Curse of Angmar

Chapter 8

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Legolas expertly wrapped his own arm with his good hand.  The cut was not deep or dangerous and although it stung it would not seriously hamper his ability to use his arm, or fight, if necessary.  

Elrohir moved around his brother’s form quietly.  He had insisted on tending Elladan’s burns and cuts himself.  As soon as Legolas had his own injury bound up so that he was no longer trailing blood everywhere, he was going to lend Elrohir a hand.  

The younger twin seemed to be coming out of the semi-shock he had been in, although his hearing had not improved.  That worried Legolas.  They had all experienced ringing in their ears after the blast, but it seemed to have done something worse to Elrohir.  

“You might want to tuck that edge in,” Kaldur remarked as Legolas twisted the bandage around his arm one last time.  “You’ll leave an opening for the air otherwise.”  They had removed the bandit’s ghoulish costume and unbound his feet to ease their traveling, but his hands were now securely bound in front of him.  Dark tangles of unkempt hair fell about his face, lending more of a wild unpredictability to the thief’s appearance.  The man wore an overlarge ill-fitting white tunic held in place by a brown suede vest.  His dark-colored breeches were secured about his waist with a tattered sash.  He smiled up at the elf through locks and braids of hair that obscured his eyes. 

Legolas leveled the man with a look that seemed to inquire who had asked his opinion, but Kaldur was un-fazed and the elf was beginning to realize that the man’s somewhat irritating detachment from reality had nothing to do with the effects of the explosion. 

“Just a suggestion,” Kaldur shrugged and went back to quietly sing-songing nonsense verses to himself.  Legolas was beginning to think that the human was insane; either that or somehow unexplainably drunk.  With another warning glare at Kaldur, Legolas scooted closer to the other two elves. 

Elladan hissed silently through his teeth as Elrohir spread salve across the burns on his back.  The injury was not severe, but Legolas was sure it was very painful.  He had had more than a fair share of burns in his life, including the one on his cheek from the flaming arrow, which he had almost forgotten all about until Elrohir offered him a dab of the salve he was using on his brother, gesturing at the prince’s face. 

“Strider and I were attacked by surprise, the strange fire bursts threw us off guard.  What happened to the three of you?” Legolas asked as he rubbed the ointment over the reddened area on his cheekbone. 

Elrohir did not hear him and did not look up from his self-appointed task, so it was Elladan who answered.  “Much the same thing.  I think one of the blasts must have gone off right behind me.  I don’t know how they do it, but those things are dangerous.” 

“So I have noticed.” Legolas turned a hard eye on Kaldur who was watching them all with interest from across the fire.  “Kaldur, what are those small devices that your people use?” 

“What devices?” Kaldur’s dead-pan was impeccable, although he obviously knew exactly what they were talking about.  Legolas and Elladan both glared at him. 

“Oohh, right, those devices,” the bandit pretended to catch on.  “Well I’d be glad to tell you what was in ‘em, but I don’t know me self.  Got them from a dark fairy up in the mountains who eats fire and lives on the essence of the souls she’s corrupted... demanded a pound of flesh from each of us in return.  Oh you should a heard the howling and the-” 

“Please,” Elladan cut him off, looking disgusted.  “Spare us the drama and don’t take us for idiots.  What are they really?” 

“Dredged up from the bottom of the sea in distant lands... the play things of the water gods...” Kaldur easily spun a new and equally unbelievable story for them with a wide grin.  

“Oh never mind!  We’ll get nothing useful out of him,” Legolas saved them from another fanciful flight of imagination on Kaldur’s part.  

“That’s the ticket, now you’re catching on!” the thief grinned irritatingly.  

“Catching on to what?  That we should have put a dart in you when we had the chance?” Halbarad said somewhat tersely as he entered camp from the north side, dropping down into a crouch to talk with the elves. 

“I can find less trace of Bilbo than I found even of Aragorn, but it seems that he went away alone, to the north.  However, if he was picked up later I could not say because I did not follow the trail far,” the ranger reported.  

“We can’t leave him out there alone,” Legolas said quietly.  “Strider promised to protect him and I know he would want that promise fulfilled even in his absence.” 

Halbarad nodded uneasily.  He knew the same thing, but he feared what that meant.  He did not wish to leave with Aragorn’s fate uncertain.  “Any of you could track him just as well as I can, probably better...” 

