The Stars of Harad

Chapter 15

by Cassia and Siobhan

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"Aragorn! Aragorn, stay with me," Legolas eased the ranger gently to the blisteringly hot earth, wishing desperately for some single bit of shade or coolness to offer his friend.

"Legolas..." Aragorn murmured his name. "Legolas..."

Overturning the barrow and propping it up on the shovel handle, the elf tried to create a little protection for his friend. At this point he did not care if they got in trouble for not working. He had to do something or Aragorn was not going to make it.

Kneeling by his friend’s side, and using his own body to shield the rest of the sun away, the prince ran his fingers swiftly through the ranger’s dark, tangled locks, trying to cool the human’s head somewhat. Aragorn’s thick tresses were so hot they nearly burnt the elf’s hand.

Aragorn’s heart was racing and it was hard for him to breathe. His pounding heart demanded more oxygen, but the scorching, heavy air burned his lungs, making him pant helplessly as the heat wreaked havoc with his body.

Legolas felt Aragorn’s pulse hammering beneath his fingertips when he held the human’s wrist. Too fast, much too fast. Deep concern lined Legolas’ face as he touched his friend’s cheek. It was hot and flushed, but Aragorn was no longer perspiring. Legolas knew that when humans became so hot they stopped perspiring, they usually died.

Gently, Legolas laid his palm over his friend’s racing heart. "Slowly Aragorn, breathe slowly," he soothed quietly in Elvish.

Aragorn had been trying to do just that, but Legolas’ soft touch seemed to help and the elf’s closeness calmed his body. However the very air itself continued to burn him like fire and his chest ached with the heat and need for oxygen.

Firmly but carefully, Legolas pressed his thumb down and a little up against the lower part of the ranger’s sternum. Whether it actually did something useful, or just because it gave the human’s overwrought body something else to think about, the contact, combined with the limited shade, seemed to ease Aragorn’s breathing a little.

However, Legolas knew it was a battle against time, because if he could not bring Aragorn’s body temperature down soon and get some fluids into him, severe and even fatal internal injury could result.

Removing the ranger’s perspiration drenched shirt, Legolas whipped it rapidly around and around in a circle until it was as cool as anything could get out in the middle of this desert. He dabbed Aragorn’s flushed face and pressed the cooled cloth against the base of his armpits, where the larger blood vessels were nearest to the surface, attempting to bring down the human’s soaring temperature. The elf alternated between fanning Aragorn with the shirt, and spinning it to cool it off and using it that way. It was all he could do. He could only hope it would help.

Back under the canopy near the edge of the field, Nalb glanced over at Talft as he fanned himself with a large ananab leaf. Even in the shade the heat was oppressive out here, and the two overseers hated their job. "Talft, they stopped working. Should we do something?"

Talft wasn’t even watching but was lying on the ground, his eyes closed, almost asleep. "And have to go all the way out there in this heat? In the full sun? You can if you want to. They’re probably just dead anyway. I don’t see how anything could survive these conditions."

Nalb nodded and went back to trying to keep cool. So long as the slaves weren’t trying to get away, or doing anything else that would get them into trouble with their boss, they really didn’t care what happened out there.

It seemed like ages that Legolas struggled to keep Aragorn’s temperature below critical, and the ranger had long ago lapsed into unconsciousness, despite his friend’s attempts to keep him awake and talking, but finally the sun did begin to ride down the western sky and the air began to cool at least a little.

The elf continued to kneel by his friend, so run-out that he did not hear the guards approach until Talft grabbed him roughly by the shoulder from behind and spun him partway round. Slapping Legolas hard across the face the overseer knocked the prince to the earth on his side. "If you’re not dead, why aren’t you working?" the Haradrim snapped harshly.

Legolas slowly wiped the blood from his mouth with the side of his hand, not bothering to try to answer such a stupid question. He wasn’t sure he would have had the strength to formulate a reply anyway. Fortunately, one was not required and the overseers seemed interested only in getting out of there as quickly as they could.

