Curse of Angmar

Chapter 16

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Rillen was now right up to the tree, the branch that the elf stood upon coming up chest-high on the troll.  The creature swept his hand sharply downward, trying to crush the elf where he stood.  Legolas jumped sideways at the last moment, but the branch snapped and splintered under the assault.  Caught on the end away from the tree, Legolas felt the wood jerk sharply downward under him.  But before he could even have the sensation of falling it suddenly heaved up again like a sea-serpent in a roiling ocean as Rillen’s hand closed around the splintering branch and he wrenched it from the tree with one terrific yank.  

The up-shot of the branch slammed into Legolas like a battering ram, catching his unprotected stomach and chest so hard that he felt as if his internal organs must have been permanently re-located.  He tasted blood as his chin connected sharply, snapping his head first forward and then back upon impact before he could compensate.  A sickening pop close to his ears flared in time with the pain that raced through his jaw at the impact.  

The world spun around the prince and it wasn’t simply the result of the blow, the world literally was spinning around him.  Rillen had hoisted the tree-branch that Legolas still clung to over his head like a club, waving it in rapid, deliberate strokes and trying to fling the elf off against the ground in a crushing blow that would surely kill him. 

Legolas felt himself snapped first one way and then the other.  It was like riding a bucking dragon and he knew he could not long endure the harsh punishment.  His grip slipped a little more each time his hurting body was whipped around.  The abuse coupled with the wild motion made the elf feel ill. 

Rillen slammed the tree branch down against the ground, trying to smash Legolas with it.  

Finally close enough to the earth to make a safe dismount, the elf jumped free just in time to avoid being crushed.  He rolled to the side as the thick branch slammed down against the ground right next to him, cracking and splintering with a horrendous noise. 

Aragorn pulled himself to his feet again just in time to see Legolas roll away from the troll’s attack.  The prince looked slightly dazed and he stumbled as he tried to distance himself from his attackers.  The elf’s lack of grace alarmed the ranger, who knew how badly his friend must be feeling to reel like that.  

The trolls were too close, there was nowhere for Legolas to go.  A glancing blow from Rillen’s swinging club caught him across the back.  The elf was thrown forward sharply, and although he rose again slowly to his hands and knees, Aragorn could see blood dripping from the prince’s mouth and nose.  Legolas’ arms were trembling as he tried to support himself and force his body up again.  

Aragorn cringed to think what internal injuries his friend might be taking.  Horror engulfed the ranger and heedless desperation drove him forward with a shout as another grazing near-miss flung Legolas to the side, crumpling the prince like a rag doll and tearing a cry of pain and fear from his lips. 

Rillen was relentless, going after the elf with wild swings of his tree-branch club while Nokk and Neb tried to grab the prince as he attempted to escape the deadly blows.  Down under the combined attack of three trolls, Legolas didn’t stand a chance.  

Charging Rillen, Aragorn struck with a force born of sheer desperation and actually managed to drive his sword deep into the creature’s leg. 

Howling, Rillen dropped his club and grabbed his leg, kicking angrily at Aragorn who scrambled quickly out of the way.


Back on the other side of the fire, trapped precariously on the high boulder, Kaldur was wearing out.  Drum’s hand slammed down onto the rock right beside him, swatting as one might swat at a fly.  The bandit was thrown forward by the impact, landing hard on his hands and knees only to have to scramble backward again just as quick to escape another sweeping slap.  His side burned from where the troll’s rough fingernails had gouged him on a near-miss he had avoided only by tumbling through the troll’s thick fingers.  Thus far his above-average acrobatic agility and Drum’s state of intoxication had kept him one step ahead of Drum’s clumsy, drunken attempts to squash or grab him.  It was only a matter of time though, and he knew that.  Already his breath was painfully short and his limbs trembled from the effort.  He was too high up to jump off this isolated plateau of stone, and he could only dodge for so long.  If he’d had time he would have spared a glance to see how the others were faring.  Better than himself he hoped... although he feared otherwise.