Elladan read the hesitation in the man’s eyes.  “Halbarad, you’re the only one fit to be out there alone right now.  Besides, Elrohir has got to get back to Father and I cannot send him off by himself.  I thought he could go with you...” 

Elrohir had been following the conversation visually, although it made little sense without sound.  When he thought he saw his brother say his name, however, he quickly touched Elladan’s shoulder.  “What?  What did you say?” 

Elladan sighed slightly, knowing his twin would protest.  “Elrohir, I said I want you to go with Halbarad.  He’s going to find Bilbo and then go back to Rivendell.”  The elder twin lightly touched his fingertips to Elrohir’s temple, using the other hand to gesture as he spoke.  Whether it was that they had inherited latent traces of telepathic ability from their mother and father, or simply the bond of their twinship, Elladan seemed at the moment to be able to make Elrohir understand him better than anyone else could if he stopped and focused in on his brother when he talked, making physical contact as well as eye contact. 

Elrohir was already shaking his head.  “No, I will not leave.  You cannot make me, El; I am not a child for you to send away.  I am not going anywhere until we get Estel back.” 

“El...” Elladan’s gaze was worried.  “There could be something really wrong with you.  Don’t you understand that?  We have no idea what the matter is. What if you lose your hearing forever because we didn’t get you help in time?  I can’t allow it.” 

Elrohir just smiled and started packing up the salve and bandages he had been using, easily pulling away from his brother’s hand and any chance of attempted communication.  “I can’t hear you, El, and you’re talking too fast for me to follow,” he said somewhat smugly.  “But that’s all right; I agree.  It is best for me to stay here to help you two.  After all, there’s no way you could force me to go if I didn’t want to anyway.”  

Kaldur laughed loudly.  “By gol, I think I like him!” 

Elladan looked fit to burst.  “Stars, Elrohir!  You’re getting as frustrating as he is!” he shouted at his brother, which didn’t help because Elrohir still couldn’t hear him.  

“Shh, wait, losing our tempers won’t help anyone.”  Legolas laid his hand on Elladan’s arm, attempting to diffuse the rising controversy.  “Maybe Elrohir’s right.  I don’t want to see him hurt either, but we have the prisoner to think about guarding and if Halbarad runs into trouble hunting Bilbo, he may not be able to return to Lord Elrond any quicker than we can.  If Kaldur knows his men as well as he thinks he does, they should be getting in touch with us soon and we’ll proceed from there, agreed?” 

Elladan did not look pleased, but he nodded.  “All right, agreed.” 

Elrohir smiled.  “Good!” 

Elladan looked at him sharply.  “I thought you couldn’t hear us, brother.” 

Elrohir shrugged with a grin.  “I can’t, but I can tell from your look that you lost.” 

“Thanks a lot,” Elladan muttered.  

Legolas actually chuckled softly at them. 

“I will either return or send someone once I have any word of Bilbo,” Halbarad said quietly, hating to go but knowing he had better start as soon as possible.  “I know that if I cannot help, at least I could leave Strider’s safety in no better hands.” 

Legolas nodded, rising and following the ranger to the edge of camp.  They had settled themselves securely in a small, rocky dell, steeply enclosed on two sides by rough rock walls, and the two of them had to climb up a little to get out.  

The elf respected the man’s devotion to duty.  Legolas wasn’t sure that he could have done the same this time if it was required of him.  Not after everything he and Aragorn had been through... after the lengths that Aragorn had gone to save the elf prince, both from the shadow of Mordor and his own despair.  “Go with the blessing of the Valar, Halbarad.  I do not know you as well as the others, but I hope you know that I would trade my life for Aragorn’s, if it came to that.”  

“I think I do know it,” Halbarad nodded.  “And from the things Aragorn has said of you, I believe it.” 

The ranger left then and Kaldur grinned ingratiatingly at Legolas as the elf dropped lightly down the rock wall and re-entered the camp.  The thief rose to his feet with some difficulty since he did not have the use of his hands.  “Well, that’s all settled then.  So what do we do now?” 

Legolas glared at the insufferable human and gave him a small push backward.  “You are going to remain silent and not leave this circle of firelight.” 

The thief blinked and tilted his head to the side as Legolas turned away.  “Why would I want to do that?” 

The elf prince turned back slowly.  “Because if you do not, I will shoot you,” he said quietly.  “And enjoy doing it, so take care.” 

