Curse of Angmar

Chapter 15

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Up on the hill, Aragorn started to move forward, deadly rage pounding in his heart so hard he thought it must burst. 

Legolas’ firm, commanding hand clamping down on his arm, accompanied by a quick, definite shake of the prince’s head, checked the ranger’s movement. 

Rushing heedlessly down there would only get them all killed, Elladan and Elrohir included.  Even warriors as skilled as the Dúnadan and the elf could not take on four trolls all by themselves.  Legolas doubted that his arrows, sharp and precise though they were, could ever hope to penetrate the creatures’ thick hides deep enough to do any critical damage, not unless he could find a weak spot and exploit it... but that would take time.  Time they may not have. 

“Legolas...” the hissed word was torn from the agony of Aragorn’s heart. 

Iston!” Legolas’ quiet voice was almost as pained.  “I know, I know, mellon-nín.”  Legolas also knew that he could not keep Aragorn from charging down there for long, consequences be damned.  Once, when Legolas had been in a similar predicament with his father captive to his deranged uncle, the ranger had told him straight out that he could not find that kind of restraint when his loved ones were threatened.  The elf could see the truth of that in Aragorn’s eyes at this moment. 

Fortunately for everyone, the troll holding Elladan released his grip, letting the elf’s traumatized body swing back into place, thumping dully against Thil, who was hanging behind him. 

“Are you all right?” the young bandit whispered quietly, but the elf did not answer. 

Elladan’s lungs were heaving desperately for air and consciousness was blurry. 

“Nokk, is that spit ready yet?” the troll turned back to his companions, leaving the prisoners be for the moment.  “You’ve been working on that thing forever!” he protested when the one named Nokk grumpily replied to the negative, turning a thick, sharp-ended wooden pole over in his hands as he tried to get it to fit into the notch of the tripod he was constructing on either side of the fire.  It was exactly the kind of arrangement on which boars and venison were roasted over an open fire.  The thought made Thil sick to his stomach. 

“Hurry up!” the troll grumbled, stomping back to the fire.  “You’ll be at it all night!” 

“Hurry yourself up, Rillen,” Nokk shot back irritated.  “You could help me instead of playing with the food.” 

Aragorn’s breathing calmed somewhat when the trolls left his brothers alone, but he was still anxiously worried about the limp cast of both the elves’ bodies as they dangled from the branch like conies on a wire. “We have to do something, quickly,” the ranger whispered grimly.  

“Yes, so what’s the plan?” an unexpected voice behind them made both Aragorn and Legolas jerk, their attention having been entirely too focused on the scene in front of them. 

Kaldur was on his hands and knees right beside them, grinning because he knew that somehow he had actually managed to take them by surprise.  The fact that the bandit had slipped through his own arms and maneuver his bound wrists in front of him rather than behind as they had been before registered only briefly in their consciousness. 

Legolas scowled and grabbed one of Kaldur’s arms, jerking the bandit down onto his stomach and shushing him.  Giving away their presence would be a deadly mistake.  

“We told you to stay put!” the elf hissed.  “If you aren’t careful you’ll be joining them, is that what you want?” he gestured towards the small knot of prisoners strung up across the clearing.  

Kaldur’s eyes darkened slightly.  This was bad.  No two ways about it... very bad.  He chose to ignore the prince’s rhetorical question.  “You two do have a plan don’t you?” he repeated his earlier question.  “I mean other than just sneaking down there and trying to cut the prisoners free from under the eyes of four hungry trolls and hoping they don’t notice...” his light tone trailed off as he found both his captors staring at him in a way that suggested that that was exactly what they had in mind.  

“Something like that,” Aragorn’s tone was still grim, his brothers were hurt and in danger and he was in no mood for Kaldur’s verbal games.  The bandit could sense that now was not the time to be glib, so he swallowed whatever smart reply he might have formulated. 

“Legolas,” Aragorn turned towards his friend.  “If I provide a distraction to lure the trolls away, how fast will you be able to free the prisoners?” 

