Curse of Angmar

Chapter 7

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Glowing spots and after-trails of the small, but searing explosion wavered before the elf and the ranger’s vision, partially obscuring their attackers who were already on them.  Legolas realized with a start that they were far too close for his bow to be much good, but stabbed quickly at one of the apparitions with the arrow in his hand before drawing his knives.  The arrow cut through the white, gauzy substance covering the being and a red stain welled up around the injury.  Whatever their assailants were, they were not supernatural in nature. 

“Aragorn, they bleed!” Legolas said hurriedly as he was forced to defend himself against several attackers at once.  The ambusher’s weapons and the skill with which they were being wielded with was also very real. 

Aragorn rolled under the sweeping blow of one and crossed blades with another.  He heard Legolas’ words and found the news heartening.  At least flesh and blood they could fight.  He glanced over and saw that the elf was holding his own, but when the ranger sought the whereabouts of their other companion, he found that Bilbo had once again disappeared.  Blast!  He was sure he had seen him right there a moment ago.  That hobbit was the hardest being he had ever tried to keep track of!  He hoped that Bilbo had followed his instructions and managed to run away in the confusion of the attack; he hadn’t seen any of the attackers leave or break off, so it was unlikely that he had been carried away. 

The elf and the ranger stood back to back, each covering the other’s back as they moved as one in a tight, unbreakable knot of deadly grace.  They had not fought side by side for so many years without becoming quite a formidable duo.  Their time literally bound to one another in Mordor not so very long ago had only strengthened that working relationship and they moved as one. 

Legolas’ sharp ears picked up on a soft noise that at first sounded like the crackling sizzle of something burning, but he smelled no smoke.  Their attackers seemed to be pulling back, which was strange because the white-clad beings still had them heavily outnumbered and at the disadvantage even if they couldn’t break through the duo’s defenses. 

Suddenly a small, square, box-like object, no bigger than a man’s hand, was thrown by one of the white-clad attackers and landed between the elf and the ranger.  It did not seem very threatening, but some voice of warning shouted loudly in Aragorn’s mind. 

“Legolas, look out!” he yelled, grabbing the elf’s arm, throwing them both backward, away from the odd object.  Only half a moment later the small box exploded outward in another blinding flash of light accompanied by an ear-splitting bang.  Not even remotely clear of the blast area, Aragorn and Legolas were flung roughly forward, the shock of the reverberation seeming to push all the air from their lungs. 

Legolas hit the earth hard before he even realized he had left it.  Aragorn’s weight slammed down on top of him a second later, driving him hard into the ground.  The elf felt a jab of pain stab across his forearm, but it took him a moment to realize that it was because he had fallen on his own knives.  He was lucky it hadn’t been worse.  His ears were still ringing as he struggled to extricate himself from his friend’s dead weight.  The fact that Aragorn was not moving on his own sent a thrill of panic through the prince. 

Aragorn, having placed himself between Legolas and the explosion, had taken the worst of the blast.  His head swam and consciousness wavered uncertainly.  He couldn’t hear anything over the ringing in his ears.  What on earth was that?  What had they come up against?  Surely this must be the ‘devil’s fire’ that the townspeople who had encountered the supposed wights had spoken of, but if their attackers were not in fact supernatural, what in the blazes was it?! 

Before they had even had half a chance to recover themselves, Aragorn was jerked roughly up and off of Legolas, strong hands closing around his wrists as he was dragged to his feet.  The ranger’s legs were unsteady however, and refused to hold him.  He sagged to his knees and his captors allowed it, twisting his hands behind him and leveling the tips of their blades warningly against his heart. 

Legolas was pulled roughly to his hands and knees, but not allowed to look up.  The tips of several different swords pressed into his back and sides, silently warning him about what any unapproved movement would cost.  A hand slid down and placed the tip of a dagger against the underside of the elf’s throat.  Effectively trapped between different sets of blades above and below, Legolas remained very still on his hands and knees, trying to blink the lingering effects of the blast from his head and his eyes.  His injured arm trembled slightly below him as it supported his weight.  Blood seeping slowly from the vertical gash he had inadvertently created pooled between his fingers. 

