Priceless Treasure

Chapter 4

by Cassia and Siobhan

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"Keep up, damn it!" Dyryn snapped harshly, giving the rope tied to his saddle horn a hard pull. Thus far he had made more than good on his threat to keep Aragorn too run-out to think of anything but trying to put one foot in front of the other. And sometimes even that seemed too hard.

Aragorn stumbled forward through the snow, falling to his knees in the chilly drift when the bounty hunter’s vicious tug jerked on the already taut line between his bound wrists and the horse. The chafing of the rope and Dyryn’s constant abuse over the course of the past three days had rubbed the young ranger’s wrists raw.

Aragorn’s pants and boots were soaked through from the snow which had melted against his body heat and then refrozen in the biting air, making his legs and feet so painfully numb he could barely even feel them anymore.

Dyryn kicked his horse in the sides, spurring the beast forward at a quick trot and dragging the hapless young man behind him through the snow until Aragorn managed to get his feet under him again and stagger along on his own once more.

The young ranger’s whole body felt sluggish and moving was tremendously difficult. The drug Dyryn was keeping him on made every movement require an extreme act of will. Sometimes even breathing seemed hard.

Aragorn fell again, snow filling his eyes and mouth as he scrambled up knowing Dyryn would not wait nor slow his pace for the struggling captive. The young ranger spit the biting frost out of his mouth, his teeth chattering. The snow was stained crimson. His split lip from days ago was still bleeding. It should have closed up and healed already, but the cold was slowing his body’s healing abilities and the belithral was somehow thinning his blood and preventing the clotting that should normally occur. The cold ice that he could not wipe away from his eyes and face burned his exposed skin like fire. It was ironic how cold could burn like this.

Aragorn’s world was one long, unending frozen hell as he stumbled along after Dyryn’s horse as best he could. He couldn’t see right anymore and the drugs were slowly robbing him of the ability to even think straight. Whiteness, that’s all there was, miles and miles of unending white humps and dips. White, cold and wind. The wind had quickly become the young human’s worst enemy. It never seemed to let up, always blowing in his face until he was not only frozen but burned by the wind and his eyes stung mercilessly.

That night they struck camp in a narrow gully that was mostly sheltered from the worst of the wind, although the cold was only getting worse as night approached. Aragorn sank to the ground in exhaustion when they stopped.

Dyryn untied the younger man from his lead-line to the horse, and grabbing Aragorn’s still bound wrists, he dragged the ranger roughly over to the high stone wall that shielded one side of their campsite. Aragorn struggled with him, attempting to fight back, attempting to break free, but he was too exhausted, and the drug in his system still too potent to render his efforts useful. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure why he tried, except that to give up would mean a kind of submission that he was not ready to give.

Dyryn swore at him and backhanded the young man sharply across the face, throwing him against the rough stone wall. Dully, Aragorn wondered if that’s why his lip was still bleeding, because Dyryn kept hitting him.

Pressing his captive’s back against the cold cliff face and yanking the Dùnadan’s arms above his head, Dyryn securely tied Aragorn’s hands around one of the thick, curling roots that held the rock face together.

"That ought to hold you," the bounty hunter gave the bloodstained ropes one last, vicious tug, eliciting a grimace of pain from his captive. Leaving Aragorn there, Dyryn moved off to build a fire.

The warmth was welcome, and Aragorn pulled against the binds that held him, trying to get a bit closer to the circle of warmth emanating off the flames. His body was frozen through and his teeth chattered without his consent. Every fiber of his being ached with the extreme cold that permeated it.

Dyryn ate his supper, but did not offer any to his captive. At this point, however, Aragorn was too sick to his stomach from the drugs in his system to eat anyway. All he wanted was warmth. He still wore the clothes he had been in when he was taken, but they were stiff now with snow and ice from having to forge or be dragged through the deep snow up here in the mountains.

The ranger watched his captor with dark, burning eyes. "Why?" he wanted to know, his voice hoarse from the cold. "Why are you doing this? Where are we going? Who are you?" He could understand no reason for this man he didn’t know to be treating him in this manner. And where was the logic behind attempting the High Pass over the Misty Mountains in the dead of the worst winter these parts had seen in the young Dùnadan’s lifetime? He wanted to understand why he was being made to suffer like this and by whom.

