly old. Felt as if he had already seen too
much in his life, especially too much pain. Whether from humans
or his own kind... it barely seemed to matter at this point. All
his weary, hurting body knew was that it was happening again and he
wanted it to stop.
An exhausted, slightly jaded sense of despair pulled at the
prince. Denethor’s lie about Aragorn’s lack of objection to these
proceedings and the conviction with which it had been said was also
eating away at the elf, although he refused to really believe it.
Still... Aragorn had also promised him he was safe here.
Another blow cut deep, making the elf hold his breath and tense before
slowly letting it out and pulling in another. Then they halted
for a moment and Legolas tensed again. They weren’t done with
him. This hadn’t been nearly bad enough for them to be done yet
if past experience was any guide. Being helpless to face the
unknown was almost as bad as the pain itself, but Legolas couldn’t even
dredge up enough energy to hate his situation. It was as if he
was emotionally empty, the past month having drained him of even his
ability to feel anger over the injustice of the situation. He was
worn; badly worn. He just wanted this over.
Denethor’s gloved hand pushed the elf’s hair back from his face,
tucking the golden locks behind the prince’s ear and turning Legolas’
flushed face towards him with the side of his hand. The man
dropped down into a crouch to place himself at eye-level with his
“Don’t make it have to be this way,” the future Steward’s voice was
soft, but laced with a quixotically hard edge. The entreaty,
however, was earnest. “I’m not a monster, Legolas. I take no
pleasure in your pain, but if it will prevent another atrocity like
what happened in Lithiant today, if it will keep any more of my men
from being slain or having to watch helpless while scores of innocent
women and children are put to the sword and carried off into bondage...
then I swear I will not hesitate to press you until your blood runs
freely and you beg for either mercy or death.”
The elf prince was unmoved by the threat. He had heard the likes
of it before and he had suffered through the dreadful fulfillment of
such promises more than once. There was very little Denethor
could do to him that would be new. Of course that didn’t mean
that the elf did not feel the familiar, hard knot of fear forming in
his insides, but he would never let them see that.
Denethor saw the jaded ice in the elf’s eyes and switched
tactics. Fear and intimidation weren’t going to get him far
unless he either was very brutal or unless he found a weak spot in the
elf’s daunting emotional armor. Since brutality was not his first
choice in any case, he decided to try appealing to the elf’s conscience
instead. “You were friends with Thorongil once, Legolas, which
means you must have been a decent person at one time, for although
there are many things I would call him, traitor is not one of
them. Doesn’t that past mean anything to you? Do you know
what he told me, Legolas? He said he was willing to pin his life
on your honor... don’t make a mockery of that trust. Don’t let
this go on. Doesn’t the thought of innocent children being
slaughtered because they aren’t useful
slaves move you at all?”
Denethor’s eyes burned intensely as he held the elf’s gaze. The
young Captain was desperate to get those missing people back, to keep
this from ever happening again, they all were.
Legolas’ gaze was tired and edged with pain. Surprisingly enough
he honestly believed that Denethor really didn’t want to hurt him, but
he knew the Captain would hurt him, perhaps badly. Denethor would
never take the elf’s word that he had nothing to do with the Corsairs
and no information that would reveal who the traitor was that was still
giving them away. Denethor needed someone to blame, needed to
believe he could find an answer to this unraveling disaster.
Legolas was not going to try to explain the truth again. They had
all heard it before; it wouldn’t make a difference now. They
would believe what they wanted to believe. The truth mattered
“You presume much to speak of a friendship you cannot begin to fathom.”
The elf’s voice was too worn to be sharp and in too much pain to be
defiant. His tone was steady, but held out little hope for
himself or for this situation. “And you, Lord Denethor, will
never understand what I feel about all that has happened, nor do you
wish to unless it fits with the picture you have already fixed in your
mind. If you would learn the truth about anything, you must first
let go what you think to be reality, in order to find what truth really
Denethor dropped his hand away from the prince and rose back to his
feet. “They say elves speak in riddles. But I do not have
time for games, Legolas. Answer me plainly or take the
consequences on your own head.” He had already seen what came of
being too lenient, too trusting. People had died because of
it. Because of him. He would not fail them that way
Legolas just turned away and let his head fall forward to rest against
the tent post again. It didn’t matter. They wouldn’t
listen. He had known it was coming to this; he had known it since
he was arrested. He had known it since he found himself caught in
Denethor’s one-sided power struggle against Aragorn... but that didn’t
make it any easier to take now that it was here.