The prince gasped slightly as a heavy weight leaned down on his shoulders, forcing him to press a little harder on the blade below and making his injured arm protest violently at the task of holding him up.  The man holding the knife had leaned casually upon the elf’s shoulders.  “You wanted to find the Barrow-wights, mate. Well you found ‘em,” the being’s voice hissed in Legolas’ ear. 

The elf struggled but felt the razor edge of the blade press sharper against the underside of his chin. 

“You are no wights, you are flesh and blood, I feel you!  I saw you bleed!” he threw back at their captors, trying to turn his head enough to see Aragorn, but he could not.  The ranger had not spoken and Legolas was worried. 

“Surprise, surprise,” the man holding the prince down had an obvious smirk in his voice.  Removing his weight and his knife, the man, for man it was, allowed his companions to pull Legolas to his feet.  “Everyone else was pretty fooled so far, it’s too bad you had to get so nosey.” 

Aragorn was blinking hard as full consciousness slowly returned.  His vision was still blurry however.  “Legolas... are you all right?” he asked softly when his roving, wavering gaze was unable to find his friend. 

“For the moment,” Legolas’ captor replied in an almost cheerful tone.  “And it might stay that way if you two want to tell me why you’re looking for us?” 

Now that he had a good view of them, Legolas could see that these were indeed all men, but they were dressed in strangely shaped white costumes that covered every inch of their bodies, all the way down to the ground where it billowed and folded onto the grass, hiding even their boots.  Whether it was the stuff it was made of or something that had been done to it, the white fabric of their eerie robes glittered and reflected the moonlight dully, lending them an other-worldly air even though it was now plain to see that they were nothing more than a band of thieves with creative attire.  They all looked more or less the same, except for the one who was doing most of the talking, who had a garish red smile painted upon his ghostly, masked hood.  There was something nonsensical about it and it almost ruined the effect if seen up close, almost. 

“You’ve been preying on the locals.” Aragorn started to shake his head, but quickly decided against it when he found out that he felt as if he had a rather large hangover.  “Stealing, waylaying, killing...” 

“Ah, ah, ah,” the man in the painted hood, who seemed to be some kind of leader, waved his hand in correction.  “We haven’t killed no one.  Not yet.  And as for stealing... you must be mistaken... that be the wight’s doing... and us here, as you said, we’re just humble men like yourselves.”  

“There aren’t any wights in this scenario, just a bunch of thieving humans using the superstitions and fears of their own kind against them,” Legolas said coldly. 

“And I suppose you ain’t afraid of nothing...” one of the men holding Legolas from behind chuckled evilly, twisting the elf’s injured arm.  Legolas blanched but made no sound. 

“Hey, enough of that,” the lead man shook his head disapprovingly.  “But now I seem to have a problem.  Namely, what do I do with you two?  And your friends once they’ve all joined us.” 

Aragorn’s ears perked up a little at the mention of Halbarad and his brothers, and, he supposed, Bilbo, wherever the little hobbit had gotten to.  Obviously this had indeed been a trap, as he had suspected too late.  He hoped that his brothers had fared better than they had. 

“I say we kill them now and drain their blood.  That ought to keep anyone from wanting to poke around after us,” one of the men holding Aragorn growled with an almost hungry blood-lust in his voice.  Many of the others murmured in support of this idea. 

The lead bandit tipped his head to the side as if thinking.  “That’s messy,” he shook his head.  “Besides, the instant you start killing people everyone begins to take it personal-like and you get the dratted heroes out in force.  There’s nothing more disruptive than someone stupid enough to not care about themselves, looking to rid the world of evil.” 

“Then what do we do with them?” someone else shouted back, obviously not pleased with their leader’s decision on the subject.  “They can’t go free to tell everyone we’re a hoax!  You told us they were a threat, that’s why we did this.  Now we have to deal with it.” 

“How did you know?” Aragorn asked.  “How did you know we were looking for you?” 

“We have our contacts in town and they ain’t blind nor deaf.  Besides, little something I learned long ago.  If something seems too good to be true, mate, it probably is.  It’s a might suspicious that any of the little folk would be traveling alone around here now, what with all the hoopla going on.  And one that happened to be known as eccentrically wealthy... well... it only took a little looking around to see what was really going on.  Don’t feel too bad for underestimating us, friend, you’re in good company.  We thrive on the misperceptions of others.”  The man gave a mock bow. 

