The terrain had changed. For a time the cart had wobbled and tilted along a path that was rutted with deep grooves, as trails tend to be when they are neglected in winter, but now the wheels rumbled along more smoothly, and the elf heard the distinct sound of hoofs striking against a cobbled surface. His captors were now taking him along a properly maintained road, and from this Legolas inferred that they must at last be nearing the city. He pressed his forehead against the box with a sigh, thankful that the sickening swaying and bumping had eased, for they had added greatly to his discomfort as he lay within his small prison. His suspicions were soon confirmed when a voice called out a challenge. The cart jerked to a halt and Ramhar shouted a reply.
"Ho there, guardsmen! Open the gates. We bring provisions for the great house."
The tone of the voice changed abruptly. "Lord Ramhar? Forgive me, sir, it's a bit dark yet. I was not expecting you."
Legolas heard a door bang open, and the hasty tromping of feet drew near, followed by the faint scent of wood smoke. Metal screeched as the gates swung open, and the men who escorted the cart immediately began engaging in idle chatter and laughter. The elf realized their voices were intended to conceal from the guards any sounds that he might make as the cart rolled past. He did not bother to struggle, knowing there was no noise he was capable of producing that would carry to the hearing of others. He remained quiet as the cart picked up the pace once again, and he tried to make out sounds beyond the peculiar humming that vibrated in his ears, no doubt caused by the wracking pain within his skull. He heard nothing however, except the voices of his captors and the far off barking of a dog. All else was silent and still around him. The folk of the city had not yet risen to begin their day.
The journey continued along a flat road that seemed to curve now and again, and the elf tried to rest, keeping his breath slow and even to gather what strength he could and quiet the ache in his head. At length the road steepened into a low rise, and he pressed his feet against the crate as his body shifted backward. He sensed it would not be much longer now. After a short time they reached a second gate, which was flung open with even more alacrity than the first, and the cart pushed on with scarcely a pause. The ground leveled briefly once more before suddenly pitching downward. The clattering steps of the horse's hoofs echoed hollowly against a close press of walls, and then the cart stopped.
There came the sound of someone knocking, a heavy door creaked open, and a new voice made inquiries. The explanation was the same as before - provisions for the storerooms – the prison storerooms - but it was not Ramhar who answered this time. Legolas wondered if he had gone. Escorting goods to the dungeons was probably not among the captain's usual tasks.
The elf tensed as the box was suddenly grasped and dragged along the length of the cart-bed. It dipped alarmingly as the men struggled to find their balance and the proper placement of their hands, and then they were moving, shuffling across a small area and coming next to what Legolas assumed was a downward staircase. He found himself pitched forward, his head pressed uncomfortably against the front of the box, and his body rocked with the awkward jostling as the soldiers struggled with their burden. Upon landing, a voice panted "turn left", and the final leg of the journey took the elf down a long corridor. Torches sputtered and crackled at intervals, fading back to silence as he was carried past, and then the crate was set down abruptly with a loud thud that rattled the captive's teeth.
"You two, get out. The rest will stay here until we have him settled."
Ramhar again. Legolas braced himself as a fist rapped sharply on the top of the box.
"Hear me, Elf. You will be removed now, and secured within the walls of a prison cell. I think you will agree there is little use in fighting us any longer. It will go ill for you should you struggle."
The elf drew in his breath. And it will go well for me if I submit?
As the men went about unlocking the lid Legolas tested his bonds one more time, but they were as unyielding as ever, and his hands had gone hopelessly numb. There truly was no way that he could fight free of the men, fettered and hurt as he was. Even if he could somehow break his restraints and escape the soldiers, what then? Without his eyes he would not get far in an unfamiliar place before being run down and taken again, and he felt so sick… so utterly drained. His body trembled with shock and fatigue, his limbs lying heavy and weakened as if they no longer belonged to him at all, and he knew that any physical effort on his part would serve only to deplete him further. He needed rest, if it was at all possible to find rest under such circumstances, and he needed time to gather his wits and think on all that had happened. He would have to wait for a better opportunity to strive against his captors. In the interim, he would pray that such a moment would come to him somehow, and that he would be ready for it.