Nalb was checking Aragorn.

"Is he dead?" Talft asked dispassionately, walking over and peering down at the unconscious northerner.

"Not yet," Nalb shook his head.

"You, carry him back to the cart," Talft commanded Legolas and it was one demand with which the elf was glad to comply. Scooping Aragorn up in his arms, Legolas made his way unsteadily back to the wagon that had brought them here, lying his friend carefully in the back and leaning heavily against the side.

Talft bound Legolas’ hands once more, but didn’t bother with Aragorn since he obviously was in no shape to go anywhere. Pushing Legolas away from Aragorn, Talft looped the other end of the elf’s lead rope through the rear bar of the cart’s frame as it had been on the way down. Legolas sank to his knees in exhaustion, his head spinning.

"You walk back. And if you fall, I’m not gonna stop, you understand?" Talft jerked the ropes tighter.

All Legolas could do was nod wearily. He knew Talft hated him, but he couldn’t even muster up enough energy to hate the man back at the moment. He was spent and every spare shred of anything he had left in him had to go towards survival at this point.

Nalb looked a little unsure, the elf appeared ready to drop. "Talft... can’t he just ride back with the other one?"

"I said no!" Talft snapped, rounding on his subordinate in irritation. "They didn’t even put in a full day’s work out there, so if he’s still conscious then he is going to pull his own weight. Now come on, I want to get back before nightfall."

The journey back was a nightmare for Legolas. Dehydrated, hurting and exhausted, his only saving grace was that the cumbersome cart could not go too fast. He was glad that Aragorn was unconscious. The elf kept his eyes on his friend’s still face as the wagon jostled and shook the limp ranger; refusing to let his mind take him back to the last time he had been bound and forced to follow human riders while in this much pain. That was a very long time ago, and those wounds were thankfully healed. He had to think of Aragorn now. Aragorn still needed him. Someone had to help the ranger when they got back. Fixing his friend as his goal to fight for, Legolas pushed himself on when his body wanted to quit.

Darkness was falling when they pulled back into the main estate and stopped. Legolas fell to his knees again as soon as they stopped moving. The nighttime air was cool and the elf shivered. The change from hot to cold, combined with the over-sensitivity of his sunburn was hard for his reeling body to deal with. Nalb cut Legolas free and Talft dumped Aragorn off the back of the wagon.

"You’d better hurry. You don’t want to get caught out after curfew," Talft advised with a mocking smile as he and Nalb got back in the cart and rode off. "See you tomorrow!" he called back and the cruel humor in his voice was clear.

"What a pleasant thought," Legolas thought dryly, too parched and tired to speak aloud. Picking Aragorn up with effort, the elf made his way haltingly back to the Simbani family tent. His friend’s weight was almost too much for him by this point, but somehow he made it.

Stumbling wearily through the tent door, he fell to his knees again and couldn’t rise this time. The other slaves were all there and Legolas was barely aware of them taking Aragorn out of his arms. They were talking, but he couldn’t hear their words. He could barely see their faces. His vision wavered uncertainly and he blinked several times to clear it. When he could see again Cabed was holding Aragorn and Mambre was sponging the young man’s flushed face, while several other relatives were trying to keep Sircyn from jumping up and reopening the mending gash in his side.

"H-he needs water, they wouldn’t give us any," Legolas forced out with effort, his voice hoarse and thick. "He was t-too hot, but it’s cool n-now, he should be a-all right if he..." the prince suddenly found that his voice wasn’t going to work anymore, but he couldn’t think straight enough to finish his own sentence anyway, so it hardly mattered. He started to fall sideways, but strong, gentle hands caught him and he was lowered carefully onto a soft blanket. His head was lifted and a water gourd was put to his lips, which he accepted gratefully, once he had seen that the same was being done for Aragorn. His dry, swollen throat hurt to swallow, but the cool liquid was deliciously refreshing.