Aragorn couldn’t see their captors’ faces, but the tone of the lead man told that he was grinning.  The ranger had to admit that it was true; these bandits had been far cleverer than he’d given them credit for. 

“Where did the little pip-squeak go anyways?” the man looked around as if considering this for the first time.  “Bolted I suppose.  Probably halfway home and blathering mad with fright.  You should have all seen the looks on your faces when we came out of the trees!” the man laughed out loud.  “Priceless.” 

Neither Aragorn nor Legolas were very amused. 

Actually neither were the other bandits.  The plan had been that they would still get the hobbit and anything he was carrying, as well as the people who had laid the trap, but now it looked like they had gotten nothing out of this night but trouble. 

With a cry one of the bandits fell, clutching his leg which inexplicably had an arrow protruding from it.  Everyone started. 

“What the-” one of the thieves holding Legolas started, but never got to finish.  The elf prince grabbed their moment of surprise to swiftly bend forward and fling the man holding him over his back directly into the bandit who had been speaking a moment ago. 

The men holding Aragorn tensed and tightened their hold against his trying to jump up, but the ranger surprised them by doing the opposite of what they expected and dropped down closer to the ground.  Unprepared, the thieves lost hold of him as he rolled away from them. 

Elladan and Elrohir appeared on either side of the camp, wading swiftly into the sudden fray, followed by Halbarad.  Blood stains on Elladan’s tunic told that they had already seen action somewhere else, but there was no time to wonder at the details right now, or to whom the blood belonged. 

The fake wights quickly decided that this situation had gone beyond their comfortable control and it was time to beat a tactical retreat.  They began pulling back, but the elves and the rangers pressed them hard, following after and not allowing them to escape. 

Legolas’ knives had been left on the ground where they fell, but they were back in his hands now and flashed as he dodged under one man’s swinging strokes.  However in the darkness, and with his senses still half-clouded, the prince’s foot caught on something, either the hem of the man’s robes, or a hidden tree root, the elf did not know and it did not matter.  The end result was that he could not pull out of his roll quick enough and ended up sprawled on his back for a moment with his defenses completely down. 

For a suspended instant, Legolas found himself staring up at the bandit with the red smile on his hood.  The man had his sword in hand as he nearly stumbled on the elf in his hurry to leave.  He had only to thrust his blade down to give a killing blow, and there was no way Legolas could stop him in time from his position.  The prince realized in the sickening half-instant he had to register what had happened that this tumble had just cost him his life. 

The bandit’s sword went instinctively up and forward... but he hesitated.  Rather than complete his swing into the elf’s unprotected chest he simply turned aside, vanishing into the trees and the chaos. 

Suddenly there was another loud explosion and Legolas covered his ears, closing his eyes this time now that he knew the after-effect it could have.  When he opened his eyes again an eerie peace had fallen over the woods, as if the blast had blown all the fighting away.  Picking himself up, Legolas saw Elladan doing the same not far away.  Halbarad was shaking his head to clear the ringing and Elrohir was sitting in the long grasses gingerly pressing his hands against the sides of his head, a grimace on his face as he tried to rub the pain out of his eardrums. 

All of the bandit-wights were gone, having used the opportunity of their last diversion to vanish without a trace. 

When Legolas realized he didn’t see Aragorn, he scrambled fully upright and looked around a little harder, stumbling to keep his balance.  He was momentarily relieved when he heard a small moan a little ways off through the trees and caught sight of motion.  He hurried over to it, but what the elf found was not what he expected. 

A crumpled heap of white, luminescent fabric, looking for all the world like a discarded rag-doll, moved sluggishly on the forest floor.  The mask with the red smile on it had been twisted around by the blast until it was on sideways, giving a very ridiculous effect. 

Legolas quickly knelt, placing his knife against the bandit’s throat this time.  Pulling the man’s hood off in one quick motion he revealed a deeply tanned, oval face framed with long, disheveled ebony hair matched by two dark eyes.  The hair was pulled back from the human’s face in a multitude of finger-width braids that looked like they had not been redone in a long time.  The braids were in turn kept out of his eyes by a dark green scarf wrapped around the bandit’s head. 