Denethor’s gaze hardened. “Very well then! Perhaps
pain will loosen your tongue if there is no shred of conscience or
remorse left in your heart over what you and whomever you’re working
with have done here!”
Legolas bit his lip as the lash cut across his back again, curling
around his ribs and catching for a moment before being ripped away and
brought back for another stroke.
“Edan...” it was the Elven
word for human. “You will punish me because
I am the stranger, when it is one of your own who is guilty.
Because I am of another race that you do not fully trust and such is
the folly of men that they paint with a broad brush that which they
know nothing about.” Legolas hissed between his teeth in Elvish,
balling his fists and pressing his eyes closed against the pain washing
“Edhel,” Denethor responded
quietly in understandable, if not perfectly
fluent elvish. “Elf, you are not treated thus because of your
race but because of your crimes. The men of Gondor do not
mistrust the elves as some of the ignorant races of men do, but neither
do we fear them as above the law.”
Legolas started slightly and looked up when the captain spoke to him in
his native tongue. He had not expected Denethor or anyone else
here to understand him. Yet although Denethor was human, the
blood of Númenor was in his veins as surely as it was in
Aragorn’s, if not quite as pure and unmingled. The high arts and
languages were still taught to the upper and ruling class of
The next stroke caught the elf while he was still looking up and for a
moment Denethor was treated to the full look of pain that tensed the
prince’s fair features and glazed his eyes as the elf gasped slightly
and grimaced, having been caught unprepared. The unexpected pain
ripped Legolas’ guard down momentarily. For an instant the human
and the elf’s eyes locked and Denethor saw past the calm, closed
exterior the prince presented to the world. The future Steward
found himself faced with a gaze that appeared unimaginably old and
galvanized by much mistreatment at the hands of men, and at the same
time also seemed young, frightened and full of pain. His own gift
of perceptive insight allowed him the privileged look that few men
could ever, or would ever see: the elf prince as he truly was, his
Denethor’s eyes narrowed. This elf might have been more than a
dozen times his age, but he was not nearly so stoic or jaded as he let
on. This elf was afraid. This elf had been hurt
before. If Denethor had been paying better attention he would
have seen the honesty behind Legolas’ defense of himself but the
Captain’s own past and pain clouded his perceptions and he used what he
had seen to his advantage.
Legolas dropped his head again quickly, horrified at having let this
man see so deeply into his vulnerable emotions. No one got to see
that deeply into him, no one. The prince closed his eyes tightly,
once more letting his hair fall forward to cover his flushed features
and the humiliating signs of pain that he could not hide as the lash
continued to slowly draw bleeding lines across the bleeding lines
already layering his back.
Denethor knelt on one knee next to Legolas. Part of him was
haunted by the look in the elf’s eyes a moment ago, and part of him was
afraid that he was going to let sentiment get the better of him.
It was said that he was a man of keen sight who could see into others'
hearts. Well he had just had a straight look into this one’s
soul but, as Legolas had said, his own perceived reality tainted those
The human pushed Legolas’ hair behind his ear again, not allowing the
elf to hide in that manner anymore. He laid one hand on the elf’s
bare shoulder and turned the prince’s head towards him with the
other. Another stroke from the whip made Legolas tense under
Legolas closed his eyes, refusing to let the human see into his pain
and his fear again. But Denethor didn’t have to look into his
eyes, he could see it in the tense lines of the prince’s face, in the
in the way elf’s chin trembled when he pulled it roughly away from the
“You’re afraid of me,” Denethor said quietly.
“I’m not afraid of you,”
Legolas bit back vehemently. “I have
met beings worth fearing and you do not rank with them. Do not flatter
yourself, Captain of Gondor.” He was so tired of this. So
tired. And he was
afraid, which irritated the prince to no
end. You would think after all his experience... but there are
some things to which one simply becomes accustomed.