Somehow, Legolas managed to drag himself back to his feet, even though he felt as if every inch of his body had been viciously bruised, inside and out.  It was no longer a joke to say that he felt as if he had been beaten by a troll and he found himself cursedly unsteady on his feet.  The archer had lost his bow in the chaos and his arrows were all spread between here and the next mountain range anyway after his wild ride.  He drew his knives, but the small part of his mind that he didn’t want to listen to knew just how ineffective those were going to be against their current enemies. 

Aragorn appeared at the elf’s side, half-hunched to the right against the flaming pain in his arm, his bloody sword clutched tightly in his good fist.  

They placed themselves back to back as the three trolls rushed them, knowing they were not going to walk away from this fight.  It was horribly ironic really, that after everything they had survived together, they looked to have met their ultimate match in a bunch of thick-headed trolls not five days travel from Rivendell. 

“Even in death we shall not be parted, believe it, gwador-nín,” Legolas whispered fiercely around the hot pain in his jaw brought on by speaking.  

Aragorn nodded, sparing his dear friend one last, final smile.  Although it had been an unspoken bond for years, Legolas had never actually called him brother before.  

Suddenly, loud, ringing cries and horn blasts filled the air; confusing the angry trolls and making them pause long enough to look up in search of the source of the disturbance.  

Aragorn and Legolas looked up as well, and were shocked to find the hills around the valley dotted with several dozen black shapes that were rushing down towards them.  The shadowed forms quickly resolved themselves into the bodies of men carrying torches and wielding bows, swords, axes and hunting spears.  

The trolls yelled and cursed in anger as a swarming hail of arrows descended on them from all angles, accompanied by a barrage of sharp, barb-tipped spears.  

Within seconds the newly arriving humans were all around them, thirty... no, forty strong at least, not including an unknown additional number who remained hidden in the hills, raining arrows upon the huge targets.  

Drum left Kaldur and hurried to join his friends, sweeping his massive arms and feet, trying to scatter the humans as he went.  But although the trolls could easily crush the smaller beings, these humans were too smart and too quick to let them do so very easily.  

The elf and the ranger found themselves suddenly of little interest to the trolls who turned to respond to the new threat.  The relief was great, but the danger wasn’t over, and for a few minutes the valley became absolute chaos as one of the trolls tripped, falling into the fire and scattering the flaming logs everywhere.  Parts of the valley blazed, although conditions were still too wet from the previous rain for a serious grass fire.  

The earth shook under the pounding feet of the trolls and rang with the impassioned cries of their unknown attackers.  Eventually even the thickheaded trolls realized that there was nothing to be gained here.  Their chance of an easy meal was lost and they were not at heart very brave nor very stubborn creatures.  Taking the path of least resistance, the brutes finally took to their heels.  Thumping away towards their dark dwellings in the hills they muttered curses as they departed.  This was a bad place to be, nothing but trouble.  They were not coming back to his area any time soon.  

Legolas leaned forward, resting his hands on his thighs as he caught his breath and tried to still the terrible aching in his chest.  Miraculously, he didn’t think he had any broken ribs, but it felt as if his insides had been forcefully re-arranged and his jaw was definitely dislocated.  There was a strange, sick burning in his stomach and lungs that spoke of too much abuse.  The elf pushed the pain aside, focusing on the moment.  

Next to him, Aragorn leaned his good shoulder against a tree, his eyes pinched closed as he tried to not let the pain flaming through him make him sick to his stomach.  

They had been snatched from the proverbial jaws of death but they had yet to figure out by whom.  That question did not have long to wait for an answer however.  As the chaos subsided and the unknown men re-gathered enough to see that they had taken quite a number of injuries but no fatalities, two figures approached the elf and the ranger.  