The lid was lifted. Legolas lay still and did not move, gratefully pulling the purer air through his nose as the foul stench of the box dissipated. The men grasped him by the shoulders and hauled him up and out. He grimaced, biting hard on the gag to hold back an outcry as his body, stiffened by its confinement, was moved. He did not fight as he took note of the hands that held him, and listened to the footsteps walking around him. There were too many. Fighting against them would be futile.
They dragged him across a floor of uneven flagstones and seated him with his back against what felt to be a thick rounded pillar. The blindfold and the gag were adjusted, and then a hand fisted into his hair to hold him. Pain flared in his head. He tried to pull away, but something cold pressed against his throat, and he stilled his movements with a gasp.
"Ah-ah. None of that," Ramhar whispered. The blade swept along the length of Legolas' neck and then angled sharply under his jaw and pressed close, compelling the elf to raise his chin. He held himself rock-still as restraints were wrapped around his belly, securing him against the post, but even so he felt the stinging cut as it was deliberately made, his skin itching as a thin trickle of blood began to trace its way downward. Ramhar's breath was hot against his cheek.
"Red it is," the captain hissed in a voice low and trembling with barely suppressed fury. "Just as mine is, and as my father's was. Valar, what I would not give to slit your throat right now and watch the rest of your cursed Elven blood spill all over this floor."
The hand shook that held the weapon. Legolas remained frozen in place, not swallowing, scarcely daring to breathe as the razor-edged blade pressed against the fragile barrier of skin, coming dangerously close to what throbbed beneath. Long seconds passed in dead stillness. It seemed the men had drawn back in alarm, their light, rapid breaths fleeing past the elf's ears as if seeking escape on the air. Only one soldier still remained near, crouched on Legolas' left side and grasping the elf's bound wrists as if he had been about to do something, but he too had paused in his work and did not move.
"Immortal?" Ramhar whispered. "I think not. I have the power to rip your life from you in a heartbeat." He exhaled sharply, and Legolas felt the blade tremble against his neck as if the man fought a battle within himself to hold off striking the fatal blow to his captive. The elf's heartbeat shuddered, sending the pulse in his throat leaping strongly to meet the promise of the cold blade. He heard the soldier beside him gasp, and Legolas tensed himself, his numbed hands knotting convulsively as he waited for the blow to fall. Then the pressure against his neck eased slightly. "No… hold but a little while longer. Now is not the time," Ramhar murmured quietly, and a breath broke from Legolas' lungs that he did not know he had been holding.
"What are you all staring at?" Ramhar suddenly demanded in a harsh voice. "Get back here and finish this. You, put that strap around his neck."
A wide band of leather was passed across the elf's throat and pulled tight, securing his neck firmly to the pillar. Ramhar shifted his grip on Legolas' hair and pressed his weapon close once more, brushing the edge of it across the elf's throat above the strap, but his hand was steadier now. "Come on, boy, bring his hands round. He cannot harm you while he is silenced and his eyes are covered, nor would he be so foolish as to struggle when he is secured at the neck. Elves can choke as well as bleed."
The soldier holding Legolas' hands stirred. "Yes, my lord," he said breathlessly. He sounded very young, and the elf recognized him as the one who had tried to comfort him earlier. Shaking hands fumbled awkwardly with the knotted ropes, and a small dagger slid between his wrists. The cords parted, but the soldiers were back, with more hands than was necessary to force the elf's arms behind the pillar. His wrists were secured again with bands of leather similar to that which had been placed around his neck. The elf grimaced in frustration as yet more straps were tightened around his chest and his abdomen to hold him against the pillar. Though the ropes probably would have been adequate, he would have worked against them in hope of eventually breaking free, but he realized immediately that the leather bindings would be impossible to fray or weaken, no matter how much he might fight them.
Ramhar moved around him, checking the restraints carefully, and then he dismissed his men, but for two he commanded to remain outside. The elf turned his head, listening after them as the booted feet vanished into the darkness, and he suddenly wished that they would not go. The door slammed with a loud boom, and then there was only one set of footsteps remaining with him in the room, walking slowly round the pillar.
Legolas listened uneasily as he was circled, and circled again. He could see nothing, but he knew nonetheless that the man's eyes were upon him, stabbing into him with hatred. The elf held himself steady, head up but not following the footsteps, fighting to keep his breathing low and calm. He wanted nothing of his fear and pain to show outwardly, for such signs were not for his captor to witness and use to taunt him and claim victory. Yet within, he was filled with a cold anguish that threatened to tear loose from his very bones and burst from every pore of his body, and he knew he could not entirely hold back the tremors that wracked his lean frame, the result of both agony and anger.