The man flinched and raised his hand against the sudden infusion of moonlight, faint though it was.  He seemed singularly undisturbed by his present situation for the most part, but Legolas couldn’t be sure that that was not because of shock from the blast they had all been caught in for the second time that evening. 

“Great...” the bandit muttered. “I can have a hangover with none of the benefits... ouch, easy there!” he protested when Legolas dragged him upright. 

“Who are you?” the elf demanded. 

“Kaldur’s the name, Kaldur DeCahr, friends call me Kal, and other people call me things I wouldn’t repeat...” 

“What are you doing here?” Legolas cut him off. 

“Well how-do-you-do it’s nice to make your acquaintance as well,” Kaldur carried on a mock conversation with himself since Legolas seemed unwilling to oblige.  “What do you think I’m doin’ here?  Picking daisies?  Obviously someone’s aim was a little off on that last fireball.  Don’t think they expected you to put up such a fight.” 

“I guess we’re not the only ones to underestimate someone else,” Legolas said quietly as he guided the prisoner to his feet.  The bandit was at least a head shorter than the elf and the prince easily pulled the smaller man upright, pushing Kaldur ahead of him.  Without the hooded mask, it was easy to see that the human was a little younger than Aragorn and slighter in build than the ranger.  He wore a thin mustache and the shadow of a beard on his face, lending to the overall scruffiness of his appearance. 

“So it would seem,” the bandit agreed ruefully.  “Although I mark that I’ve over-estimated the accuracy of some of my men.  People should watch where they’re throwing things...  Look, I think this is all a big misunderstanding,” Kaldur smiled ingratiatingly at the elf.  “There’s no reason you want little old me hanging around you...” he looked pointedly at the knife the elf was still holding close to him. 

“You’re a thief and a highwayman, I see no misunderstanding.  Now quiet,” Legolas shook his head as they made their way back to the others.  The elf was trying to listen to the night and catch any sounds of their fleeing attackers, but the constant babbling at his side was making it difficult.  Nor was it helping his headache. 

Kaldur could not seem to take a hint.  “But no real harm’s been done here.  Why, all we did was dress up and have a little chat with you gentlemen!” 

“Quiet,”  Legolas repeated the command, beginning to become irritated. 

“But I ask you, did I take anything from you?  No. So where’s the thievery in that?” the man protested.  “Now I don’t really want to go back to wherever it is you want to take me to get my neck stretched or my blood boiled by a bunch of superstitious fobs, and I’m sure you don’t want to have to be stuck with me for any longer than you have to, so why don’t we just-” 

“Shut up!” Legolas snapped, his temper not improved by the night’s events, nor the painful pounding that was building between his temples from having been too close to too many explosions. 

The bandit clammed up with an innocent shrug.  “Why don’t we just be quiet then,” he finished amiably. 

Legolas rolled his eyes in disgust as he tied Kaldur’s hands behind him with the trailing end of the man’s own, torn costume.  Forcing the bandit to sit down, he did the same to his ankles.  “Move, and I’ll kill you,” the prince warned calmly. 

“Elrohir, you all right?” Legolas asked when he saw that the younger of the two twins was still holding his ears and looking a little dazed. 

“What?”  Elrohir shook his head, wincing.  His voice was louder than usual and a disturbing red trickle of blood ran from his right ear down his neck. 

“I asked if you were all right,” Legolas repeated. 

Elrohir’s brows furrowed. “What?  Legolas, I’m sorry, I can barely hear you, my ears are still ringing.” 

Legolas let his breath out slowly.  That answered his question then.  Elrohir was definitely not all right. 

“Estel!” Elladan’s voice calling his brother’s name caught Legolas’ attention. “Estel!” 

Legolas looked around, realizing that he still did not see Aragorn anywhere.  A thrill of panic shot through him for the dozenth time that evening.  “Elladan, where is Strider?” 

“I don’t know.” Elladan was obviously disturbed and worried. Turning quickly back in the direction he had been headed he pointed to a stand of thick trees. “He was fighting over there last I saw him, but that was before that last blast of devilry.  ESTEL!” 