Legolas considered quickly, sizing the situation up.  “From here, I can be up that tree and cutting their ropes in under two minutes if I am unimpeded.  But... Estel... getting them down will take longer.  We can’t just let them drop, the fall is too great, and I can only help one person back to the tree at a time.  The climb down too, will be a difficult one for a human, and perhaps for your brothers as well depending on how injured they are.  If I have to carry them down one at a time... it will take longer than we could safely hope to have,” he admitted.  That did not mean he was unwilling to try it, it simply meant that he acknowledged their need of a small miracle to actually pull it off successfully.  

In the back of Legolas’ mind was also the second concern of just how much the handicap of Aragorn’s useless arm was going to throw the ranger off.  His human friend had a habit of over-estimating how much he could force himself to endure... and the prince would not lose Aragorn to a brave, but futile gesture. 

Aragorn sighed, a short, frustrated sound.  His was face tense.  “And that’s if I could get all four trolls to follow me...” he could see the obstacles as well as his friend.  “Which is doubtful,” he conceded.  No matter how big of a fuss he created, it was unlikely to draw more than two of the trolls.  Three if they were extremely lucky.  That still left Legolas to deal with at least one, maybe two by himself and try to rescue the prisoners... honestly it was untenable and they both knew that.  But what options were there? 

Their keen minds worked quickly, postulating and rejecting a dozen different ideas and plans in less time than it took to blink twice.  But all of them came down to the same problem of how on earth to get the attention of all four trolls away from the prisoners for long enough to carry out a rescue. 

Kaldur cleared his throat.  “You’re right.  They’re not all going to leave the campsite to investigate no matter what kind of mess ye create.  If you want my opinion, you need someone insane to go down there into their camp as live bait to keep their attention away from the prisoners long enough ta get them free.” 

Aragorn raised an eyebrow.  It was not an idea without merit, but it was foolhardy and probably deadly.  “You think Legolas or I should go down there and have a conversation with them?”

“No,” Kaldur shook his head.  He smiled in his trademark manner, but his eyes were deadly serious for once.  “I said someone insane should go.” 

It took half a moment for Legolas and Aragorn to realize what the bandit was saying.  When they did, their opinion of him went up a notch. 

“What would you do?” Aragorn inquired, glancing back down towards the camp.  Nokk and Rillen were trying to get the spit to work right and the other two as yet unnamed trolls were laughing at them.  Although the quarrel was greatly slowing down their progress, they were still alarmingly near to being ready for their first victim.  Time was short. 

“Whatever comes into me mind first, that generally works best,” Kaldur chuckled softly.  “Don’t worry none about me, these gents can’t be too much worse than a bar full of drunken ruffs what’s just discovered they’ve been robbed...” he did not elucidate on the meaning or reference of that cryptic comment and his companions did not ask.  They were sure they did not want to know. 

The bandit was holding his bound wrists up questioningly.  At a confirming nod from Aragorn, Legolas sliced the ropes with one of his knives.  For an instant he locked eyes with Kaldur... trying to see if this were all some kind of trick to get them to set the man free... but instead he read sincerity there that surprised him.  The elf gave a small nod, acknowledging what he saw.  The bandit wasn’t trying to trick them, not at the moment anyway.  

“Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” Legolas asked quietly.  “You realize you could be killed.” 

Kaldur tilted his head to the side and smiled with a shrug.  “They can’t kill me.  I’m-” 

“Kaldur DeCahr, we know,” Legolas raised his hands to halt the familiar line.  He actually smiled this time.  The human might be crazy and irritating, but apparently even that had redeeming qualities lurking somewhere. 

Kaldur winked.  “Right!  Now, I’m expecting that with both of you ta help, the rescuing business is gonna go a might quicker, clear ‘nough?  Becoming a troll snack is not high on me list of accomplishments in life.” 

Legolas nodded and Aragorn scooted a little closer.  

“If you can, keep their attention fixed that way, away from the prisoners.  Legolas and I will circle around these hills to the other side and approach from there.  If all goes well, we’ll signal you when we’re done.” 

“Right,” Kaldur nodded, then gave a wry look.  “And that’s when we all hope and pray we can run faster than a mad troll.” 

“Try four mad, hungry trolls,” Legolas added with a certain amount of dark humor that Kaldur appreciated. 

“Kaldur,” Aragorn laid his hand lightly on the bandit’s wrist as the man started to wriggle away.  He had no idea what the man was planning or if it would do any good besides creating one more person that they would have to rescue, but their options were limited and time was running painfully short.  “Are you sure about this?” 

