Curse of Angmar

Chapter 17

by Cassia and Siobhan

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If I smile and don’t believe
Soon I know I will wake from this dream
Don’t try to fix me I’m not broken...
Hello?  I’m the lie, living for you so you can hide
Don’t cry...

Suddenly I know I’m not sleeping
Hello?  I’m still here...
All that’s left of yesterday.


“Kaldur!” the ranger snapped in urgent frustration, seeing Elrohir go limp in the arms that held him and begin to convulse spasmodically despite Thil’s desperate, but inexperienced attempts to help.  “Let me to him!  I swear if he dies because of you, hell will not hold a pit deep enough for me to put you in!” there was a dangerous look in the Dúnadan’s eyes. 

Kaldur’s hands trembled on the knife he held and Legolas was struck by the haunted look in his eyes.  It was as if the bandit could imagine a pit as deep as the one Aragorn spoke of, and it was exactly what he feared.  

“I won’t belong to someone else!  I can’t be a slave again!  I won’t wear chains and be put in a cage...” Kaldur ground out between his teeth, his own breathing rapid and strained.  “There’s some things a man can’t do, and I can’t do that again mate, I can’t...” 

Legolas felt a dart through his soul.  Those emotions, so clear in Kaldur’s panicked eyes... he knew them.  He had lived them.  “Kaldur, that’s not what’s going to happen,” he said quietly, willing the man to believe him. 

Kaldur couldn’t.  People lied.  They always lied.  

Thil knew he could not help Elrohir.  He didn’t know what was wrong.  He had a moderate aptitude as a healer and a natural empathy that served him well in that realm, but nothing that would help him in a situation like this.  He didn’t even know if elven physiology was the same as a humans, but he could tell the elf was in trouble.  He wanted to go free as much as the next man, but not if the elf’s life was the price that had to be paid.  Shouldering his two surprised comrades out of the way, the younger man pulled Elrohir up, supporting the semi-conscious elf as he walked him forward, towards Aragorn.  

The others were too surprised to try to stop him until it was too late.  “I’m sorry, Kal, forgive me...” Thil choked slightly as he let Aragorn take Elrohir from him, knowing the betrayal he enacted.  “You always said we weren’t killers, I can’t have this on my conscience.” 

The other bandits looked to their leader to see if they should react, should stop what was happening, but Kaldur gave them no sign as Aragorn laid his brother down tenderly on the grass, checking the trembling elf with rapid, urgent care.  

The bandit leader’s breath heaved rapidly.  It was over.  It had been a stupid move from the start and he knew it.  He had gambled and lost, because, as Losmir had accused him, he just didn’t have the callousness to use the leverage when it was in his grasp.  After all these years he would have thought he’d learned the terrible price of letting his heart do the thinking, but apparently that was a flaw in his character that he was stuck with. 

Kaldur let his hand fell uselessly to his side as he allowed Legolas to take Elladan from him.  He couldn’t do this anymore than Thil.  He couldn’t follow through on threats against people he didn’t wish to harm; he wasn’t sure whom he had been trying to fool.  All he had managed to do now was assure that he was never going to see the light of day again for the rest of his life.  

That thought terrified him. 

Almost instantly, Taradin and his men had the small handful of bandits surrounded.  Jalif looked at Kaldur as their hands were bound again behind their backs.  The lead bandit dropped his head and looked away.  He knew he had let his men down, he had let himself down, he had let Strider, Legolas and the twins down... it would be a shorter list to think of someone he had not betrayed tonight.  

Legolas supported Elladan, guiding the dark-haired elf to a seat on the ground, but as he did his gaze turned to follow Kaldur for a moment as Taradin’s men led them away to somewhere where they could be more carefully guarded.  The prince could not forget what he had seen in the human’s eyes a few moments ago.  It haunted him.  

“Elrohir...” Elladan was trying to turn towards where Aragorn was administering emergency care to his twin.  

“Shh...” Legolas soothed the distressed elf, smoothing Elladan’s tangled dark hair back from his face and carefully checking his injuries.  “Estel is with him, he will not let him come to harm.  Be still, you are not well.” 

“You can... say that again,” Elladan found barely enough breath to joke.  “I feel as if someone built a fire inside...” 