“He’s not here,” Halbarad reappeared from somewhere in the woods, although they had not marked his leaving.  The ranger’s voice was grim.  “He’s not anywhere in these woods.  It’s too dark to be reading signs, but if I could take a guess I’d say our friends in the bed sheets somehow managed to take off with him.  I found this,” he dropped Aragorn’s unsheathed and bloodied sword on the ground at the elves’ feet.  “On the ground outside the trees.  There was blood out there too, but it’s impossible to tell whose.” 

Legolas and Elladan looked at one another, dread gnawing at their hearts. 

“What?  What did he say?” Elrohir’s face paled as he saw the expression on his brother and his friend’s face.  It was terribly frustrating only catching murmurs and whispers and every other sound; especially for one used to very acute hearing. 

The captive bandit lounged sideways against the tree, looking as much at ease as a man could when trussed up as tightly as he was.  “He said your friend is with my friends, just like I am with you.  Kind of puts the shoe on a whole new foot, doesn’t it?”  The man seemed considerably more relieved and cocky now that he knew this. 

Elladan stooped and dragged the bandit partway up by the front of his shirt.  “Nothing had better happen to my brother, do you understand me?!  Nothing!”  The elf shook the human roughly. 

When the elder twin did this Legolas saw his back for the first time and realized that the blood he had first seen on Elladan’s tunic when they jumped into the fray must definitely be the elf’s.  The back of Elladan’s tunic had been badly burned and shredded by something... Legolas assumed he must have been caught pretty close to one of those exploding boxes before they even got here. 

Tonight had not gone well; not by any stretch of the imagination.  Almost all of them were wounded in one way or another and they were missing two of their members, one of whom looked to have very probably been captured by their attackers... that thought made Legolas feel sick. 

“Calm down, friend,” the bandit pulled back a little from Elladan’s grip.  “Blowing a gasket ain’t gonna help no one.” 

“I’m not your friend,” Elladan growled, releasing the man with a small shove.  Worry for his brother consumed him.  

“See that’s the trouble with the world today, no one wants to befriend anyone...,” Kaldur lamented mournfully. 

“Shut up!” Three sets of voices spoke in irritated chorus.  Elrohir did not speak because of course he still could not really hear what everyone was saying to begin with.  

“Fine, if that’s the way you feel about it then...,” the man mumbled under his breath. 

“We’ve got to find him, get him back,” Legolas said decidedly.  “Halbarad, could you tell which way the trail went?” 

The ranger wrested his gaze away from the captive bandit, shaking his head regretfully.  “Not in this light.  Maybe you will see something I’ve missed though.” 

“Not likely...” Kaldur muttered quietly.  All eyes turned toward him.  “What?  Oh, I know, I know, shut up, right?  Fine.” 

Legolas dropped down onto one knee before the man, meeting his dark eyes evenly.  “Where will your people go?  Where will they take my friend?  Tell us.” 

“Oh so now you do want me to talk.  I do wish you’d make up your mind...” 

“I am tired of playing games!” Legolas pressed one of the knives still in his hands sharply against the captive’s throat.  “Where do your men hide?  Where will they take him!?” 

“What you going to do with that lad?  Eh?” the man looked down at the knife at his throat, getting slightly cross-eyed from trying to see it.  “Going to kill me?  Then you’ll never find out where they are, and you’ll have nothing to bargain for his return with either.  So go ahead and kill me, it’s your friend’s funeral.” 

Legolas’ knuckles tightened on his knife handle in frustration.  Unfortunately, Kaldur was right.  Infuriating human. 

“What do we do now?” Halbarad asked quietly.  The question was directed at no one in particular, but merely voicing what was on all of their minds. 

“Very good question,” Kaldur spoke up helpfully.  “Now if you think about it logically for a minute you’d realize I would die before I gave up any of my people to you or anyone else.  So if you were to ask my opinion, I would say your best course of action is to make camp somewhere nearby and keep a close eye on me so I don’t escape.  Then my men will come to you looking for me and you can trade me for your friend, and everyone goes home happy, clear ‘nough?” 

Elladan leaned against a nearby tree, resting his head sideways against his arm.  The gesture was less than casual.  His injuries were catching up with him.  He sighed slightly.  He didn’t like Kaldur’s suggestion but he was having difficulty seeing an alternative. 