At first Aragorn thought the man would ignore him again, but this time Dyryn shrugged, and raised an eyebrow. "Dyryn. And this is nothing personal, kid. I do what I get paid to do. You’ve got a rather large price on your head and I mean to collect on it. You’re not an easy person to find, I hope you realize. It’s taken me this long just to figure out where you got to. You don’t think I’d try this trek through hell if I could afford to wait for better weather do you?" the man laughed without mirth. "But it’ll all be worth it when we get there... for me anyway. I don’t think he’s got any good plans for you." The half-dwarf’s grin turned cruel again as he fingered a thin leather wallet in his inner pocket. He had in fact gotten quite a nice up-front advance to work with, but that would be nothing compared to the payoff when he delivered. But time was running short. It had taken much longer to hunt the ranger down than he had thought and getting to him when he was actually vulnerable enough to capture had been even harder.

Aragorn blinked in shock. Who could have put a bounty on him large enough to warrant all this trouble? "Why? "W-what? Who?"

"Someone who says you owe them a debt payable in blood," Dyryn rather enjoyed taunting his captive like this. "Who thinks you deserve... how did he put it...? ‘A death worthy of a thousand screams’. Kind of poetic don’t you think?"

Aragorn recognized that phrase. He could still hear it being screamed at him over and over as Elladan and Elrohir hurried him away from the distraught man kneeling on the ground... Closing his eyes he let his head fall back against the wall behind him.

"Mannyn," he whispered. He should have known... yet he had nearly forgotten all about it. It seemed so long ago after everything that had happened since. "I didn’t mean for what happened to happen like it did," he said softly, although he doubted that Dyryn cared. He was right.

"That’s none of my nevermind," the bounty hunter shrugged. "All I’m interested in is delivering you and getting my pay. But I’ll tell you one thing, if the price he’s willing to pay to get his hands on you is any indication, I’d say that you’re in for an interesting time when you get there."

Aragorn didn’t reply. Knowing now who wanted him and why did not really make him feel any better at all. He let his head hang forward, shivering in the cold, cold air. It was ironic, because if he was being taken to Mannyn, then they would be passing quite near Rivendell, and yet unless something changed, no one might ever know what had happened to him.

He felt very alone as the freezing night settled down upon him once more. Was anyone even looking for him? And if they were, would they ever find him?


Like swirling snow the years blow away towards the future...

...80 years later –

Following the return of the Palantir to Orthanc...


It had taken the king and his companions well into a fortnight to uncover all the treasures that Orthanc held in its depth and to clean the tower of the residual evil that hadn’t quite left. When they had completed their tasks the dark spire was airy and its forebidding presence had been wiped away. The orc pits below had been forever sealed over with Gimli’s expert help and the ground had been restored, bereft of the dark scarring it had withstood under Saruman’s occupation.

Aragorn had ordered that their camp be stricken and moved out to the plains beyond Isengard. Removing to a plateau that sat on the edge of a cliff, they had stationed their sleeping pallets and tents for the evening.

Woods bracketed their left and raced up to the edge of the cliff reaching out over it. To their right the plains dropped gracefully out of sight, painted with the cooling tones of the setting sun. The meadow was cut through by a small winding steam that led back into the darkening woods.

"We brought no wood with us from Isengard and the sun dips low in the sky; it will be cool tonight." Jonath approached his king, "The men have already scouted the surrounding areas. There is plenty of wood on the forest floor and the land about us is safe. Shall I send the men out to retrieve enough wood for the firepits?"

Aragorn stood from where he sat perched on a fallen log quietly teaching Eldarion about fletching arrows. Before he could respond, the dark-haired boy at his side jumped up and answered excitedly, "Yes, let us go! I would see the land! There is a stream nearby through the forest."

"Eldarion," the king smiled down at the over-eagerness he recognized in his son, "Jonath was speaking to me. The men will go out and return with wood. You will stay here and finish with your lessons." Turning to the captain of his guard, Aragorn smiled ruefully. "Yes Jonath, please send the men out, we will need fires tonight to keep us warm."