An older man and a younger walked forward from the rest of their group.  The older man’s hair was nearly completely white although his short beard retained flecks of grey, but his strong, sturdy body belied these indications of age in a way that showed he was still a force to be reckoned with.  

Aragorn smiled as he got his pain levels back under control, but did not move away from the support of the tree just yet.  

“Taradin, Garith, I cannot begin to tell you how good it is to see you,” the ranger said warmly, with a slightly rueful chuckle as recognition hit him.  

Taradin laughed.  “Should have figured that the next time I saw you, you and Legolas would be in some kind of scrape, even after all these years!”  The elder hunter shook his head.  “I don’t know whether I should say you’re cursed to find so much trouble, or blessed to always manage to survive it.” 

Legolas laughed gingerly around his aching insides.  “We’ll take either way that keeps us alive.  How did you know to come to our aid?” 

“Taradin and his men rejoined our party the day after you left,” Garith explained, and then easily let the older man pick up the story from there.  

“Garith here told me what way you were heading and I knew it was bad business,” Taradin nodded towards the younger man he had long ago taken as his son.  “See, my men and I just had a run-in with these beasts on the way back, that’s why we was late.  Not that we didn’t think you could handle yourselves just fine, mind you, but we knew those big lunks’d be angry after our little tussle and more prone to bothering travelers.  So we thought we’d just come along this way to see if everything was all right.” 

“Well we are extremely glad that you did,” Aragorn chuckled, finally able to push away from the tree, although he continued to hold his injured arm with his good one.  “We are in your debt.” 

Taradin shook his head, his eyes looking over the two friends, his memories distant.  

“What?  Nah, none of that.  Perhaps you can consider it that our debt to you is finally paid.”  His gaze lingered for a moment longer on Legolas who just smiled and shook his head.  The elf had long ago forgiven the hunter for their initial meeting.  Actually the hunter had helped them out in a number of scrapes after that, and they had done the same for him.  They were already more than ‘even’ if one was counting. 

The archer had to stop smiling presently though and winced as he rubbed his jaw.  It hurt, badly.  As he worked it back and forth he felt it click back into place with a sharp little jolt of pain that took his breath away.  He had to close his eyes to hold back the sting of pain-induced tears, but the ache faded swiftly.  Relieved, he opened and closed his mouth once or twice to check the hinge.  Now properly aligned once more, it still hurt, but not quite as severely.  He was lucky it had not been broken. 

Aragorn looked at his friend questioningly, but Legolas just shook his head, rubbing his jaw lightly.  His eyes told his human friend that yes, he was in pain, but he would be all right.  The ranger nodded back slowly.  He was still concerned that the elf might be bleeding internally from the battering he had taken... in fact it was almost impossible for him to not be, but the light in his friend’s eyes was bright, even around the pain, and Aragorn saw no immediately visible threat to the prince’s life at least. 

“Hey, lose something?” several of Garith’s young men came over, escorting Kaldur who had somehow finally managed to get down off the cliff-like boulder.  They remembered the bandit had been one of the prisoners in their camp and returned him politely, but firmly to the elf and the ranger.  “He was trying to sneak off.” 

Kaldur looked insulted.  “I was just stretching my legs!  Everyone’s so suspicious...” 

Aragorn doubted that, but at this point he was willing to forgive the other man his idiosyncrasies. 

“Thank you.  It’s all right, you can release him,” he assured the two young hunters who were holding Kaldur rather tightly.  The bandit had earned that much of their trust at least after tonight.  “He’s not going anywhere in a hurry, right, friend?” Aragorn’s voice was genuinely companionable, although he used Kaldur’s own turn of phrase with a small glint of amusement. 

Kaldur smiled and shrugged, hugging his side lightly once his arms were released.  Those scratches hidden by his torn and dirty shirt still stung fiercely, but he didn’t complain.  He knew how to take pain and keep on smiling.  

“Where is the rest of your party?” Garith suddenly looked around with concern.  “Where are Lord Elrond’s sons?” 