“And slow roasted your innards with it, I know,” Legolas acknowledged ruefully, one arm still curled lightly around his own internal aches as he eased himself down to sit on the grass next to the Noldo.  “I shudder to think what your father will say if we cannot all make it into Imladris under our own power... these are not exactly the ‘old times’ I wished to relive while I was here.” 

Elladan chuckled as much as he could around his injuries.  “And to think... it has been so boring without you and Estel.” 

Several of Taradin’s company approached them now, bringing bandages and medicines as would be needed.  

“We haven’t got no decent healers in this lot right now,” Taradin apologized as he crouched beside Aragorn, handing him the herbs he had requested.  The older man’s concerned gaze held Elrohir’s pale face.  “He going to be all right?” 

Aragorn nodded, unable to truly express how relieved he was to be able to say that.  Elrohir was in trouble, but it was not as serious as Thil, who had had no experience with elves, had thought.  “Valar willing, yes.  He is not well, but it is not as bad as I feared.  His body is in shock, but it is strong.  He needs rest and tending, but he will recover.” 

Elrohir moaned softly and Aragorn laid his hand gently on the elf’s forehead, trying to smooth away the lines of pain written there.  The elf was not conscious enough to see him, and he knew that without sound his brother would not even know what was going on around him.  Therefore, the ranger tried to simply infuse as much love and care as he could into his touch, hoping that the elf could feel his presence and his love if nothing else.  

It seemed to work, for Elrohir quieted and stilled beneath his touch.  “Rest, muindor-nín,” Aragorn said quietly as he worked.  “I will let no more hurt befall you, I swear.”


Aragorn sat on the ground, a little away from the campfire, leaning wearily against the tree behind him.  It was almost morning.  Elladan and Elrohir were now slumbering peacefully and without pain, their hurting bodies induced into a deep, healing rest by a healthy dose of the concoction the ranger had mixed up for them.  It was what the brothers had come to affectionately term ‘Lord Elrond’s favorite tea’, but for once the twins at least accepted it without protest, welcoming the small, healing respite it offered to their pain.  

Most of their problem was simply the amount of injuries they had sustained, not necessarily the seriousness of any individual hurts.  Thankfully, broken ribs and severe internal bruising seemed to be the worst of it.  Elladan’s shoulder injury was painful, but not dangerous.  Elrohir’s continued hearing loss, which they could do nothing for, and Elladan’s broken ribs, which were stabilized, seemed the most severe problems, everything else was simply hampered by a sheer, system-wide pain-stimulus overload.  The trolls’ rough treatment after the hurts taken in the rockslide had been a bit too much for both the twins.  Hopefully they would be feeling a little better when they awoke from their long, healing sleep.  

Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment.  His and Legolas’ injuries had also been tended.  His arm still ached like the dickens and he was acquiring a very nasty bruise across his side where the troll had kicked him, but the pain had dulled down to reasonable levels, helped in a large part by the numbing herbs with which he had dosed Legolas and himself.  

As if summoned by being thought of, Legolas appeared next to him.  The elf moved with a stiffness that was unusual for him as he slowly sank down to sit beside his friend.  

Aragorn eyed his companion.  

Legolas smiled wearily as he settled the mug he had been carrying into the nook of a tree root beside him.  “You don’t look any better,” he informed, accurately reading the look in the ranger’s eyes.  

Aragorn knew that deep, dark bruises covered most of Legolas’ back, chest and sides; bruising from the inside as well as the outside.  Elrond had taught him to know the difference between surface bruises and the discoloration that came from hidden inner injuries.  The elf prince had both, but his elven strength was holding up well and Aragorn knew that the damage would heal, if only Legolas gave it the time to do so and did not stress himself any further.  

Aragorn was good at functioning around injuries and even hiding them from the casual observer, but he sometimes felt his friend had it down to an art.  The stiffness in Legolas’ movements was the only indication of his battered state, just as his friend’s soft speech was the only clue to his healing jaw.  They were indeed a matching set, the two of them, but they were all of them alive.  The ranger had learned in life you had to be grateful for the good things, not just curse the bad. 