He glanced back at the disappointed look that Eldarion quickly turned to the ground beneath his feet.

Gimli sat nearby on an old stump, contentedly smoking his pipe. "I’ll take the boy out to fetch firewood if you like." He spoke up from his perch motioning at the disappointed child with his pipe. "It’d be good to stretch these legs of mine. Sitting tires me," he grumped loudly, easing into a standing position.

"Really?" Eldarion turned hopeful, begging eyes on his father, "May I? Please Ada? I’ll be fine with Uncle Gimli."

"Aye, that he will." The dwarf boasted as Aragorn eyed the smaller being with a glower.

"And your lessons? What of them? What will you do when you need to fletch your own arrows?" Aragorn laid a hard stare on the youth.

With an impish smile Eldarion glanced over at Legolas who was sharpening the edge of one of his hunting knives near their sleeping mats. The elf’s sharp ears caught the answer and he stopped what he was doing, glancing at the small group that was watching him intently.

"Do not drag me into your plea bargains with your father!" The elf pointed the tip of his blade at the boy, "I have enough trouble all on my own with that one."

Aragorn laughed lightly before staring back down at the boy near his side.

"Please?" Eldarion was tired of sitting and lessons, he wanted to be out and about.

"You say your men scouted the area? And we are safe?" The king glanced sidelong at Jonath who only nodded in answer. With a deep sigh he turned his attention back to his son who had already anticipated his answer and ran over to stand next to Gimli, excitedly telling the dwarf about the stream he had found earlier.

"Very well, very well lad." Gimli, pressed his hands palm out towards the boy, waving off his excitement, "The sun is still a fair ways into the sky; it won't drop for a bit. If you father says ‘yes’ we’ll go." With a stubborn smile the small being placed his hands on his hips and stared up at Aragorn, "What say you, father?"

Rolling his eyes and admitting his defeat, the king threw his hands in the air and shook his head. "If we are safe I see no harm in it. But stay near the stream’s edge and do not venture far into the forest. At least if we have to we can track you there."

"Bah," the dwarf waved him off. "We’ll be fine." He hefted his axe up onto his shoulder and winked at Legolas who was watching the whole exchange with barely contained mirth. "No one will mess with this dwarf!" That said he draped his arm over the boy’s shoulder and steered them both out of camp, asking where it was that Eldarion had seen this stream of his.

Jonath looked at the king, raising one eyebrow in question.

"No, let them go." Aragorn glanced from his captain to Legolas. "He’s safe with Gimli. But you," and he turned and pointed at the elf, "I had better not catch you ever helping him to cheat with his lessons!"

Legolas feigned innocence, placing his hand dramatically over his heart as though he could not believe he had been accused of such a thing.

"Right." The king turned away from him and proceeded to send the soldiers out to scour the area for wood. He doubted that wood-collecting was going to end up very high on the list of things that Gimli and his son were up to if Eldarion had any say in the matter. Walking calmly over to where Legolas sat, he dropped down next to the elf on his sleeping pallet.

"He’s growing up quickly."

"They always do." Legolas answered softly, letting his gaze momentarily linger on his old friend. He quietly went back to his work as Aragorn watched the dwarf and the human child leave the plains following the winding stream through the forest.


This was perfect. A silent, hidden figure watched intently as the dwarf and the boy walked downstream towards his trap. He had anticipated the soldiers setting up camp here; the meadow was the perfect spot for such a large contingent of people. A dark, wicked smile crept onto the man’s face and if anyone had been able to see his countenance beneath the hood he constantly wore, they would have shuddered at the sight.

Honestly, he had wanted the elf or the one they called their king, but this was even better, for the elf and his human companion were ever surrounded by an entourage of guards or soldiers, always someone to get in the way. And truly he had no idea how he would be able to subdue the elf; that had been hard enough when he was a young man. He was getting on in years now and hunting wasn’t as easy as it used to be. But this...

A soft croak of a laugh escaped his lips, causing the two men who were with him to glance his way questioningly.

...this was even better. This would work. In fact...

He grabbed the man nearest him, and whispering instructions quickly into the younger hunter’s ear, he shoved him back towards their hidden camp, back towards the glen he had discovered earlier. A plan formed in his mind in a matter of seconds and he motioned with his hand to the other that attended him. It was time. Their long awaited trap was ready to be sprung and it would be even easier than he had hoped.