“Well if you feel that way about it...” Kaldur gave an injured look as if hurt by that statement and flopped back down onto the ground.  As soon as Legolas’ back was turned he made a face, miming the elf’s motions to him a moment ago.  “I will shoot you and enjoy doing it, so take care,” he mimicked almost silently, raising his voice and exaggerating the prince’s gestures.  

Elrohir saw and clapped his hand over his mouth.  He tried not to laugh, but it didn’t work. 

Legolas sensed something was wrong and spun quickly around, but Kaldur quickly dropped his act and pulled one knee up to his chest, resting his bound hands and chin on it and looking up at the elf very innocently, although his smile was anything but blameless.  

The elf prince shook his head and stalked away to the edge of the firelight, peering out into the night.  He hoped that Aragorn was all right.   


Aragorn was sitting up now and more fully aware of his surroundings.  He was in a well-provisioned cave that seemed to be hidden somewhere in the hills around the Barrow-downs, although his captors had made sure he didn’t know where and could not find out from where he was seated.  Torchlight illuminated the cave and members of the bandit clan were still drifting in after the night’s foray.  There were only about nine or ten of them that Aragorn could count and he was slightly surprised when he began to realize that was all there were.  It took a lot of brains and a certain amount of luck to pull off the things these men had been doing with such a small number.  Most all of the men had removed their costumes by now and were dressed in normal clothes, although a few of them still wore random pieces such as gloves or a sash that they had yet to remove.  

Aragorn was sitting next to the pile of glimmering robes and leaned over for a closer look.  They were just ordinary fabric, but now that he was up close he smelled the distinctive mineral smell of a certain kind of phosphorous stone that could sometimes be found up in the mountains.  He remembered his brothers showing it to him when he was young.  Oftentimes the twins would bring some home with them from their outings and entertain young Estel by using Elrond’s tools to create a thin paste from the stones which could then be painted on just about anything to make it glow faintly in the dark.  

The ranger smiled.  Yes, it could be put on anything and since this was he and his brothers using it, it had gone on just about everything... sometimes much to their father’s chagrin.  Aragorn pulled himself back to the present.  At least this explained part of the mystery.  Looking around he tried to determine what other pieces of information he could pick up. 

In a shadowy corner the ranger saw several of those dangerous little exploding black boxes stacked on a work table along with various components that must have been used to create them, although he could not divine the function or purpose of any of them. 

A little way behind him, a fire built in a naturally venting alcove burned brightly upon the floor and the ranger could feel the warmth on his back.  

The bandits seemed to be arguing amongst themselves and it was getting pretty heated.  Aragorn remained quiet and listened, hoping to hear something useful. 

“I did *not* hear Kaldur or any body else bloody call for that last explosion.  Nearly took us out with them!  I want to know who got fire happy. We can’t just go wasting these things; you all know how hard they are to make and we ain’t got much of the stones left!” one of the bandits was saying angrily.  

“We got away, didn’t we?  So it doesn’t matter who did what.  It worked!” 

Aragorn recognized the voice of the man who had spoken to him when he first woke. 

“Not all of us, Losmir.  There’s no doubt about it now, those blasted elves have got the boss.  Bentith saw ‘em with his own eyes.  They’re probably holding him in exchange for this one,” the man speaking jerked his head towards Aragorn.  

“They’re holding him to bait us into the open so they can grab us all!  That’s been their intention since coming out here, don’t you see?  Kaldur had no idea what he was doing leading us after them. We should have just left well enough alone and let them chase shadows,” Losmir fumed.  

“Well then what are we going to do?  We can’t just leave Kaldur to be turned over to the townspeople alone,” a young man with wavy dark hair and a youthful face protested.  

“Would you rather hang with him, Thil?” Losmir’s voice was cutting.  “Oh, but I forgot, everyone hereabouts has it in their heads we’re some kind of mythical monsters, so they won’t hang us if they catch us, oh no, they’ll burn us alive to make sure we’re really dead like they did that poor sap everyone was convinced was a wolf-man!” 

All the bandits blanched.  

“We can’t let ‘em do that to Kal,” Thil protested, shaking his head.  