Wounds healed, pain was forgotten with time, but losing a loved one out there tonight... that would have been too much.  That would have been a wound that did not heal... his gaze darkened a shade as it drifted over to where the bandits were tied up for the night only a few yards away.  They all looked fast asleep. 

Kaldur was not with them.  He was further away, on the other side of the fire.  He was tied to a tree, with his own personal sentry.  Any man who could bluff his way through the guard of four trolls as well as the careful emotional defenses of people as watchful and guarded as the elf and the ranger deserved extra caution.  That was why he was kept separate.  

After tonight the bandits had conclusively proved that not only could they not be trusted, but they could also pose a serious threat.  That was something Aragorn knew he should have learned in the beginning, after the fiasco on the Barrow-downs, but he supposed Kaldur was right and he was one of the worst jailers ever.  He had come to actually trust the bandit far too much, and was still a little raw from the betrayal.  He couldn’t believe he had read Kaldur that wrong. 

Legolas followed his friend’s gaze.  Kaldur did not look like he was sleeping either.  His body was slumped against the tree that his hands were bound to, but he was un-relaxed and his face turned up to look at the stars as if memorizing them for the last time.  Another expression that was eerily too familiar to the prince. 

“He didn’t really want to hurt your brothers, you know,” Legolas said quietly; quite unexpectedly offering a defense of the man whom he had earlier said drove him mad.  

Aragorn looked away.  “I know, but he did... or he could have.  And it would have been my fault as much as his, my lack of character judgment.  I don’t understand where I made the wrong call on him,” the ranger admitted.  He wasn’t going to waste a lot of time blaming himself for things that were past and could not be changed, that at least he had begun to learn a little as he grew older.  However, he honestly did want to know where he had turned right when he should have turned left in this instance. 

“You didn’t make the wrong call,” Legolas said presently.  “I don’t understand what I saw in his eyes tonight... but I recognize it, Estel.  He was scared, terrified... couldn’t you see it?” 

Aragorn looked down at his hands.  “I’m afraid, Legolas, to be perfectly honest, all I could see were my brothers hurting, my brothers maybe... dying.” 

The elf nodded.  Not surprising.  “I know... I saw that too.  It was wrong, Estel, they shouldn’t have been hurt, and they shouldn’t have been threatened like that either.”  Legolas leaned his head back against the tree, resting his folded hands on one knee as he turned his head to look at his friend next to him in the fading moonlight. 

“What do you think your father will do with these men now?” he asked quietly. 

“I don’t know,” Aragorn let his head sink into his hands.  “I’m so torn between trying to understand their reasons and wanting to just lock them up and throw away the key that I can only hope he has more wisdom than I do.” 

Legolas laughed softly.  “He does, Estel, don’t worry.” 

Aragorn rolled his eyes at what should have been a backward insult, but wasn’t really.  “Legolas... what are you thinking?” he knew something was going through his friend’s head. 

Legolas sighed and took his time answering.  “I don’t know, Estel... I’m just... haunted.  Ghosts, you know,” he waved his hand dismissively around them, his voice wry.  “Ghosts of the past.  Did you hear what Kaldur said on the hill?  ‘I can’t do it again’... the look in his eyes...” the elf was unconsciously rubbing his wrists with small, distressed movements.  “He seemed to feel so trapped.  Like he’d do anything rather than go back to... to whatever he feared.” 

Aragorn caught and held Legolas’ eyes.  Laying his good hand atop his friend’s, he stilled their agitated movements.  “Legolas... you’re projecting again.  You’re putting your feelings and your experiences into his life,” he said gently.  They had had this conversation before, when they first began their journey and Aragorn had seen the way the elf prince was identifying with their captives’ situations. 

“I know,” Legolas sighed softly, wearily.  “I know I am.  But you asked what I was thinking,” he pointed out with a small, tired grin. 

Aragorn nodded.  “I’m not saying you’re wrong though...” The ranger plucked a stalk of grass, rolling it between his fingers and looking out at the lightening horizon where the sun was trying to wake up.  “I didn’t want to see it at the time; I was too worried, too angry.  But he was scared, and I have no idea why... no idea what we ever did to cause that.” 