The dark, hooded shadow moved silently off to his left as his companion splashed quickly across the stream on the far side of a bend in the river, hidden from the sight of their prey.

Now...all they had to do was wait and let the fools come to them.


Eldarion bent and picked up a smooth round stone from the edge of the stream. Stepping lightly forward he launched the rock at the rippled surface of the river, bouncing the stone across its glittering surface twice before it sank into the small waves it had created.

"You know the last time anyone threw rocks into the water, your father was there cautioning them on how unwise it was to do so." Gimli glanced out of the corner of his eyes at the boy who had picked up another rock and was preparing to skip it also. "It’s not wise to wake what lives under the water." The dwarf spoke softly, his voice held a slightly mocking undertone as though the very stream itself could hear him. He bent and picked up another good-sized piece of wood for the fires tonight, placing it precariously on top of the small load he carried. He had attached his double-headed axe to his belt to free his hands up, convinced they were safe so near to camp.

With a laugh Eldarion dropped the stone and stacked another dead branch in his uncle’s arms. "Oh yes, he told me that one. Watchers in the deep!" The youth crouched and glanced around them acting skitterish and wary before laughing out loud once more.

"You would do well to listen to your father!" Gimli warned although his laughter gave him away, "I was there you know, in fact..."

The dwarf’s words were cut off as movement caught his attention. He had continued walking up the river as Eldarion stooped to fetch another rock. "What now?" He questioned as an arrow flew past him, barely missing him, its tip embedded into the trunk of a tree on his left. At his distraction a figure darted out from the forest and quickly grabbed the young prince around the waist before he had time to stand up. "Eldarion!"

A gnarled, weathered hand, twisted and unusually malformed, wrapped around Eldarion’s mouth, restricting him from crying out in alarm as another arm snaked quickly around his waist, pinning his right arm to his side.

Gimli started forward but was stopped as the man whirled around to face him.

"I don’t think so." The kidnapper was clothed in a hooded cloak that concealed his face, but it was the weapon he brandished that stopped the dwarf’s heart. The man held a knife in the hand that he was using to hold the boy still and he turned the blade inward so that it pressed underneath the young man’s ribs. "Wouldn’t want me to gut him in front of you now would you?" Their attacker’s voice was rough and held the slightest bit of an accent. Gimli was certain he recognized the lilt.

Eldarion’s eyes went wide and he stopped struggling as he felt the blade tip bite into his flesh.

The Dwarf dropped his stack of wood, his gloved hands drifting towards the weapon at his side.

"I wouldn’t," the man holding Eldarion warned. Glancing quickly behind the dwarf the man motioned with his chin up the river, "You have other things to be worried about, rock lover."

A rending, tearing sound assaulted his ears and Gimli turned quickly pulling his axe up ready to face what enemy was bearing down on him. The light had all but faded from the sky by now and he realized with a start it was darker than he would have liked. Stepping forward his right boot toe caught under the lip of a rock whose base was firmly submerged in the wet dirt at the stream's edge. Unable to free his shoe without taking too much attention away from the unknown threat, he glanced wildly around him; the sound of something approaching through the air grew.

From out of the dim haze of the growing night a large thick cylinder bore down on the dwarf, catching him across the chest and throwing him hard to the ground, rolling him off his balance and smacking forcefully into his chin before continuing its arc through the night sky. Gimli’s axe was wrenched from his hand and his head impacted the rocky floor of the streambed. Before he passed out a cry of pain broke from the dwarf’s lips as his foot, still caught beneath the rock, twisted hard. The force of the blow snapped him back so viciously that his right leg snapped under the stress created by his boot being trapped.

Eldarion tried to scream Gimli’s name in horror, but the hand over his mouth did not let him. The man that held the young prince tightly to him laughed wickedly. His gaze moved away from the downed body as the thick timber they had used to incapacitate the dwarf swung back into view once more.

"Nice trap don’t you think?" He turned the prince’s head sharply, forcing the boy to look in the direction he wanted him to. "Amazing what you can learn over years of hunting people, hmm?"