“All right, I hope,” Aragorn glanced towards the darkness beyond.  “Although I think they will need the attentions of a skilled healer, and soon.  They should be waiting on the other side of these hills for us if Elladan didn’t decide that he needed to come back to try to save us.”  He laughed, but he truly hoped that his brother had gotten no such foolish ideas.  The twins were not in a good way. 

Garith, with most of his party, stayed to care for the wounded and reconnoiter after the skirmish, while Taradin accompanied Legolas, Aragorn and Kaldur to find the rest of their missing group.   The elder hunter left the majority of his men with Garith, but took a good number of them with him in case Strider’s friends needed help. 

Taradin spoke quietly with Aragorn and Legolas as they walked, catching up on bits and pieces of news.  Then he nodded towards where Kaldur was walking ahead with some of his men, who were laughing merrily along with something the bandit had said or done.  

“Garith told me about these men you was guarding.  Right smart thing you’re doing taking them to Rivendell.  Too many good folks are just too quick to take action they regret later.”  He didn’t give any more indication than that, but they all knew he was once again remembering the events surrounding their first meeting so many years ago.  Taradin had been one of those men and he wasn’t proud of it.  He liked to think he had grown past that quite some time ago however, and his long friendship with the man he knew as Strider and the blond elf archer who was almost always with him was proof.  “We’ll be heading back to Strayton ourselves soon. If you’ve a mind, we’ll move things up a bit and go back to Rivendell with you all.  I’ve a feeling you might need a scratch of help with your prisoners, given... the way things are.”  He glanced from Aragorn’s limp arm to Legolas careful movements.  If Elladan and Elrohir were in no better shape than these two, handling their prisoners alone would be a near-impossible task. 

“Thank you, Taradin, your help would be most appreciated,” Aragorn replied, obviously sounding a little relieved.  The same difficulty had presented itself to his mind as well. 

Taradin nodded.  “What do you think Lord Elrond’ll find to do with them when we get there?  Rivendell ain’t got no prisons that I know of, unless they borrow ‘em from Strayton, which wouldn’t be so hard I suppose.  The new Warden’s expanded the jail facilities considerably since the last time you two had the pleasure of viewing them.”  He chuckled.  

Aragorn laughed with him.  He shook his head; he had no idea exactly what would happen when they got to Rivendell, but trusted his foster father’s justice implicitly.  

“I really don’t know, but I’m sure whatever their sentence, it will be fair.  An agreement with Strayton would be a likely option actually.  I hear that they are on better terms with Rivendell than they have been at times in the past.  Perhaps these men can work off the damage they caused.”  His gaze strayed to Kaldur, swaggering along ahead of them.  If he had anything to say about it, Kaldur’s part in aiding them tonight would not be forgotten when that time came.  It did not cancel his other debts, but it proved he had a good heart underneath his act, one that Aragorn would see nurtured.  

Kaldur’s face did not darken, nor did his laugh lose any of its luster as he joked with the hunters around him, but he heard every word that was spoken behind him.  

Prison... prison meant bars... darkness.  His heart started speeding up; old, buried fears trying to surface despite what he might wish.  Work it off... they meant as a slave, wasn’t that what they really meant?  He knew all about the custom of selling convicted thieves into a lifetime of servitude to pay off their debts. 

A cold chill ran through him.  He couldn’t do it again.  He wouldn’t. 


Aragorn’s heart stopped when they got to the large rock with the tree growing out of it and found no one there.  Not his brothers, not the bandits... no one.  Where could they be?  What could have happened?  His over-wrought thoughts could come up with plenty of explanations, all of them dark and dreadful. 

Legolas squeezed his good arm lightly, looking around with just about as much confusion.  “They were supposed to wait here...” 

“And they did,” a voice came from further up the hill on their right.  Jalif’s voice.  Slowly the bandit emerged from the rocks and they could see the others clustered behind him.  