“Don’t you?” a soft voice made the two friends start and look up from what they had thought was their private conversation.  

The bandits nearby had appeared to all be sleeping, but Thil’s eyes were now open and he was watching them intently in the predawn gloom.  The young man twisted his arms around so he could sit up without pulling against the stake that held his bound hands anchored.  

“Kal’s a good man,” Thil said simply.  No one had probably ever told him it was impolite to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, so he made no apology for overhearing words not meant for him.  “But there are some things a body never gets over.” 

Both Aragorn and Legolas understood that very well.  

“Look...” Thil shot a somewhat nervous glance towards Kaldur, across the camp.  He wasn’t turned in their direction, which seemed to make the young man a little more comfortable.  “Kal would literally kill me if he knew I said anything.  I think you’re good people... but... do you swear to me that you’ll never use anything I tell you against Kal?  Ever?”  The boy’s loyalty was as obvious as his desire to try to explain his mentor’s actions. 

Aragorn and Legolas nodded.  “You have our word,” the ranger said softly.  He wanted to understand this puzzle.  There were too many pieces that just didn’t make sense.  

Thil sighed.  He had already probably broken his leader’s trust forever tonight by his actions with the elf; a little more couldn’t do more damage now.  He wanted these people to understand Kaldur the way he did.  

“Kal was born a slave, in the south.  Alls he knew was his parents were sold to pay for a debt, condemning them and all their offspring to that fate.  But if his parents were still living by the time he was old enough to remember, he must have been sold apart from them, cause he was raised an orphan.  I don’t know much about it, but I guess it was a pretty rough life.  The only person who meant anything to Kal was another slave, an old woman who practically raised him.  When he was about fourteen, she was accused of stealing something and was beaten... it killed her.  Kal went berserk.  He nearly strangled the master who ordered it, but they pried him off...” Thil’s voice was hollow at the retelling.  It hurt him to think about it as a reality, and not just a story. 

“They beat him bad enough to leave scars that he still carries, then they put him in a cage.  At first in the center of the courtyard where everyone could see...” the young man’s voice became tinged with bitter anger.  “Then they moved it down to the cellars and locked him away from the world like a rabid dog.  They said he was mad.  Three years.  Three years they kept him caged up in the dark and barely subsisting on whatever scraps they chose to fling him,” the boy swallowed hard, remembering the night he had inadvertently pried the whole story out of his older friend.  Kaldur had been dead drunk and made a joke out of everything, but Thil hadn’t found it a laughing matter.  He still didn’t. 

Horror at the cruelty of what they had just heard was etched on Aragorn’s face.  Beside him, Legolas had pressed his face against his knees.  A slave was worth less than dirt; he knew that well.  To be imprisoned in the dark... never knowing if you’d ever get out, never knowing when your tormenters were going to come to sport with you... no wonder he knew what he had seen in Kaldur’s eyes. 

“Who could do that to a child?” Aragorn breathed sadly.  He could see the dead-honest truth in Thil’s eyes and knew that what he told them was fact.  

“He went in a child, but he lost that in there somewhere I think.  He came out a man.  He came out...” Thil tipped his head to the side, indicating he meant Kaldur’s mind.  “Different.  He talked to himself, turned everything into one big joke, he seemed incapable of understanding pain or taking hurt anymore... they decided he really must be mad now and were tired of keeping him, so they took him out to dispose of him.  He escaped.  He ran and he never looked back.” 

Thil studied his audience for a moment.  “Kaldur’s not really crazy you know.  Well... maybe a little,” he smiled faintly.  “But mainly he’s just... unique.  And... he’s not incapable of feeling pain either, despite what he says.  Mind you, he never wanted a soul to know any of this.  I only found out because he was too drunk to know what he was saying and I’ve kept his secret, like I’m asking you both to keep it.  I just... I just wanted you to understand.  To know what it would mean for Kal to go back into any kind of prison.  I honestly think he’d rather die than lose his freedom again.” 

Silence hung between them for several long minutes, but no one spoke.  No one knew quite what to say.  Presently Thil lay back down and rolled over, watching the sunrise with tired eyes.  He had had his say and there was nothing left for him to do.  He wasn’t sure what good telling them all that would accomplish, but if they really wanted to know what was going on in his friend’s head tonight, now they did. 