Kaldur knew he was really asking: Can you do this?  Can we trust you?  Will it really work? 

The bandit spread his hands, tilting sideways a little in one of the exaggerated gestures he tended to favor.  “I’m Kaldur DeCahr.”  He said simply, as if that were his one explanation and answer for everything.  He momentarily flashed Legolas a brilliant grin, as if getting him back for not letting him finish before.  Then he turned away and began crawling along the ridgeline so that he could enter the troll encampment on the side farthest from the prisoners’ tree. 

“I think he really is mad,” Legolas whispered softly, but with a new respect as he watched Kaldur disappear into the tall grass. 

Aragorn couldn’t help but agree, yet right now their best chance lay in the thin hope that somehow the three of them could pull off one of the boldest, craziest schemes he had ever attempted. 

“Actually, he reminds me of you and your plans in that way...” the elf prince’s words were quiet, but wry as he turned on his stomach and began elbow-crawling back into the scrag grass which would provide the cover they needed to creep around behind the encampment. 

Aragorn nudged his friend in the ribs with his good elbow as he crawled up next to him.  “I heard that.” 

Legolas’ quiet smirk was audible in his words as they crawled, elbows and boots scooting them along as swiftly as serpents in the dark night air.  “You were meant to.” 


Nokk was tired off being teased about his wood-working skills, or lack thereof.  Rillen was hungry and cranky.  Their two companions, Neb and Drum, had been sharing Neb’s private flask and, while they were not drunk, they were just tipsy enough to not care if they made their friends’ lives miserable.  The result was that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. 

“Hang the spits!” Nokk said with a gravelly oath, throwing the troublesome wood down hard, making the ground shake slightly.  “I say we just pull ‘em apart and roast ‘em a few limbs at a time.” 

That idea quickly gained an alarming amount of support and Drum rose to his feet, eager to do the honors. 

Suddenly a small figure with an unusual swagger and a shock full of unkempt braids framing his tanned face waltzed easily into the clearing right in front of them.  

“Hello!” Kaldur said cheerfully, looking up... and up... and up...  He couldn’t help the thrill of fear and panic that flashed through him when he took in the trolls’ frightening enormity up close.  They could quite literally squish him like a bug.  None of that showed in his face or attitude however.  “Looks like I’ve arrived just in time for dinner!” 

Elladan blinked, trying to focus his blurry eyes.  Seeing the small human figure between the trolls, who now all had their backs turned on the prisoners, was difficult.  But the voice was familiar. 

//What on earth...// the elf barely had time to wonder before the tree branch they were tied to shook slightly and he tensed.  In front of him Elrohir stifled a moan.  Then suddenly he felt strong, gentle hands on his arms as a familiar face poked down from above, followed by a small cascade of golden hair. 

“Legolas?” Elladan rasped softly, in surprise. 

Ahead, Elrohir could tell something was happening behind him, but couldn’t see what. 

“El?” his voice was alarmingly loud since he couldn’t hear himself. 

Legolas, kneeling on the branch they were tied to, scurried forward quickly, dropping his head down so Elrohir could see him.  Swiftly but gently, the Sinda elf wrapped his hand tightly around the lips of the dark haired Noldo, preventing him from speaking again. 

“We’re going to get you out of here,” Legolas mouthed silently and Elrohir nodded. 

“Hurry,” the younger twin mouthed back, groggy pain evident in his eyes.  Legolas touched his bruised and bleeding face gently, locking eyes with him and nodding. 

Back where the base of the thick limb met the tree trunk, Aragorn was kneeling in the junction. 

“Hold onto the branch,” the Dúnadan whispered to the bandit closest to him, clamping his good hand on the man’s bound wrist to help keep him from falling when the restraints were cut.  Jalif did as he was told and a few moments later he was scrambling up onto the branch with Aragorn pulling him quickly in closer to the trunk.  

“Can you climb?” the ranger demanded quickly.  Jalif nodded the affirmative.  He would swim like a fish and fly like a bird if it got him out of this mess. 

“All right, then get down and see that you don’t draw any attention.  Go over that hill,” the ranger pointed, “and find the large rock with the tree growing from it.  Wait there for your companions and the rest of us if you don’t want to turn into troll bait again,” Aragorn commanded quickly and firmly.  If they all scattered willy-nilly into the night then disaster would surely result. 