Earlier, anticipating their prey, they had cut down a large tree with a good thick trunk. Suspending the barrel of the tree over the river by tying it off in the massive branches of the woods that lined the stream they had pulled it back and up until it hung suspended horizontally over the water feet above the head of anyone who should happen by. Held in place by ropes, they had waited until Gimli and Eldarion had reached the right spot and then at the perfect moment had released the tension on the lines that kept it aloft. It swung free now over the prone body of the dwarf, its arc lessening with each pass.

Fear spiked through Eldarion. Surely no one had been able to hear Gimli’s cry. He wasn’t even sure how far from camp they were; he had not been keeping track. The young prince struggled desperately against the man who held him and had almost gotten loose of the hunter’s constricting arms when the tip of an arrow dug into the underside of his chin.

"Calm down kid. You’ll live longer."

The prince glanced up into the dark eyes of a man who was as tall as his father but not as old as the king. The hunter tapped the edge of the crossbow bolt against the boy’s throat as the man who held him slipped a gag over his head preventing him from crying out. He tried to turn away as they silenced him but the sharp arrow bit into his skin and he stopped thrashing.

"Better do as Kolir says," the first man, still holding Eldarion, rasped wickedly as they pulled the gag tight, nearly making the boy choke. "He gets nasty when people give him trouble."

With the boy unable to speak, the hooded hunter swiftly tied the prince’s hands together in front of him with a thick, corded rope. Looping another rope around those, he tied the boy off to himself, cording the length around his left hand. He grabbed Eldarion’s right hand wrenching it painfully palm up and drew the edge of his knife deeply and deliberately into the soft flesh. Red blood welled instantly around the edges of the steel, pooling in the young man’s hand.

Eldarion cried out, but with the gag in his mouth the sound was more of a muted, strangled cry. He tried to pull away, his knees buckling slightly underneath him, but the man that had caught him would not let him go. Instead he cruelly forced Eldarion’s wounded hand into a tight fist. The blood dripped between the prince’s fingers as his own fingernails were pressed into the knife wound.

A soft groan escaped Eldarion’s lips much to his captor’s amusement. A rasping, mirthless laugh came from beneath the dark hood as the man led the boy away into the woods, his companion bringing up the rear should anyone follow or should the prince try to escape.

Eldarion tried to turn, attempting to see Gimli through the growing gloom; he wasn’t sure the dwarf was still alive and he feared that no one would find him in time to help them. Surely his father would come looking for them when they didn’t return. Uncle Gimli just had to be alive, he tried to convince himself... he couldn’t stand to think otherwise. The tall hunter who walked behind him shoved him forward roughly.

"Just walk."

As they headed farther from camp Eldarion’s panic grew. He attempted to break free of the man that led him away from the stream and towards the edge of the plateau. His failed escape earned him a swift, vicious blow to the head. The wooden pommel of the crossbow smacked the young boy forcefully, causing spots to dance in front of his eyes. He found himself complying with his kidnappers’ demands to stave off further abuse and followed the men on unsteady feet.

Once they had descended to the foot of the wide ravine that ran the length of the plateau, his captor turned and once more forcibly made the boy tighten his wounded hand into a fist. Eldarion winced and held back a moan of pain. Fresh blood spilled down from the wound and the man took the boy’s bound wrist, purposefully shaking the red liquid down upon the ground.

"They’ll see that plain as day," the tall, quiet man behind them growled.

His hooded companion glanced up at him; he smiled in the dark, knowing no one could see his countenance. "I am hoping that they do." He smirked before walking off and jerking the boy after him.

Behind Eldarion, Kolir pressed the crossbow into the youth’s back and shoved him on with a cruel laugh as they walked through the darkened forest away from the soldier’s encampment. He was surprised; they had actually gotten away with it. They had actually managed to capture the King’s son. Perhaps his employer truly was the famed hunter he claimed to be. For the money they were being paid to help with this, Kolir supposed that the old hunter could be anyone he wanted to be, but still, when it came to royal kidnappings... it was comforting to know that an incredibly clever mind was at work. Just how clever this plan was going to prove yet remained to be seen but, if today was any indication... well, tomorrow would tell. Tomorrow would tell.