Mambre left Aragorn’s side for a moment and came over to Legolas, laying the back of her cool hand against his cheek. The elf’s normally fair skin was singed a painful shade of pink. He had a nasty sunburn and that was going to need some care.

Aragorn stirred in Cabed’s arms and moaned softly. Legolas caught Mambre’s wrist gently in his hand, his eyes finding hers for a moment. "Please," he whispered, his eyes going to Aragorn who was starting to wake up. "I’m all right. See to him first."

Mambre doubted very much that the elf was anywhere near all right, but she nodded and moved back to her husband and the young man they had adopted as another son.

"Now will you believe me?!" Sircyn glared fiercely at his father who would not return his son’s angry gaze. "Maybe when we have lost these also, maybe that will be enough to make you listen! What will it take? The master’s taergs are better cared for than we!" He was nearly shouting, but his anger was not directed solely at the occupants of the tent nor did it stem from them.

Mambre glanced at her son sorrowfully as he lowered his voice, emotions choking off his words as he spoke, "How many must we loose? Will they be like Sinar and Jabek and all the others the masters have take from us in order to make examples for us and to teach us? What will you do when it is Kidrin or Syna or myself? Must it go that far?" He swallowed hard, finally dropping his gaze to the floor; "I for one cannot let another one go. You made me accept Adrar as a kindred. Why? So I could lose him, watch him die slowly? It is time we stopped being slaves and acted as the people we are. Adrar is no slave. His friend has told me who he is. They will help us take the compound back as we told you; we have a plan, a good one. It can work. But we need your help." When he looked up once more there were tears in his eyes and Cabed was watching him intensely.

Legolas hardly dared to breathe in the still quiet of the tent that followed Sircyn’s emotional outburst. It was up to Cabed now. Either he would help them or he and Aragorn would have to find another way to survive and escape their imprisonment.

"Please." Sircyn begged.

Shifting slightly on the blanket he lay on the elf turned his attention back to the elder. Aragorn stirred lightly, falling in and out of consciousness, drawing Cabed’s gaze back to the young man. Shakily he brushed the hair from the northerner’s flushed cheeks and stared down into the silver eyes that opened slowly.

"Cabed?" Aragorn tried to speak but the words would not come. He mouthed the man’s name, barely whispering.

"He has a father." Sircyn’s voice drew his elder’s eyes back up to focus on him. "So do I. Don’t I?"

"Yes. Yes you do." Cabed answered as Aragorn lost consciousness once more, his head falling gently against the older man’s chest. "And you are right. Our people were not always slaves. We were once a proud people." The elder’s voice was soft and remorseful, his thoughts focused far in the past to the stories he had heard about the way his people used to live.


"And you can be again." Legolas whispered, his voice rough and soft from the abuse of the heat. "Let us help you. Your son is right, you do not deserve to lose any more of your people. You are not goods or beasts to be worked and owned, you are people, just as much as anyone else. You should be free Cabed." Although soft, Legolas’ tone was intense. He knew what it was to be owned, to be a treated as a thing and made to know how little you mattered... this wasn’t his first experience with slavery and the months he had spent here watching all that went on had only confirmed his dislike of the despicable practice.

"You need to conserve your strength young one." Mambre knelt back next to the elf, as Syna passed her several large, thick leaves from what appeared to be a succulent plant. She rubbed the stems briskly in her dark hands.

The elf tried to smile at the woman, her choice of words warming his heart, but his lips hurt and they cracked when he moved them too much.

"They can figure out their problems without bothering the two of you. Much more out of either of you and it won’t matter what you think. You won’t be with us long, you understand me?" She was leaning over the prone elf, staring hard into his blue eyes, the tinges of a smile twitching the corners of her mouth.

With a simple nod Legolas acquiesced. He eyed the leaves she held, the soothing scent of their freshly broken stems just barely noticeable to his heightened senses.

Seeing his curiosity she held one of the fat, long leaves up so he could see it better. The skin of the leaf was tough and thick and the edges were covered in small, dark blunted barbs.