Against his chest Jalif was holding Elladan.  The dark haired elf’s eyes were closed tightly against the painful pressure that the man’s grip placed upon his hurting ribs.  The elder twin’s hands were bound behind him and Jalif had his blood-caked shoulder in a painful grip, twisting his arms slightly to keep him submissive.  He wasn’t trying to hurt the elf, but he wouldn’t let him go either. 

“Estel!” Elrohir’s soft voice trembled slightly and Aragorn’s horrified gaze was carried a little further up the hill to where two of the bandits had Elrohir kneeling between them.  The men held his arms firmly, but Thil was kneeling gently beside the elf, quietly supporting his head.  Elrohir seemed incapable of holding it up himself, which was alarming. 

Elladan and Elrohir had been too injured to fight this latest set of captors when the bandits’ intentions became clear.  What weak resistance they could offer at this point was easily overcome.  The thieves had not hurt the twins; the rockslide and the trolls had done a fine job of that already, but they were going to use this to their advantage if they could. 

Aragorn’s gaze turned dark.  He had not thought of this, he had not prepared for it; he had not realized the danger he inadvertently sent his injured brothers into.  

“Let them go!” The stab of betrayal was palpable.  They had saved these men’s miserable lives, at risk to their own, and this was how they repaid them?  The ranger moved forward a few steps, physical pain forgotten as his eyes fixed on Elladan’s, which opened slowly at the sound of his voice. 

“Sorry, Estel... my form’s... a little off...” the elf rasped slightly, trying to smile but ending up with his voice choked off by painful, wracking coughs.  It was hard to breathe.  His broken ribs were giving him difficulties now that the adrenaline had left his system. 

Jalif pulled back when Aragorn advanced, dragging Elladan with him and placing the elf’s own dagger warningly against the twin’s throat.  “Look, we’re grateful for what you all have done; we don’t want to hurt nobody.  We just want to leave.  Tell your friends to lower their weapons, now!” 

Aragorn gestured for Taradin and his men, who stood with weapons drawn and ready, to stand down.  He believed they didn’t want to hurt his brothers, but he also knew these men were desperate and he didn’t want to push an accidental tragedy. 

“Send Kaldur up here,” Jalif nodded to his leader, tightening his grip painfully on Elladan’s shoulder when they didn’t comply fast enough.  

Elladan winced and bit his lip to keep from crying out.  

“Stop it!” Aragorn snapped, grabbing Kaldur’s arm and shoving him forward, showing their compliance.  “Please, talk sense to them!” he quietly asked the bandit.  “They won’t make it twenty miles out here before they’re retaken and that will only make matters worse for everyone involved.  Besides, there are still four trolls out there as well as entire villages full of people who would like to burn you alive. This is madness!” 

Kaldur turned to look at him, an unreadable expression in his eyes.  “And what is your solution, Strider?  To go with you to Rivendell to face heaven-knows-what?  Do you honestly think I can get them to buy that?” 

Aragorn had no idea, only desperation as he heard Elladan’s labored breathing rasp and rattle painfully.  “You’re Kaldur DeCahr,” he thrust the bandit’s own logic back on him with only a hint of a jest.  The plea in his eyes was clear:  I trust you.  I don’t care what you do, don’t let them hurt my brothers, they have already suffered too much. 

Kaldur held his eyes for a moment before turning away and heading up the hill.  “Yes,” he said quietly.  “I am.”  His tone was frighteningly different than anything Aragorn had heard from him before. 

Kaldur’s mind spun as he walked.  He knew what Strider and Legolas believed was the right thing, what his nagging conscience told him was the right thing, but he couldn’t ask his people to walk into a trap.  The trust in the ranger’s eyes burned his heart, but he would not follow Strider or anyone else to prison or slavery.  What kind of fool did they take him for?  After everything they had just been through together... how could they still want to do that to him?  How could anybody want to put another human being into a lifetime of being owned and possessed by another?  The ranger and the elf weren’t the only ones who were feeling betrayed at the moment. 