“Let Kaldur worry about himself I says!” Losmir thundered persuasively.  “Do you think he’d risk his neck for any of us?  You know the way it works.  If you can’t pull your own weight, you’re cut, that’s it.  We ain’t no bloody charity.  Kaldur knew the risks.  We don’t need him.  Who brought you the fireboxes, hm?  Was it him?  No!  It was me.  But who was it that let those troublemakers live to cause us grief when they should have died right away?  That was him.  He had his usefulness, but now he’s getting soft on us.  We’ve had enough of his rules and his so-called ‘honorable thievery’ if you ask me.  It’s time to take what we want, any way we want.  We have the power!  Besides, do you really think there’s any way we can let this one go from here alive?”  It was Losmir’s turn to gesture to Aragorn.  “He’s seen our hideout!  He and the others, they know what we are... they can’t take that knowledge away with them.”

The bandits were listening and obviously supportive as Losmir played on their greed and their arrogance.  Whether any of them could see it or not, it was obvious to Aragorn that the one called Losmir held no love for their leader, this Kaldur, who apparently was being held by Legolas and his brothers.  The ranger realized some kind of coup was underway.  The implied threat to his friends’ safety was also very clear and he listened intently, slowly edging himself backward, towards the fire behind him.  He had a feeling he was going to need to get out of here, and soon.  

“Then what exactly are you suggesting we do, Losmir,” someone else asked a trifle skeptically.  

“One big blast.  They’re camped over in Pebble Gulch; Marik tracked them to where they’re holed up tonight.  One good blast on either side’ll bury ‘em deep.  And then a landslide killed them, see?  No inquiries, no vigilantes seeking justice... it was just an accident.”  Losmir seemed overly pleased with his own plan.  “And that way they never know we’re there.  So if they’ve got some more surprises hidden up their sleeves, they’ll never have a chance to play ‘em.” 

“That’ll kill Kal too,” Thil felt inclined to point out quietly.  

Losmir’s gaze darkened and he almost looked ready to slap the younger man.  “It’s better than the alternative of him being brought in alive to face the town, now isn’t it?  And we don’t need him anymore, he’s just becoming deadwood to us... another portion of our loot we don’t need to share.  Does anyone have a problem with that?” 

No one seemed to, except perhaps Thil, but even he did not speak up.  It seemed that a decision had been reached. 

Aragorn was now sitting on one edge of the fire ring.  Holding his bound hands out behind him a little, he attempted to place the ropes near the fire.  The heat singed his hands and made his back uncomfortably hot, but the ranger didn’t pull back.  He had to get out of here and warn the others.  

As abruptly as it had started, the bandits’ meeting seemed to end and Aragorn was not pleased to see several of them, including Losmir, heading his way.  

Losmir dropped down next to the ranger with a wicked grin on his face.  “Well, friend, I wouldn’t want to be you right now...,” he remarked, pulling the dagger from his belt and slowly running his thumb suggestively up the edge of the blade.  “Because I’d be thinking I was a dead man, and I’d be right.  But I’d also be wondering how they were gonna end it, seeing as they might just want to have a little fun in the process.”  The bandit’s grin turned vicious.  

Aragorn glared steadily back at the men that stood around him, his eyes not betraying the cold knot of fear forming in his gut.  “You’re fools, you know.  My friends will not be killed as easily as you think and you will have betrayed your leader for nothing.” 

Losmir smirked, running the blade lightly along Aragorn’s chin line, letting the flat of the knife brush smoothly over the ranger’s stubble.  “But you’ll still be dead, won’t you?” he whispered with dark amusement.  “And don’t tell me you’re not afraid, because you are... I can smell fear.” 

Aragorn could think of a few choice words about what the man was smelling, but kept them wisely to himself as Losmir pushed him backwards, placing him even more uncomfortably close to the fire.  Despite the pain, Aragorn thrust his hands back a little farther, forcing the ropes into the flames.  Twisting his wrists hard he could feel the singeing rope beginning to weaken, popping free a few strands at a time... but so slowly! 

“You heard what the townsfolk’d do to us... maybe we should do the same for you.  Turn about is fair play, after all.”  The bandit smirked, pushing Aragorn further back, almost into the fire.  “What do you say, boys?  Should we burn him?” 

A rousing cheer to the affirmative answered his question and Losmir leered down into Aragorn’s tense face and pained grey eyes.  He swung around until he was kneeling over the ranger, straddling Aragorn’s legs and holding the front of his shirt so that he could pin and press the other man further into the fire.  “Too bad for you.”

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