Jalif nodded again, ready and willing to follow any orders that saved his hide at this point.  Aragorn let him go and crawled back out to get another one, glancing anxiously forward to see how Legolas was faring with his brothers.  

The ranger was almost as comfortable in a tree as an elf... almost.  Legolas however, remained the expert when it came to this kind of navigation and was therefore entrusted with the trickier task of rescuing the prisoners on the very end of the branch; especially given Aragorn’s current handicap. 

Sitting on the thick limb and hooking his feet under Elrohir’s armpits, Legolas used that leverage to pull the elf up a little, wincing apologetically at the other elf’s slight gasp at the painful pressure the prince had to apply in doing so.  Quickly slicing the ropes where they lay taut against the tree branch, Legolas let his legs hold the other elf’s weight for just a moment before he quickly took hold of Elrohir’s arms and helped him scramble up on top of the branch. 

Judging the dizzy, unsteady way Elrohir clung to him, Legolas knew the Noldo would never be able to make it back to the ground by himself.  Straightening up and holding Elrohir steady, Legolas carefully walked him across the top of the branch until he could place the younger twin’s hands on the firm, reassuring bark of the tree trunk. 

Aragorn had just freed another bandit who was now scrambling down the tree, much noisier than either the elf or the ranger liked, but it couldn’t be helped. 

Immediately, Aragorn took his brother from Legolas’ arms.  His grip was reassuringly firm, but tender. 

“Get the others,” the ranger quietly nodded his friend back out towards the branch.  “I’ll help El down.” 

Elrohir did not protest when Aragorn began guiding him through the difficult climb to the ground.  He knew his own equilibrium was shot, making him feel as uncomfortable as a dwarf might be in the tree. 

The ranger winced as the elf he was supporting unintentionally held onto his injured arm, making his elbow shoot hot darts of pain up his shoulder to his head.  The human tried not to let Elrohir see the pain he inadvertently caused and only hissed softly through gritted teeth, which thankfully, the elf could not hear. 

Aragorn knew that Elrohir was probably in far worse shape than he was right now.  He felt the way his older brother leaned against him for support and strength, weaving unsteadily through a task that was usually as natural as breathing for the elf.  Silently, he cursed the trolls for what they had done to the already injured Noldo. 

The human rested his rough cheek lightly against Elrohir’s smooth one, holding his brother safely when the elf had to stop, clinging to the thick tree trunk as he gathered his strength.  

Elrohir’s chest heaved unsteadily and he leaned his forehead against the rough bark of the tree.  “S-Sorry,” he managed to murmur.  He felt he had been nothing but a burden to his brothers since he lost his hearing. 

“Shh...” Aragorn pressed a gentle touch from his lips against his brother’s ear, letting the elf feel the soothing sound that he couldn’t hear.  He moved a little, so that Elrohir could see his face.  “You used to carry me up and down trees when I was little, now it’s my turn.” 

Elrohir’s face wrinkled into a weak smile as he figured out what his brother had said.  “Hannon le, muindor-nín.  Thank you, my brother,” the elf whispered faintly. 

Back up on the branch, Elladan was not so receptive of aid, although Legolas judged he needed it almost as much.  He accepted Legolas’ help to get to the body of the tree, but insisted that he could make it down himself, firmly sending Legolas back to help the others.  Arguing with Elladan was as useless as arguing with Estel when he was being headstrong, so Legolas gave in and let him do as he wished, hurrying back out onto the branch.  They were running short on time anyway.  So far Kaldur had done a remarkable job of keeping attention away from them, but who knew how much longer that would last?  The blond archer hastened his movements.

The trolls were startled by the appearance of the human and tossed off because he seemed totally unafraid of them.  In fact, he seemed totally unaware of the fact that he even should be afraid of them.  They found this amusing. 

“Dinner eh?” Nokk laughed.  “Yes, I’d say you’re just in time, midget.  Care to join us?” 

The others laughed wickedly at this. 

Surprisingly Kaldur laughed with them.  “You know, I personally always thought I would taste pretty good in a lemon-wine sauce, or maybe a light butter marinade perhaps...” he said with total, unnerving candor. 