Aragorn closed his eyes and then slowly opened them again.  That explained a lot about the strange but uncannily strong defenses Kaldur had built against the world.  If you didn’t care, didn’t take it seriously, it didn’t hurt. 

Aragorn laid his hand on Legolas’ shoulder and the elf slowly straightened back up, shaking off the sorrow of the tale they had just heard.  When you had a past like that you couldn’t live in it, Legolas knew that and apparently Kaldur did too.  However that wasn’t to say that it did not occasionally rear up and smack you in the face.  

Legolas smiled slightly, leaning his head against the tree once more as rosy dawn spread across the heavens above.  “You know what, Strider?” he murmured quietly.  “I’ve had a good life.” 

Aragorn blinked, wondering what brought on that comment. 

Legolas grinned at his friend’s confusion.  “No, truly, I have.  Not because there hasn’t been pain, or horror, or hurt... but because I have always come out the other side a better, stronger person for it.  Because I have always had family, and friends, like you, by my side.  Have you never wondered, Estel, why when we hear stories like that, the kind that make you want to weep for all the injustice in the world... have you ever wondered why is that we sit there and ask: Why did it have to happen?  It’s a natural enough response, that’s true, yet in a world stained by evil, evil things will happen.  But then, why do we take for granted the blessings in our lives?  Do we ever stop to wonder ‘why’ about them?  Why, in a world this cold and full of suffering, Ilúvatar chooses to light up our lives with the many bright spots we love so dear?” 

The elf prince stopped himself and laughed heartily at the bemused expression on his friend’s face.  

“I lost you, didn’t I?” Legolas shook his head. 

Aragorn chuckled, his voice tinged with exhaustion.  “Forgive me my friend, I think I agree with you, but some of us are not up to playing the philosopher at this hour of the morning.  I will tell you what I know though.  What I know, is that I love to see you smile, mellon-nín... gwador-nín.” 

“Well then we should get some rest I think,” Legolas yawned.  “Even if the sun does wish to rise, we do not need to join it this morn.”  Picking up the mug he had set aside some time ago he held it out towards Aragorn with a suddenly devilish smile.  

Aragorn realized that it was a mug of the ‘special tea’ he had made earlier for his brothers.  He cast a suspicious look at the elf, remembering how at one time they had kept a running tally of whose turn it was to drug the other in this manner due to the many scrapes they encountered in their youth.  

Legolas, it seemed, had not forgotten either.  “So...” the elf said with a grin.  “I forget, whose turn is it?” 


Aragorn rolled over stiffly, a soft moan escaping his lips as he woke up slowly.  It was dark in camp and the distant haze of red that stained the mountain peaks to the west let him know that the sun was just setting. 

Soft sounds of someone moving nearby caused the ranger to slowly open his eyes and glance to his left.  Legolas was seated near him quietly talking to Taradin. 

“So do you awaken finally?” the elf’s soft voice teased. 

Moving carefully into a sitting position, Aragorn rubbed his fists against his eyes, trying to wake up fully.  The motion set his arm to aching and he grimaced.  “How long did I sleep?” he mumbled, his words slightly slurred. 

“All day long.”  Taradin glanced about the camp. “You and that motley crew that you’ve been dragging with you.” The older man motioned to the prisoners with the mug he held in his hands as Legolas carefully inspected Aragorn’s arm.  The elf fitted it gently back into the sling draped around the ranger’s neck. 

“Elladan and Elrohir?”  Aragorn questioned once Legolas released him.  He slowly stretched his legs as he glanced around them.  Tangled strands of dark hair fell into his eyes and he pushed them away from his face as he watched the camp for a few minutes. 

“They awoke a few minutes ago.” Legolas followed Aragorn’s gaze to the far side of camp where his brothers were being tended.  Elladan was slowly sitting up, aided by someone, but the ranger could not see clearly who it was. 

He started when he realized that it was Thil who was working gently with the elven twins, now helping Elrohir hold a mug of tea as he sipped it carefully. 

Legolas restrained Aragorn when he protested and tried to rise. 