"Aerovala." She stated simply as she squeezed the plant. It oozed a thick green substance onto her fingers that she gently began spreading over Legolas’ burned chest and arms as she explained, "We discovered it in the south mûmakil fields. Them creatures were breaking them open one day rubbing their tough hides against the broken stems. We found it is good for burns, it will help take the sting out."

The elf breathed in deeply, closing his eyes, and held his breath as the cooling gel from the plant soothed the unrelenting pain that had set in from his burned skinned. He’d had worse burns than this before; much worse, but the amount of skin that was affected this time had an undesirable effect on his nervous system. Legolas found himself shivering slightly as the evening breezes found their way in near the gaps under the bottom of the tent were it was pegged to the floor.

"I would rather you used this on Aragorn." Legolas spoke quietly to Mambre. "He is much worse than I."

"Hmph, so you have said. Cabed!" Mambre called back to her husband, interrupting his conversation with Sircyn. She did not bother turning to look at the man but kept a steady glare on the elf, her look somewhere between irritation and humor, "You bring Adrar over right now. I can get no cooperation out of this one when he is constantly worried about that boy."

"Mama we’re planning out tomorrow what we need..." Sircyn answered, his protest cut off as his mother turned and glanced at him warningly.

"I don’t care none what you be planning. You plan all you like, but you’ll do what I say if you want your brother and his friend to survive." She snapped at the boy. "Syna go out and fetch more water and see if Tanani’s clan has anymore Aerovala, take Dena with you and be careful, don’t you be getting caught. I canna handle no more hurt children. Off with you now, quickly."

Cabed stood, carefully holding the ranger as Syna and her sister snuck out into the dark night. He walked Aragorn around the newly stoked fire, moving off towards the far wall of the tent away from the heat where Mambre was tending Legolas. Blankets were quickly spread out to receive the ranger as the family members gave up their sleeping spaces for the wounded.

"So we will go together tomorrow and defeat them?" Sircyn’s soft voice broke in. The injured slave had ignored the others protests and picked up his bed, following his father and laying his blanket down on the other side of Legolas, slowly easing down onto it. "Tomorrow I will be well enough to go out with you. We can harvest all the nandani we need to drug the guards once the master is gone. The root is plentiful near the watering hole we will not be seen there. I know for certain that Nenil’s clan will aid us. The master has been allowing them to oversee his wine cellars. And you know how the guards cannot stay out of them when he is gone. Nenil says if we supply them with enough nandani they will see to it that we will have no troubles from Talft and his men." Sircyn leaned over Legolas and touched Aragorn lightly as the ranger gained consciousness once more; the jostling of moving him from one place to another had woken him. "Adrar?"

The northerner watched the Haradrim blearily, his gaze roaming between Legolas and Sircyn. "I am dreaming?"

"No. You are not Estel." Legolas touched him very lightly; afraid of aggravating any burns the human may have sustained.

A small smile touched the ranger’s lips; "You look awful."

Legolas rolled his eyes, trying to smile with cracked, dry lips, "I wouldn’t be talking if I were you, human." He teased lightly.

"I wouldn’t be talking at all if I were either of you. Now rest or I’ll separate you again." Mambre chided, lifting Legolas head and touching a water gourd gently to his lips once more.

"Sircyn, tomorrow the Simbani will join you to overthrow the masters." Cabed’s voice was soft and held the slightest tinge of resignation as he sat down next to Aragorn.

The silver-eyed human watched him carefully; "You should be free."

With a smile Cabed motioned with his head towards Legolas, "Your friend, he says the same thing."

"Well he’s right." Aragorn spoke quietly, his voice just a whisper from the day’s aggravation left under the merciless sun. The water they were forcing in him slowly was doing the trick and away from the heat of the fire his body was slowly cooling down. He noticed Legolas shivering and reached out to the elf shakily.