“Legolas?” The elder twin looked to the prince for input and suggestions.  The wood-elf shook his head.  He had neither. 

“Perhaps when daylight comes we shall be able to better track them,” was all Legolas could suggest.  “Until then, we will keep a close eye on you, don’t worry,” he assured Kaldur grimly. 

Halbarad left the decision up to the elves because he had no viable alternatives to offer either, although the thought of Aragorn in enemy hands did not sit any better with him than with the others.  He moved over to guard Kaldur, freeing Legolas to go to the twins. 

Elladan had moved to his brother’s side, worry lining every feature.  Elrohir was still kneeling quietly although he had stopped holding his head.  By now he realized that something was wrong and had stopped trying to hear what everyone was saying, trusting that his friends or his brother would fill him in soon.  Unease at his own impairment made the younger twin’s brows furrow.  At first when consciousness had returned he had been able to hear a little bit although the sounds were muffled and distorted.  But as he had been given time to recover, his hearing had grown worse rather than better and now he sat in a world of utter quiet, unable to even hear himself.  It was frightening and that fear numbed his mind. 

“Elladan, where is Estel?  What’s going on?” Elrohir begged his brother to explain to him the things he was missing as Elladan knelt down next to him. 

Legolas joined them as Elladan directed his twin’s face towards his own with gentle pressure from the back of his hand.  “Estel has been taken.  We will get him back, I promise.”  The elder twin tried to speak very clearly, moving his lips more than necessary and making hand motions to illustrate. 

Elrohir nodded, catching the meaning, if not the words.  His gaze dropped for a moment and when he looked back up, uncertainty edged his eyes.  “El...” he whispered.  “I can’t hear you.  At all.  I can’t even hear me.” 

Elladan closed his eyes painfully and pulled his brother’s head to his shoulder.  “It will be all right, El,” he promised softly, even though he knew his brother couldn’t hear him.  At least Elrohir could feel the vibrations of his brother’s words as his head rested against his twin’s chest.  “We’ll get you back to father soon. He will be able to help you, he has to be.” 

Legolas caught Elladan’s shoulders supportively as the elf wavered slightly, trying to support himself and his twin. 

“You need some help too, Elladan,” the prince said softly.  For once it seemed that Legolas was actually the least injured of the three elves.  “Halbarad,” the wood-elf turned his searching gaze upon the ranger who was the only other mostly-uninjured person.  “We must make camp, but not here.  Somewhere safer, but close.  Elladan and Elrohir need attention and we must try to find Bilbo, if he was not found and taken with Aragorn.” 

Halbarad nodded in compliance as he got Kaldur to his feet while Legolas helped the twins.  There was a lot to be answered for this night. 

Aragorn blinked slowly.  It was the second time that night he felt himself slowly coming back to consciousness after having been knocked out or almost out of it by one of those strange explosions. 

He tried to put his hand to his aching head, but he couldn’t.  He could feel someone near, but in the darkness and with his vision blurred he couldn’t see them.  

“Legolas?” the ranger murmured somewhat thickly, trying to find his friend as the moments leading up to the last blast came back to him in shattered glimpses and chunks.  

“Nope, guess again,” a hard and somewhat amused voice spoke close to Aragorn’s ear, making the man jerk.  The ranger quickly became aware of the feeling of rough rope digging into his wrists as he tried to move away from the unknown presence.  

A torch was nearly shoved in his face and Aragorn winced, trying to draw his head away from the painfully sudden light.  Unfortunately he found that he was lying on his side on the ground, bound tightly and he could not move away.  A host of dark shapes hovered round him, half-obscured by the bright torch that was illuminating him and hiding those who held it, although he assumed they were more than likely the same brigands who had attacked them earlier. 

“Who are you?  Where am I?” Aragorn demanded, trying and failing to clearly see any of his captors around the blinding glare of the torch by his face. 

“You’re in the land of the un-dead, friend,” the voice close to him responded cryptically.  “And you’re ours.” 

Aragorn felt a shiver run up his spine as the bandits laughed, the hard tones of their mirth echoing threateningly on the night air.

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