“You’re afraid of men then,” Denethor’s voice was searching, appraising
and he noticed that although Legolas flinched in time to the next whip
stroke, he did not answer this time.
“But not all men...” the young human’s eyes narrowed as he tried to
read the puzzle before him. Thus far he was doing a distressingly
accurate job. “Only ones who have power over you. What did
they do to you, I wonder, to garner your fear and your hate?
Someone did though, didn’t they? Humans hurt you. Hurt you
deeply. And you hate us for that.”
“I don’t hate you,” Legolas’ voice was quiet. “And I learned a
long time ago that to despise a whole race for the sins of a few was as
foolish as it was futile.” Indeed, Legolas’ kind had treated him little
better at times and his own uncle had hurt him worse than many.
The elf hissed softly in pain as the lash found a place on his back
that was already bleeding. He wished that Denethor would remove
his hands from him. Legolas could stand the pain, but he did not
like being touched while he was being hurt. He would never like
being touched in a situation like this. It made him feel
vulnerable... or rather, it simply brought home how truly vulnerable he
“But you do fear us.” Denethor could tell this line of talk was
unsettling the elf. If he had been looking for a weak spot he
seemed to have found one.
“No.” The answer was not as firm as Legolas might have wished.
“Then why will you not even look at me?” Denethor had pulled his gloves
off and he lightly touched the elf’s eyes, which were still pressed
Legolas jerked and his eyes fluttered quickly open, his gaze hard and
flinty. But Denethor did not miss the fact that the elf had moved
away, putting himself farther from the human.
“More than once...” Denethor murmured. “I’d wager my life that
men have hurt you more than once in your life. That’s reason
enough for the calluses behind those deceptively young eyes of yours,
reason enough for fear. Isn’t it true, Legolas, you do fear
us? And despite what you say one always eventually hates that
which they fear. That’s it isn’t it? That’s why you killed
those sentries on the road to Dalthad, that’s why you sold us out.”
Denethor pressed him hard, his hand tightening on the elf’s
shoulder. “Because you’re afraid of us, because you hate us and
you want revenge!”
“No!” Legolas gasped slightly. The lashing was beginning to hurt
incredibly. “That is not true! And even if it was, why
would I sell one group of men out to another? What kind of
vengeance would that be?”
“You tell me.” Denethor’s eyes were dark. “Is it just us in
Gondor that you hate? Is that it?”
“No,” the elf shook his head again. “You know nothing of what you
speak...” his words cut off when he had to clench his jaw against
crying out when the whip bit deep into an already well worked
laceration. Legolas dropped his head, breathing rapidly in
pain. Too much. It was hurting too severely for him to keep
this level of control much longer.
Denethor pulled Legolas’ head back up, cupping the side of the prince’s
face and refusing to let him look away.
“Don’t touch me.” The elf’s voice was quiet and lethal. His tired
Denethor did not comply. “You can’t deny it, it’s true. You
did this to punish us, our race, so that we too would suffer as we at
some point made you suffer. Isn’t that so? Isn’t it?” his
voice rose tensely.
“NO!” Legolas shook his head, his chest rising and falling swiftly and
his breathing starting to hitch with the pain he could not longer
suppress. He had had that choice to seek vengeance long ago; it
was not one he had taken.
The future Steward did not relent. “What did the Corsairs promise
you? What did you consider to be worth the lives of mothers and
“Nothing!” Legolas spat, trying to pull his head away, his ire rising
with the pressure and the false accusations being placed on him.
Denethor’s hand tightened painfully on the side of the elf prince’s
face, twining in his hair and jerking Legolas’ head back up roughly as
another excruciating blow made the elf cry out softly in pain.
“Who else have they bought? Legolas, I need to know! Who
else have they bought?! How are they anticipating us? How
do they know?!” Denethor demanded, his eyes intense and his will an
almost physical force.
Legolas’ body was jerking, spasming because the elf would not allow
himself to sob in front of these men. “If I knew, I would tell
you!” the prince’s voice trembled. “Ú-iston,
ú-iston...” Legolas slipped into elvish, his voice
Denethor knew enough to understand that the elf was saying he did not
know. But that was not possible, it could not be. “You have
to know, do not lie to me! Tell me the truth!”