The prince carefully laid his palm in the upturned one offered him. Aragorn could feel the heat from the elf’s burned skin and held Legolas’ hand up to the dim light of the fire behind them.

"Legolas you are sunburned, badly." His brow furrowed in concern as he concentrated on the words he wanted to say.

"Is that your professional opinion?" The elf murmured softly, with a light chuckle. "Do not concern yourself." He was finally safe, Aragorn was conscious and they were in good hands. The burning from his abused skin had begun to subside and he allowed himself to calm down enough to rest. "The burn I got outside Eowioriand was much worse, this is nothing."

"Nothing?!" Aragorn spoke slowly, the word slurred as he glanced up at Mambre when she leaned over Legolas. Gently she took the elf’s hand from her adopted son’s and lathed it in the green, sticky ointment she squeezed from the prickly leaf before laying it back in the ranger’s waiting hand. With a small smile the young northerner closed his eyes and relaxed, falling deeply into a much-needed sleep. His body was worn out beyond anything he could remember and his mind, unable to even form words anymore, sought release. The coolness of evening had finally descended just like Legolas had promised and the quiet darkness was a soothing comfort. He sighed deeply as sleep stole his thoughts away.

"Estel? Estel!" Legolas struggled weakly against Mambre but she held him gently down.

"You leave that one alone now," She chided, "He’s only resting and he needs his sleep he does. His body is finally cooling off." She gently pressed the backs of her fingers against Aragorn’s cheek, nodding to herself, pleased with the fact that his skin was not as hot as it had been. "He’ll be down for a few days. You’ll have plenty of time to talk with him then." She silenced the elf’s arguments with a soft smile.

A cool hand lay gently on Legolas forehead and stilled his attempts to rise. It was Sircyn. "You are in no better shape, relax. Mambre knows what to do. Unfortunately being over come by the heat is something we are very familiar with." He smiled at the elf as he rested on his side, propped up on his elbow. "Besides Adrar would have my hide if I let you hurt yourself." He quickly moved into a sitting position and grabbed the edges of a lightweight sheet that Mambre unfurled, shaking it out over the elf’s prone body. Between the two of them they lay the soft cotton carefully across Legolas’ chest to keep him from cooling too much in the cold of the desert night. "Now you rest. He won’t go anywhere in the night and I’ll be right here. Mambre will take care of him."

The young slave lay down next to the elf, facing Legolas so the new slave would not be startled or afraid during the night, his bright eyes watching as the prince slowly allowed sleep to steal over his weary, abused body. 


The quiet sounds of a day well begun woke Aragorn with a terrible headache. He moaned in spite of himself, surprised that the sound came from him. Slowly, achingly he rolled over on the thin blanket and stared at Legolas.

The elf sat cross-legged, his head bowed down between his shoulders as Mambre gently rubbed aerovala ointment on his bare back and neck. He laughed softly at something the female Haradrim had said, their voices too low for Aragorn to quite catch. The tent was empty except for the three of them as the others had left for their daily chores.

Mambre glanced over the prince’s shoulders and smiled at the young northerner.

"Well look who is with the living once more." She teased gently as her dark eyes watched her adopted son.

Aragorn squinted at the two; yawning from where he lay, unwilling to move and unsure if he could answer.

Legolas glanced up at him and smiled but Mambre gently tapped his head, pressing it back down so his chin rested against his chest as she moved his long blonde hair out of the way and spread the cooling green liquid across the burns on his shoulders and neck.

"You feeling better?" She asked quietly.

Aragorn nodded, adjusting his body to a more comfortable position. His skin, though more used to the intensity of the sun here in the south, had not escaped the heat’s wrath and his back ached with a slight sunburn where the low neckline of his shirt had not protected him. The ranger rolled onto his stomach with a soft grunt to alleviate the pain.

Not satisfied with the younger man’s lack of response Mambre pressed him. The time she had spent that morning talking with Legolas had left her with questions that she found unsettling.