"You must have gotten some feeling back in your hands. They are fisted again," Ramhar said from somewhere behind him. "I can see how badly you want to move, to fight. Elves were not made for confinement, but for the wind and the stars, yes? This must be driving you mad, to be taken and fettered thus. An elf felled - like an eagle caged and yearning for the skies. And I have made you so."
The man walked forward, his heavy boots crunching over the gritty floor, and settled himself against the wall with a grunt. Legolas turned his head away as much as he was able, in a gesture of dismissal.
Ramhar merely laughed. "Well, I suppose that is the best you can manage at the moment," he said.
The door creaked open, and someone new entered the room. The feet were not booted, but clad in something like slippers, and their steps were not as heavy as Ramhar's. It was the tread of an older man, slow and measured but not yet infirm. His breath whistled in his nostrils, and Legolas turned his attention to the newcomer uneasily as tension welled and knotted in his belly. The room suddenly felt charged with fear, as if a black shadow had swept over it and drawn away the air. An overwhelming feeling of rage and revulsion took hold of the elf. He pressed his back against the post, his breath accelerating as the soft footsteps halted before him.
Ramhar was saying something, but Legolas did not hear the words. The man before him had crouched directly in front of him. An edge of his robe brushed across the elf's legs, and Legolas felt icy fingertips probing at his neck, seeking the pulse that shuddered there. With a muffled cry of fury he struggled to evade the loathsome touch. A sense of aversion washed over him that went beyond simple anger and fear at his plight. A nameless horror danced in the corners of his mind, as if a distant memory had been stirred, and he fought violently to dislodge the unwanted contact as a growl of hatred escaped his gagged mouth.
"Cease this fighting," the newcomer commanded, and the elf
recognized the voice he heard earlier when he had been brought down
from the forest and confined in the crate. The man's other hand clamped
firmly across Legolas' forehead, securing the only part of his body
that he was still able to move. The elf's mind cried out a desperate
warning against the hideous corruption it sensed within the touch. Evil,
evil! To him, inflicting death is a dark ecstasy.
His head was wrenched around and forced up. "Excellent," the old man breathed. "You have done well in taking this elf, Ramhar. Better than we had hoped, eh? And how much difficulty did you have in not cutting his throat when presented with the opportunity?"
"I do confess it. I had great difficulty."
"Your chance will come. I admire your restraint. The sight of him must bring the terrible memories back to you, yes?"
"It does. It does," Ramhar said in a low voice. "When I think of it – what was done – I long for vengeance. It has been what I have lived for, these many years. But the reality of him being held and at my mercy pleases me far more than I could have imagined. And I have already struck the first blow in taking his friend from him. Already, he begins to pay, but I will not rush to end his life. When the time finally does come, the moment will be the sweeter for having made full use of him."
"Good. We hold this one for a greater cause than your desire to see blood spilled to repay the debt. If all goes as we plan, a fine victory will be ours to claim, and it will spread far beyond the boundaries of our city. He will have his uses beyond tonight."
"He certainly seems to have taken a dislike to you," Ramhar remarked with a laugh.
"It appears I have offended his elven purity in some way," the old man said mockingly. The cold hands finally eased their fierce grip, and Legolas yanked his head aside angrily, wincing as a burning pain flared in his neck. He gasped, bringing his head around slowly and resting it against the pillar with a moan.
"Is he badly hurt? He put up quite a fight, and I fear he was injured when we took him."
"He is yet strong. Hurt, yes, but not enough to endanger our plans for tonight, and afterward we can bring the healer to him. Come now Ramhar, and leave your prize. He will not be going anywhere, and we still have much to do."
As the old man rose and his steps receded toward the door Ramhar's step drew nearer, and he crouched silently beside the elf. Legolas stiffened as he felt the man take up a handful of his hair and slowly slide his fingers through it. For several moments he played with the golden tresses, and then he gently rested the hair back against the elf's shoulder and brought his lips close to his curved ear.
"Beautiful are the elves. You look just like her," Ramhar whispered, and then he was gone.First > Previous > Next