“Thenin... Truth... What is
truth?” Legolas whispered in despair
as the lash continued to fall, reverting back to his native tongue
since he didn’t care who could or couldn’t understand him.
“Should it not protect the innocent? Ah Elbereth... man
agornin? What have I done? What have I done that I
be here?” The prince could not keep his shoulders from shaking
and he closed his eyes again, turning away as much as Denethor allowed,
but he could not hide the few, painful, shame-filled, silver tears that
escaped his clenched lashes and slid down to wet the future Steward’s
fingers where they lay against the prisoner’s cheek.
Denethor withdrew his hand as if the elf’s tears burned him, which,
emotionally speaking, they very nearly did. Legolas’ tears
stained one of his hands, and the prince’s blood stained the
other. The human took several deep breaths. Damn! He
was very nearly trembling himself. What power was it that this
being seemed to hold over him? Maybe elves were magical as tales
told, maybe this one was only playing tricks on him, but something in
Denethor could not take the sight of the elf’s tears, could not bear to
attempt to totally break the will behind those beautiful, pain-filled
“Enough.” Denethor rose swiftly, signaling his soldiers to stop the
beating. “Enough. We... we will question him again later.”
The Captain quickly banished whatever he was feeling from his
voice. It would never do for his men to see any doubt in
Legolas’ body sagged forward, allowing the pole he was tied around to
take his full weight and hiding his face against his arms. He was
humiliated and ashamed. Denethor had gotten much farther under
his skin than anyone had ever done and if the human had continued to
press him, he very well may have broken the elf eventually, for all the
good it would have done him. Dully, Legolas wondered why Denethor
had stopped when he was so close to what he seemed to want, but the elf
didn’t really care, just so long as it was over, at least for now.
“Care for his hurts,” Denethor instructed Castamir, gesturing for the
other two soldiers to follow him as he turned to leave. “Stay,
make sure he is not disturbed tonight. We will speak again in the
The Captain was aware of the dark looks that many of the men had been
giving the traitor and with current tensions what they were he wanted
to avoid any problems. Turning away he pushed open the tent flap,
the other soldiers following.
Legolas closed his eyes. Leaving Castamir to protect him was like
leaving a wolf to guard the flock, although he doubted Denethor
Aragorn rubbed his eyes wearily with battle-stained fingers.
Frustration and failure rippled through his entire being as he led his
company back into camp. Seeing Alcarin slain before his eyes had
bothered the commander deeply. He had come to respect the soldier
and his passing had been brutal, in the fashion the Corsairs were known
for. He had seen too much death and the fact that he had not been
able to reach the man in time troubled him. Much about this war
sat uneasily on his conscience. The sun had set over an hour ago
and the area was lighted by torches, but they did little to lift the
gloom either of the night or that hung over the soldiers’ hearts.
They had been unable to catch up with the main host that had taken the
villagers away. They had had too much of a head start and a huge
rearguard of their enemy had blocked their passage and held them up
for hours. Although that battle was eventually won, they had lost
all hope of re-taking the captives.
The ranger pushed his hair back out of his face, ignoring the sting of
a deep cut that ran across his cheekbone. He had been fighting
for untold hours straight and was almost too weary to feel pain.
His body ached and his eyes wanted to close by themselves, but he first
made sure that his men were seen to, and their needs met before he
slowly made his way across camp in search of Denethor. They
needed to reconnoiter and try to pull together the pieces of what had
gone wrong here.
The Steward’s son was not in his tent and Aragorn stopped one of his
aides. “Where is Captain Denethor?”
“He’s in the guard tent sir,” the soldier reported after quickly
saluting his superior.
Aragorn’s brow creased and he tried to rub some of the tired fog from
his head. “Why?”
“I believe he is questioning the prisoner in connection with today’s
events, sir.” The young soldier had barely gotten the words out of his
mouth before Aragorn had spun on his heel and was striding quickly in
the direction of the guard tent, his weariness completely