"Your friend says you have a family. This is true?" She glanced quickly at the ranger before concentrating on the elf once more. She was not sure she wanted to hear the truth but she knew she must. It was hard somehow, to imagine Adrar with another family. Hard to admit that he wasn’t really theirs.

Again the northerner nodded. It hurt to think and his mind was fuzzy and worn as though he had been awake for a very long time. Legolas looked up at the human trying to gauge how his friend was doing.

"Strider, are you in pain?"

At the elf’s soft questioning the young man swallowed hard, his throat thick and tight and answered quietly, "I am fine. I am just very tired and I ache."

Legolas smiled and nodded, "Mambre was worried about you."

"And you weren’t?" The Haradrim snorted at the prince, garnering a soft chuckle from Legolas. Moving around the elf she sat between the two and proceeded to methodically work over the burns on his arms.

"I will be fine, Mambre." Aragorn whispered, reaching out to touch the woman who had been his mother for the past six months or more.

"When we are free you will leave." She glanced behind her at the young man, hating the sadness in her own heart. She knew she should be happy for him. She wanted to be happy for him.

He simply nodded, his glance flitting quickly to Legolas, who shook his head slightly, the touch of sorrow in his eyes alerting the ranger.

"And you think I will forget you?" Aragorn asked quietly.

"You have a mother." She stated simply. "I will be nothing to you."

"I had a mother. I loved her very much, but I barely remember her."

Mambre stopped her ministrations and looked at her hands before turning around and facing the northerner she had accepted into her clan.

"Of course I loved her, and her memory... it will never leave me. But I never really knew her. She died when I was very young. I was raised by two brothers and a father." He continued to explain. Slowly he wrapped her slender, sun-wrinkled hand with his own fingers, "You are the first mother I have truly known." He laughed as he thought on his family for moment, "Except my brother, Elladan, but he hates it when I call him that."

Mambre laughed and swatted at the boy, "Adrar. I just hate to see you go. You have brought such joy and happiness. We never laughed so much as when you joined our clan."

"Yes well that’s what happens when you let a northerner loose in the mûmakil fields." He smiled, the laughter catching in his swollen throat and turning into a painful coughing fit.

Legolas grabbed a gourd of water near his bedroll and scooted closer to the human, helping Aragorn as he tried to sit up and still his breathing. Tipping the water flask to the ranger’s lips, the elf carefully meted out the refreshing liquid, limiting the amount that flowed through the neck of the slender gourd so that Aragorn would not choke. The elf’s skin was still flushed a bright red and the burn seemed concentrated on his back, shoulders and the tops of his forearms and hands.

When he had slaked his thirst for the moment, Aragorn pushed the gourd back and gently pressed his fingers to Legolas’ hand, feeling the slight heat that the sunburn gave off.

"Are you all right?" Correcting himself quickly the ranger held up his hand to stall the elf’s answer and turned to Mambre who had slowly gained her feet and was getting ready to exit the tent. "Mambre, is Legolas all right?" He knew better than to hope for a useful answer from his friend.

She walked stiffly back to the two and stood behind Aragorn. He glanced up at her from where he sat a smile on his tanned face.

Her dark eyes twinkled as she returned the smile and nodded her head, "He’ll live." Bending over she took the younger man’s head in her hands and kissed the top of his hair, "And so will you, my son."

Aragorn grasped her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, "Thanks to you, mother."

"Ah," She brushed the compliment aside lightly, "There was someone looking after you other than I."

"Yes, Ilúvatar," Legolas muttered under his breath, "He always keeps the foolhardy and the trouble prone alive."

"Something you should be very familiar with by now." Aragorn smiled wickedly at the elf.

"Only since I’ve met you, young human."

"Oh please don’t start the ‘my life was normal’, lecture," Aragorn moaned rolling his eyes, "I think I have heard that one a thousand times."

"And if we live through this I imagine you will hear it a thousand more. Get used to it!"