“Easy, Strider.”  Legolas watched the robber carefully.  The young man’s movements were deliberate and slow, and he made sure to keep himself in Elrohir’s line of sight so the deaf elf could understand him.  “He has some abilities with healing and he offered to help.” 

“My men and I are not skilled with medicines the way you are, Strider, but that one there has promise.  He gave his word he only wanted to help so we figured it couldn’t hurt to let him.  There’s nowhere he could go with my men all about like this.”  Taradin watched the young robber.  “Wouldn’t mind having someone of his skills working with us all the time actually,” he muttered quietly. 

Aragorn relaxed and sat back down, his eyes roaming the camp.  The rest of the thieves were being tied up again after they had been fed.  There was no resistance from them.  They knew they were outnumbered and their leader, who was obviously their ‘creative’ influence, had been removed. It made no sense to try anything again. 

The ranger glanced at Kaldur.  The thief sat tied to the tree like he was last night, but something about the man troubled Aragorn. 

“What of Kaldur?”  The Dúnadan glanced at Legolas. 

The elf simply shook his head.  It was Taradin that answered.  “I can’t figure that one out.  Yesterday you couldn’t get him to shut up, but ever since last night... He won’t eat.  He won’t drink.  He won’t speak.  He just sits there and stares off into who knows where.  He ain’t with us if that’s what you’re meaning.  He don’t give my men no trouble, but tain’t natural,” the older man shrugged.  

“I’m thinking he has injuries from your troll scuffle yesterday, but he won't let anyone touch him either.  Some of my men were a bit rough with him last night, just a bit mind you and I put a stop to it right quick like as soon as I saw,” the hunter assured swiftly.  “But now he puts up an unholy fit if anyone lays a finger near him.  Only blasted time one gets any reaction out of him whatsoever.”  Taradin sighed, he had tried to help, but nothing seemed to be getting through the prisoner. 

Legolas stared quietly at the ranger.  He knew that it was Strider’s call, but he hated that Kaldur had retreated; it reminded him too much of himself. 

Aragorn uneasily dropped Legolas’ gaze.  A small sigh escaped him. “All right, I’ll go talk to him.  Do you still have his meal?” he asked Taradin. 

“Don’t know, but there has to be something we can scrounge up for him, if you think you can get him to eat it.”  He gestured to one of his men near the fire.  “Markess, is there anything left of supper?”  The other hunter nodded and went about quickly preparing a plate. 

Standing slowly to his feet and straightening with a small groan, Aragorn accepted the meager meal and made his way over to where Kaldur was seated.  His actions caught Thil’s attention and the young thief eyed the ranger carefully. 

Dismissing the guards, Aragorn sat down next to Kaldur and placed the meal on the ground.  The robber didn’t move or acknowledge his presence; he simply stared off into space blinking slowly every once in a while. 

Removing a small knife from his boot, Aragorn cut through the bonds that held Kaldur’s arms behind him around the trunk of the tree.  The small freedom brokered no visible response but the thief slowly moved his arms in front of him, massaging his wrists.  His head dropped down to his chest and he lowered his gaze.  There were bruises on the side of his face and the ranger could only wonder if that was from the trolls yesterday, or the ‘bit of roughness’ that Taradin had mentioned having to break up. 

Aragorn pushed the plate of food towards Kaldur.  “You need to eat.  They tell me you haven’t eaten or drunk anything.” 

Pulling his knees to his chest, the smaller man didn’t answer. 

“Are you hurt?”  Aragorn tried again without success.  He sighed in frustration as the robber pulled more tightly into himself.  “Look, you can trust me.” 

A small snort of biting derision answered him.  “Trust you?” 

“You think you can’t?  It’s me who should be second guessing trusting you.”  Aragorn spoke quickly, his words a little harsher than he wanted.  He glanced up as Thil approached them cautiously, only to be blocked by some of Garith’s hunters.  “No it’s all right.  Let him go, he can come near.”  He leveled the young man with a stern gaze. 

Thil knelt in the grass in front of his employer and tried to look into the man’s eyes, “Kal, come on, you gotta eat.  Please.  We need you healthy.”  

Tired, dead eyes stared out through the tangle of fuzzy braids at the younger robber. 