The trolls looked at one another and blinked before roaring with laughter once more.  This little morsel was just walking out of nowhere and asking to be eaten.  It was simply too rich. 

“Little blighter musta scrambled his brains!” Rillen chuckled, knocking lightly on Kaldur’s head.  

“Mmmm, scrambled, another good option,” Kaldur put in with a disarmingly idiotic grin.  “Now I just bet you have to run or fight to catch your food all the time, such a pain isn’t it?  Why is it that our meals never come up to us and say: eat me?  Eh?  I ask you?  I mean, the world would be such an easier place...” he shook his head as if it were such a shame, then his face lighted up with an idea.  “Say, I tell you what, I have a proposition for you.  Make it a bit easier for you tonight.  I’ll tell you how to make a sauce that goes just perfect with my... unique flavor, and lay right down and baste me littl’ self in it, if you win a bet with me first.  What do you say?” 

The trolls were thoroughly amused, their entire and undivided attention focused on the ridiculous little human in front of them. 

“Sure, why not?” Drum laughed, taking another swig from Neb’s flask and passing it off to Rillen to improve the other troll’s perpetually sour disposition.  This was entertaining.  They could stand to have a little fun before dinner. 

Drum leaned his head down close to the bandit, poking the smaller being in the chest.  “What’s a runt like you think you can beat us at?” 

Kaldur had to blink as the fumes of whatever was in the strong alcohol on the troll’s breath made his eyes water.  “Oh I could never beat your enormitousnesses at anything, I am sure.  No, this is something quiet different,” he assured. 

He tried to climb up onto one of the impossibly huge and sheer-edged boulders that the trolls had been sitting on before, making quite a comical show of scrambling up only to slide back down.  His efforts were rewarded by the appreciatively mocking laughter of the trolls.  Trolls it seemed had an attention span to match their size and remained entertained by these small antics for quite a few moments longer than Kaldur thought they would.  He didn’t know how long he was going to have to keep this charade up, so he played each part that came to him for all it was worth. 

Finally he fell plunk back to the ground and sat there for a moment, rubbing his backside and staring quizzically up at the tall rock that continued to repulse him.  He glanced to the trolls.  

“I don’t suppose one of you gents could give me a hand...” 

They didn’t need to be asked twice.  Neb quickly scooped the human up in his rough grip, giving Kaldur an intentionally dizzying rid through the air before dropping him onto the high point of the rock.  

They laughed again at the disoriented way Kaldur tripped over himself trying to get up after that.  “Well that’s some rim-ril-rib-rrrride you give,” the bandit slurred somewhat tipsily, holding his head as if to keep it from spinning off. 

Surreptitiously, Kaldur stole this moment to furtively sneak a glance at the tree behind them all.  Three bodies still dangled from the branch, and he could see Legolas’ lithe form outlined against the starry heavens as he shinnied across the limb with grace that would put a cat to shame. 

Time.  They needed more time. 

“Now then,” Kaldur reached into one of the many inner pockets of his loose tunic, drawing out the first thing his fingers closed upon, which was a small glass vial.  He had used it to keep extra phosphorous in for their robes during the whole ‘Barrow-wight’ charade and although it was now empty, the inside of the glass still glimmered ever so dimly, enough to catch the trolls’ attention. 

Kaldur turned the little glass vessel over in his hands.  “Now, you see this?  It’s just an ordinary little glass bottle.  However, I will wager my worthless littl’ hide, that I can drop it ten lengths and it won’t break,” he held the bottle off the edge of the tall boulder he was perched on. 

The trolls liked those kind of odds.  

“All right then, do it all ready!” one of them said impatiently, giving Kaldur a little shove that tipped the glass out of his hand. 

The small vessel sailed downward through the dark air, its path clearly traceable even by firelight because of its small residual glow. 

The trolls half expected the glass to be enchanted somehow and bounce when it struck, but as was predictable for an ordinary bottle, it shattered into a million pieces upon contact with the hard ground far below. 

The trolls smirked and leered evilly at Kaldur.  “It broke, little man, looks like we get to see what your bones taste like...” 

“Ah, ah, ah...” Kaldur held his hands up, as if completely unfazed by this turn of events.  “Now wait just a moment.  Noxx, my good fellow, how long would you say that incredibly massive arm of yours is, elbow to fingers?” 