Mambre stood shaking her head as the two bickered back and forth. She stepped in between them and thrust a handful of aerovala leaves at Legolas, pointing at Aragorn and instructed them both, "I have to go now and see to the others. You," she glared playfully at the elf, "put that on Adrar, his burns will ache soon. There is plenty of water for the both of you." Pointing at a small stack of corked gourds she turned towards her adopted son, "I expect you to drink it all your bodies need it. Now behave and don’t argue while I am gone. All I need is for you two to be attracting the guards with your nonsense."

She left the tent with their laughter hanging in the air. Closing the flap on the sleeping room she headed out to the fields. Her other children and her husband would be gathering for mid-day break and she wanted to be there to collect the nandani they had harvested during their morning’s work. It would need to be prepared for tomorrow. The thick root when crushed formed a tasteless odorless toxin, which in the right doses would knock an oliphaunt out for hours. They were going to be busy. She sighed deeply, fearing the relentless passage of the day. If only she could stop time and let it sit here for a while. Sometimes change even good change was difficult to face. 


"Is anyone awake in here?" Sircyn’s accented voice called out as he threw the flap to the tent aside and bent to pass into the low opening.

"Well we were asleep until you woke us. I hope it’s important." Aragorn replied sarcastically from the corner where he and Legolas sat.

The fire had been started some time earlier in the late evening but the two friends had moved from the perimeter of the ring. Aragorn was fully dressed, his tunic laced up the front concealing the sunburn that was quickly fading to tan. Legolas however had not replaced his shirt and although his elven skin was healing swiftly, the burn still chaffed and pained him when clothing touched it. He smiled brightly as he gazed up at the family that entered.

"Pray tell your day went well and you were able to find all that you sought," he commented cryptically knowing the guards could still be milling about.

Sircyn quirked his lips in a semi-grimace and shook his head, stepping over the spread out sleeping pallets until he reached the two friends and dropped heavily down beside them.

Aragorn took Legolas’ hand in his own and stretched the prince’s arm out, lathing the pinked skin with the soothing green gel that had been aiding his healing. The elf concentrated on the Haradrim and his quiet words as the cool ointment reduced the ache to a dull roar that he could ignore.

Sircyn glanced back to the tent entrance, his eyes mere slits as he spoke quietly, "They would not let us bring any wood or the nandani with us. They forced us to leave everything in the woodsheds. Most likely to stoke their own fires through the night tomorrow."

"Then we’ll need to steal out and retrieve it tonight. They’ll never notice it is gone in the morning. I doubt even Talft and Lur are that observant." Aragorn shook his head in disgust. The small hitch in their plan could be easily remedied. At Sircyn’s nod the ranger stood swiftly to his feet only to weave unsteadily as the room spun around him crazily. He crashed back to the floor landing on one knee.

Legolas leapt to his feet and steadied his friend, easing him gently back down on the mats. Aragorn held his head gingerly in his hands as things slowly stopped their circling and his vision returned to normal. "You are not yet able to be about. Rest some more, tomorrow will be tiring enough. I will go with Sircyn to help retrieve the herbs," the elf cautioned him softly, laying his hand on the top of his friend’s head.

"We will not be caught." Legolas glanced at Caleb who was protesting their leaving. "I will see to it."

The Haradrim was shaking his head. "There are guard patrols and even wild taergs that sometimes come into the compound. No, being that far from the tents and the others is not good."

Aragorn grabbed Legolas’ wrist gently with his hand, raising his voice above the commotion in the tent, "They will be safe, Cabed. You can trust Legolas." Carefully he turned and glanced up at his elder.

Knowing he was fighting a losing battle, Cabed pierced his eldest son with a stern look. Sircyn glanced away from his father and faced Legolas; "Then we both go, come." He stepped to the tent flap and listened carefully before easing the canvas away from the entry.

Aragorn tightened his grip on the elf’s wrist and glanced up at the prince, "You be careful I don’t want to have to come rescue you." A lopsided smile decorated his tanned face.