“Thil, go back and tend the elves.”  Kaldur whispered quietly. 

Dropping his gaze to the ground the young man reluctantly did as he was told.  When the boy was sufficiently far away Kaldur turned his attention on the ranger that sat near him.  “It’s not your fault really.  I made the critical error.  I misjudged ye.” 

The gaze the thief laid on him stabbed through Aragorn’s heart: total distrust and fear radiated out from the small human.  There was no light or buoyancy in his eyes and without that it was like looking at a different man. 

“I broke my own rules, mate; I actually started to believe in somebody honest.  I thought you would be fair.  I can't believe I thought wrong.  Usually I’m a better judge of character than that.”  There was a trace of the familiar careless flippancy in his light tone, but a faintly acidic back-bite replaced his usual joviality. 

Aragorn didn’t speak for a few moments.  He was relieved of answering when Kaldur’s soft words floated to him again, mildly accusing. “I heard everything you said back there on the road.  I know what you’re planning for us and I’ll not go with you.  You may as well kill me now or leave me tied up here and let me die, because I’m not going.” 

“You don’t have a choice,” Aragorn said quietly.  

“You don’t think so?” Kaldur lifted his gaze and pierced Aragorn hard with it, his lips twitching up into a grin.  The unpredictable gleam was back in his dark eyes, but it was hard-edged and crystallized.  

“What a minute.  What is it you think we are going to do to you?”  The ranger could see he would get nowhere arguing Kaldur’s logic.  Few could.  Aragorn’s brows furrowed.  No, Thil was right, Kaldur wasn’t insane.  Highly creative yes, but not mad... not yet.  There was something of the past though, there just behind his eyes, something, whether true or not, that said he feared he could be pushed over that edge.  Something that knew how dangerous he would become if he ever gave up, if he ever really let go of the indomitably resilient buoyancy that he held close to his soul. 

“I know what you said.  I heard you talking with the others.  You said we could work off what we’ve done.”  Kaldur strove for levity in his tone, but his eyes were haunted as he continued, “That translates slavery in any language, and you know it as well as me.”  He was shaking slightly now.  It had been two days since he had food or water and he hadn’t slept at all in that time either.  He honestly wasn’t sure if he were intentionally trying to starve himself or not... sometimes even he didn’t understand everything that went on in his head. 

“Strider... don’t be dense, it doesn’t become a bright mind like you, mate.  We took the Lord of Rivendell’s sons hostage, they could ‘ave died because of us.  How do you think he’s going to treat us when we arrive there?  Do you honestly think we will get any of your so-called ‘justice’ from him?” 

Aragorn noted the trembling that had set in Kaldur and, as much as he didn’t want to, he understood the man’s fears.  

“Yes, you will.  I know the Lord of Rivendell.”  With a sigh Aragorn let his guard down one more time, cursing himself even as he did so.  There was just something in the hauntedness of the thief’s eyes that reminded him too much of the hopelessness he had seen in Legolas’ not so long ago.  Understanding breeds compassion.  “Kaldur... I understand that you probably haven’t got much reason to believe me, but this is not going to be like anything that has happened to you before.  I’m willing to promise you that.” 

Kaldur looked skeptical.  “What gives you leave to be making free with promises like that, friend?  Don’t say what you can’t keep.” 

Aragorn sighed.  “The Lord of Rivendell is my father.  He adopted me when I was young.  I was an orphan and he raised me as his own,” the ranger confessed, hoping the singular similarity in their pasts would help him.  “When I call Elladan and Elrohir my brothers, I am not being figurative. They are my brothers.” 

To all outward appearances what the ranger had just said didn’t seem to have a bearing on the highwayman at all, but inside a tiny spark of hope and interest had flared.  It was a little easier to believe good of someone if the speaker doing the convincing actually had call to know what they were talking about.  Kaldur listened carefully, his fingers lightly grabbing the piece of bread that Aragorn broke in half and offered him. 

“Elrond.  His name is Elrond and he is very wise and very just.”  Aragorn poured water from a flask into a mug that had been handed to him with the plate of food and he passed it to Kaldur who drank deeply from the cup, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.  His hunger had been provoked and he readily ate as he listened to the ranger.  He still wasn’t fully willing to believe him just yet, however; he had no reason to.  Yet even so, Kaldur wasn’t the type to simply roll over and give up. 