The trolls were completely bewildered now, and Noxx stared somewhat thickly at his arm for a moment as if trying to figure it out.  “Four lengths!” he said at last, somewhat triumphantly as if it were a clever answer to a difficult question.  He held up his arm to show, and it was true, his forearm alone was only a head or two shorter than Kaldur’s entire body. 

“Good man!” Kaldur applauded appreciatively.  “Now, would you be so very kind as to see how many times you can place your forearm between the ground and my outstretched hand, here?” he asked with beguiling charm, holding his arm out to his side, above the dizzying drop off below.  

“Why?” Rillen wanted to know.  

“Be-CAUSE...” Kaldur smiled sweetly.  “...I asked?  You’ll see in a moment, I promise.  Indulge your entrée, all right?” 

The trolls shrugged, curiosity driving them to give in to his strange requests.  

Noxx meticulously did as he was asked, the other trolls quick to fault-find and point out when he was bringing his arm up either too high or too low from the previous marker.  After much debate and quarreling, it was finally worked out that from Kaldur’s outstretched hand to the ground it was a total of at least 18-20 lengths.  Noxx said 18, Drum said 20, and neither could agree so they settled by comprising in the middle. 

“Well then,” Kaldur’s smile was radiant.  “It seems I did win this bet after all!” 

“WHAT?” Rillen shook his head with a peal of laughter, eyeing the small being suspiciously.  “How do you figure that?  The little glass is in pieces.”  He ground his large foot against the last remaining shards of glittering bottle to prove his point. 

“Yes,” Kaldur acknowledged easily.  “But as you all just so brilliantly figured out, it fell at least eighteen lengths before breaking.  I only bet that it could fall ten.  And you have to admit, that after the first ten, it was still intact.” 

“What?!” came the confused response again.  It made sense in a twisted sort of way, but the trolls were a little too thick to even quite grasp the grand joke of the whole thing, and quickly took to arguing amongst themselves about the measurements once more.  It quickly became settled upon that it was Nokk’s fault because his forearm was wrong and they should have used someone else’s arm, which led to re-doing the entire, lengthy count.  Nokk pouted and fumed about them always picking on him and wasted some more time in a brief tussling match with Rillen before Drum separated them and said they’d use Neb’s arm, because Neb had the flask and wasn’t going to share anymore if they did not.  

Kaldur laughed; he really couldn’t help himself, these trolls were so dense sometimes.  Still, an uneasy feeling in his gut told him that he was slowly but surely running out of time.  

“I’d like to get down now.  Hellloooo??  I’d like to get d-OW-n...” he sing-songed pleasantly, trying to get the quarrelling beings’ attention.  But if they even heard the request then they were choosing to ignore him. 

Most of the prisoners were safely over the hill, including Elladan and Elrohir, who fortunately had not taken as much convincing to leave as Aragorn had feared.  Two of the bandits were not even able to grasp the most basic principles of tree climbing, however, even with help, and Aragorn and Legolas had had to end up ferrying them down on their backs, which took an agonizing eternity of time that they both knew they could ill afford.  

Finally there was only Thil left in the tree and Legolas scooted quickly back up to free him while Aragorn waited for his friend on the ground, ready to signal Kaldur, and, if need be, go to his aid should things turn sour.  The bandit leader had been as good as his word; he had managed to buy them the time they needed to pull this off, which was nothing short of amazing as far as the ranger was concerned.  Privately, Aragorn also knew he did not have another trip up the tree left in him.  His arm was hurting fiercely, demanding more attention than he wanted to give it.  Ferrying Elrohir had been easy; carrying a clumsy human down the tree on the other hand, had been a lesson in misery. 

Suddenly another fight broke out between Nokk and Rillen.  What started it hardly mattered, the two had been spoiling to get at one another all evening, that much was plain.  The tension finally found an outlet after Rillen’s continued mocking about Nokk’s adding and his arm length. 

Nokk tackled the other troll and they fell hard to the ground with a thump that made Kaldur stumble and fall onto his backside up on the rock.  

On the tree branch above Thil, Legolas had to drop to a crouch and hug the limb lightly to keep his balance. 

Aragorn tensed and his good hand went instinctively to his sword hilt. 