His gaze lingered painfully on Elladan and Elrohir’s bloody faces.  He wouldn’t hurt them, he wouldn’t let any harm befall them... but he couldn’t go along anymore either.  If Taradin and his men now accompanied them all the way to their destination, there would be no further chance for escape.  Not with numbers like that to contend with.  Once in Rivendell it would be too late.  After what he had seen of elves, he doubted even he could find a way out of an elvish stronghold.  Their chances were getting too slim.  If they did not act now, they condemned themselves. 

Strider wanted to take them to the Lord of Rivendell; he said he was a fair judge... but Kaldur had been taught early in life just how twisted people’s definition of ‘justice’ was.  Besides... his gaze again took in the badly injured elves before him... these twins were the Lord of Rivendell’s sons.  What kind of verdict would there be for the men partially responsible for bringing them home three steps from Mandos' door?  It was a frightening thought.  

Reaching Jalif, he silently held out his arms and the other man released Elladan to him, along with the dagger.  

Elladan’s cloudy eyes caught and held his with silent accusation.  “Sorry friend,” Kaldur said quietly, and he meant it.  Almost tenderly, the bandit leader gripped the elf to him, lightly replacing the knife against the pale neck.  

“I’m sorry,” he called down to Strider.  “I promise no harm will come to them, you have my word!  But we’re leaving, and we’re taking them with us to make sure no one follows.  Don’t try to stop us mate, don’t push me that way.  I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” the bandit spoke with a dead seriousness that was unusual for him.  

The thieves were getting edgy as Taradin’s men eyed them, obviously waiting only for an opportunity to act. 

“Kaldur, don’t do this!” Legolas shook his head, dismayed by the man’s choices.  “You’re making it a thousand times worse on yourselves!” 

“Look, Kaldur, please,” Aragorn walked slowly forward, keeping his good arm up where the bandits could see it.  “Elladan and Elrohir are hurt, badly.  You can see that.  They need a healer and they need one now.  I believe you won’t hurt them, I do.  But if they don’t get help that’s not going to matter. They could die!” 

Kaldur backed up, shaking his head.  “Strider, I like you, I like them, don’t push me... please... don’t push me...” 

Aragorn kept coming, now aware that Legolas was following a few paces behind, although Taradin and his men wisely hung back and maintained their positions, not wishing the bandits on the hill to panic.  

“This is madness, how far do you think you’ll get?  If you need a hostage, take me,” Aragorn offered.  “Let my brothers go!” 

There was a desperate, cornered look in Kaldur’s eyes, the look of a man at war with himself.  He laughed, but it did not hold his usual careless mirth.  

“I’m not a fool.  I can’t handle you, Strider.  I know that.  I don’t want to hurt them, don’t make me... just let us go!”  He had gone too far.  He had taken the one step he couldn’t reverse.  If he gave up now he was sure his head was destined for the execution block, or worse.  

“Kaldur...” Thil’s voice was soft but worried.  Elrohir had started shuddering convulsively against the young human as he supported the elf.  “Kal, something’s wrong, we’re losing him!” 

Elrohir’s body had taken too much abuse lately and was sliding into shock.  

Kaldur flashed a worried look behind him, but his tight hold on the knife remained wary.  No, no... he didn’t want anything to happen to them, he didn’t!  Yet... 

Aragorn started to rush to his brother, but was checked when the other bandits moved in front of him threateningly, keeping them apart.  

Elrohir was trembling, his breath shallow and rapid, and his eyes rolling back in his head as his injuries took over.  The men holding him looked anxious and unsure, but weren’t about to release the elf of their own volition. 

Elladan gasped painfully when his broken ribs were shifted again as Kaldur nervously changed grips on him.  “El...” he moaned his twin’s name in heart-wrenching alarm.  

The situation was quickly spiraling out of control towards an outcome that no one there wanted. 

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