Ruffling the human’s hair, Legolas gave a small laugh and stepped close to Sircyn, "Not to worry, human." The elf glanced at Mambre and she nodded, moving to the ranger’s side, a flask of water in her hands.

Legolas followed Sircyn down the path that led to the oliphaunt pens. The Haradrim knew the way even in the dark and easily sidestepped the pits and rocks that dotted their way. The elf had no trouble following the slave; his eyes easily adapted to the bright nights. Roots from a manga tree crossed their trail and Sircyn turned to warn the prince. The young Haradrim stopped in his tracks, his eyes wide as he stared at the elf in the shadow of the large fruit tree. Here the branches blocked the light of the moon and the faint glow that accompanied the elf shimmered in the darkness.

"What! What is it?" Legolas crouched and looked about them, his senses thrown outward ready for whatever had startled his companion.

"What are you?!" Sircyn whispered fiercely, stepping back from the elf.

"What?" Legolas was confused and shook his head, glancing about them.

"There is a light about you." The slave stepped back nearer and touched the elf cautiously.

"Oh..." The prince tried to hide his amusement; he had not given his appearance a second thought. But these people had never seen his kind and there was much about elves that even the northerners did not know. "Yes, my people are people of light. Do not worry. It will not draw attention to us. The moon is full tonight and the stars are bright; they will shield my light."

Sircyn nodded slowly, trying to come to terms with the new information.

"Are we close?" Legolas whispered, trying once more to get the youth’s attention focused on the task at hand.

With a quick glance around them, Sircyn nodded once, turning and heading stealthily out towards the plains, "We are nearly there. Follow me."

The moon was indeed high and full as they slipped out from under the cover of the master’s shade trees. In the open they were vulnerable should anyone be watching. For the most part the guards never watched the pastures at night. The taergs were no match for the oliphaunts. It was only when the humans were present did the wild predators attempt to attack, hoping to drag off a slave. At such times the herds were vulnerable and the young at risk from the large felines.

Legolas could see the mûmaskil huddled together on the field. Their quiet shufflings and guttural speech soft in the night, reached his sensitive ears and he turned and gazed out over the pasture lands. The moon cast a blue silver glow upon the grassy tundra; the effect of the soft light was not lost on the elf who smiled contentedly as he watched the herd. Movement on the edge of the field to their right alerted him and he tensed slightly even as Sircyn called out to him.

"Over here, the wood and nandani weeds are over here." The slave unlatched a low wooden shed and swung the short door open. He glanced inside unaware of Legolas’ over attentiveness. "They always let us take back to our tents the herbs and wood we have collected. It never even occurred to me that they would want it all for their own with the master leaving. You don’t know what it’s like when he is gone. The master is a fair man for the most part, but some of his guards are ruthless and cruel and they do not care what they do to us."

Legolas backed slowly towards the shed, glancing quickly back toward Sircyn. In the shadows, a deeper shadow moved and the glint of black eyes alerted the elf. He spoke calmly to the slave, not wanting to alarm the human if it were unnecessary. He hoped the creature that advanced slowly on them was not what he feared, "Does no one inform your master?" His quiet voice questioned.

"Who do you think he would believe his trusted guards or a his slaves?" Sircyn replied sarcastically with more bite than he intended. He was moving the wood around seeking the small bag of nandani roots that they had gathered throughout the day. It was secreted against the wall of the shed, protected by a pocket of timber. With a smile he pulled the cache out and stuffed it inside his vest.

"I found it." Sircyn sighed in relief as he stood up and grasped the edge of the shed door.

"Shhhh..." Legolas backed slowly towards him; "We are not alone. Do not move." The elf whispered fiercely, his eyes locked onto the feral ones that watched the two beings intently.

Sircyn turned towards the prince and followed his gaze into the dark shadows beneath the shade trees that bracketed the oliphaunt fields. Shifting red eyes caught the light of the full moon and a low growl caused the slave to freeze in place.

"A taerg." The Haradrim breathed quietly, his fear palpable.

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