Nokk and Rillen rolled towards the fire, punching at one another and trying to gouge each other’s eyes.  Unfortunately however, that made Neb and Drum’s attention turn that way and they saw the nearly empty tree with the lone elf crouching on the branch and the ranger standing at its base. 

With an enraged shout they raised the alarm.  That shook the two combatants out of their tussle.  With surprising agility for ones who appeared so lumpish and lumbering, Nokk and Rillen sprang up quickly.  Neb joined them as they rushed towards their escaping prisoners, their heavy feet pounding the ground like a small earthquake with each step.  

Legolas sliced the ropes around Thil’s wrists, catching the young bandit firmly by one arm and swinging him clear of the branch.  There was no time to climb down; the trolls were almost upon them. 

“Strider!  Catch!”  Legolas had no time to warn the young bandit of what he was planning before he swung Thil towards where the ranger was standing on the ground and let go.  

Aragorn heard his friend’s call and reacted quickly, instantly understanding the elf’s intentions.  He caught Thil as the terrified young man tumbled down through the air, breaking the lad’s fall.  Aragorn stumbled back against the tree trunk under the impact of Thil’s weight, catching it with his back and half sliding to the ground before he caught himself and dragged them both upright.  His face was unnaturally pale and he hugged his injured arm to him tightly, but he did not possess the luxury of having time for the pain that was coursing through him.  

“Go, GO!” the ranger shouted at the young man, pushing Thil towards the hills as the trolls reached the tree.  Aragorn drew his sword.  

Legolas, still on the tree branch, already had his bow in hand, an arrow notched.  Quicker than thought, the arrow flew from the string and was replaced by another.  The first shot ricocheted off Rillen’s tough neck as the troll turned, but the second stuck into the softer flesh near the creature’s eye, making the troll howl in rage and pain, grabbing for his face.  

Legolas whipped off another arrow, but the troll was moving too erratically to get a clear shot and it broke on the creature’s stony hand.  Not far behind, Neb received an arrow in his ear, which stung like a gnat’s bite as he tried to claw it off. 

“Strider!  Kaldur!”  Legolas’ warning cry pointed out trouble.  From his perch he could see that not all the trolls had come after them.  Drum had stayed behind to deal with the human who was stranded atop a boulder he could not possibly climb down from, nor safely jump.  

On the other side of the tree, Aragorn heard Legolas’ warning and tried to go to the bandit’s assistance, but he was having his own troubles at the moment.  Nokk was trying his best to step on the ranger, but the Dúnadan rolled away between his feet, slashing at the massive ankles.  Unfortunately his sword had little effect against a creature whose very essence at its core was the stone of the mountain itself.  It irritated the troll, but did little damage.  

Aragorn was reminded oddly of fighting Easterlings and Haradrim in the plains of Gondor and being caught under the thundering feet of the huge war-oliphaunts.  Just as dangerous, this foe had an added amount of intelligence and reason behind it that made the troll an even deadlier opponent.  Another thundering foot drove down towards him and he rolled out of the way only just in time.  Nokk’s heel grazed his injured arm where it was hugged tight to his body.  The ranger jerked back, his head striking hard against a rock, stunning him slightly. 

Nokk kicked the human.  Fortunately for Aragorn, the clumsy, rapid blow did not fully connect, but enough of the force caught the ranger that he was vertically hurled a good twenty lengths or so, rolling as he struck the ground hard.  His injured arm slammed into the earth, making him cry out sharply. 

A black and yellow dotted haze of pain swallowed Aragorn’s world and he was unable to think or move, totally frozen by the breathless agony flaming through his body. 

“Strider!” he heard Legolas’ voice calling to him desperately, it seemed from a great distance away... at the end of a lengthening dark tunnel.  

Still on the tree branch, Legolas saw Aragorn strike the earth and stop moving.  The elf felt a sickening lurch in his stomach when his friend did not respond to his calls.  Nokk stamped forward to crush the human once and for all.  

Desperately, the prince fired a rapid string of arrows into Nokk’s face, forced to ignore the two threats closest to him for the moment.  

Nokk stumbled back, swatting at the stinging swarm of arrows angrily and bellowing in rage as he turned towards the source.  

It was with grim determination that Legolas realized all three trolls were now converging on him.  That realization came too late to save him.  The critical few moments he had had to ignore Rillen and Neb cost the prince dearly.

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