“My parents were slain by orcs.  Although I was young at the time, I saw the whole thing.”  Aragorn passed the man a fork and a spoon that Garith brought, handing them down to the ranger along with his pouch of herbs.  No one else could hear the quiet conversation but everyone in the camp was secretly watching. 

“I don’t think a person ever gets over something like that.”  Aragorn continued, “But Elrond, my father, helped me.  Kaldur, whatever he does he will not sell you.  He detests slavery, as do we all.  I was a slave once.  It has now been quite a few years since, but I have not forgotten it.  Even Legolas knows the bite of a whip and has cause to fear small, dark places.” 

Kaldur had stopped eating and was watching the ranger closely.  His open gaze belied the fact that he identified with what the man was saying. 

“None of us would see you or any of your men enslaved, nor mistreated.  What I was speaking of was working with the townspeople of Strayton.  In their fields, with their animals, alongside their blacksmiths as helpers, as coworkers, until your debts are paid.  Taradin has even shown interest in giving young Thil a job with his outfit.  He’s impressed with the boy and he’d be a good employer for him.  In fact, should you wish it, you could stay on and live there in Strayton and make an honest life for yourselves.”  Aragorn tapped the edge of the metal plate again, indicating he wanted the man to continue eating.  The slight smile he was rewarded with encouraged him. 

Kaldur picked up a piece of cheese and pointed with it at the ranger.  “And you think, this elven lord...your father, would let us do this after all that has happened?” 

“Do you think it any small thing what you did back there with the trolls?  Or with Losmir?  Or your men on the hill last night?”  Aragorn smiled as the robber cleaned his plate of food.  “All those things will be brought out in your favor.” 

“I can't live behind bars.”  Kaldur’s voice was soft. 

“Then we’ll work it so you won’t be.”  Aragorn was grateful when the thief did not flinch away from him when he moved near.  He took the empty plate and set it aside.  “Now you have wounds, they need tending and you need to sleep.  We still have a good five days' walk ahead of us.” 

Pouring out more of the water into the now empty mug, Aragorn mixed some of the herbs up in it and allowed them to steep for a few minutes before handing it back to the other. 

“What is it?” Kaldur wrinkled his nose when took a deep smell of the concoction. 

“It’s good for you.” Aragorn laughed eliciting a smile from the small man, “Drink it, it will help you heal.” 

“On your word?” 

“You have my word,” Aragorn tapped the bottom of the mug, “on everything I have said.” 

With a nod Kaldur drank the tea down quickly and passed the mug back to Aragorn.  When the guards came back to tie the robber up, the ranger waved them off. 

“Let him be.  It’s alright, he needs to sleep.”  Aragorn was watching as Kaldur fought the drugs in his system.  “Don’t fight it.  Just rest.  You’ll be safe.” 

Thil walked over with a blanket and knelt in front of his employer, a small smile on his face.  Wrapping the thief in the warm cloth, Aragorn gently forced Kaldur down, then wadded up his coat and placed it beneath the man’s head as darkness drew him down into sleep. 

“I’ll see to his wounds if you would, please,” Thil offered. 

Aragorn nodded and stood slowly to his feet, gazing at the sleeping man. 

“Did you mean what you said?”  Thil asked quietly as the ranger turned to leave.  “I mean the part about me staying on here with the hunters and all and not selling us?” 

Turning back towards the robbers Aragorn glanced down into the large eyes fixed on him, “Every word, Thil.  You have my promise as a ranger.” 

When he rejoined Legolas, the elf was smiling up at him. 


“You,” Legolas laughed lightly. “You’re such a soft touch.” 

“Look who’s talking.”  Aragorn elbowed his friend gently, careful of his healing.  “Seems like you’re the one who got me to go over there.”  

The hunters had a roaring fire going and Elladan and Elrohir were just seating themselves around the ring.  

“Come on let's go join the others. I can think of some really good stories to tell them about you.”  The ranger smiled. 

He helped the elf to his feet and the two of them walked stiffly towards the fire ring and the sounds of easy banter among the beings seated there.

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