The Stars of Harad

Chapter 16

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Legolas simply nodded as the creature stepped out into the light of the moon. The huge predator stalked slowly forward, the hair on the back of its neck standing on end, edged silver in the moonlight. It bared its fangs, revealing a mouth full of sharp pointed teeth, its growl low and deep in its chest rumbled menacingly in the still night air.

Legolas crouched down, reaching for a thick branch from the woodpile, his movements slow and measured as the taerg bared its long fangs and unsheathed claws the length of the elf’s fingers. The beast hissed at the being before it and its thin whip like tail thrashed the air as Legolas stood slowly once more a piece of wood clutched tightly in his hands.

Sircyn could contain his fear no longer and turned and ran behind the wood shed. The taerg thinking its prey was fleeing rushed them, leaping mid-stride and landing on the top of shed, glancing between the elf and the slave. Sircyn fell back with a cry as Legolas taunted the predator, jabbing the piece of wood at the creature to take its attention off of the other slave.

Loosing a fierce roar, the taerg leapt at the elf, intending to take down the being. But Legolas ducked under the animal’s advance, falling to one knee and ramming the end of the wooden limb up underneath the creature’s ribs. He half stood to his feet pressing into the animal’s belly with his weapon and threw the taerg over his head into the wooden fencing behind him.

"Run Sircyn!" Legolas yelled at the Haradrim who had gained his feet and fled to the other side of the shed. He had watched the fight from his sheltered position opposite Legolas over the small wood storage bin. Legolas had fought these great cats before, but never unarmed.

The taerg had been dealt a serious blow and it staggered unsteadily to its feet hissing at Legolas. Before the creature could attack again the elf caught the large feline along side the head with the timber he held, smashing the taerg with the wood and sending the animal crashing heavily to the ground.

"Go!" Legolas turned and fled, pushing the young slave ahead of him back towards the tents. All pretense at stealth was lost as the sounds of the scuffle having attracted the attention of the guards brought the distinct shouts and cries of the overseers, the light from their torches weaving through the night towards the two slaves location.

The large cat behind them crept unsteadily away, its prey forgotten, its only wish to escape.

The Haradrim guards skidded to a stop near the wood shed. The door to the small covered enclosure was open and one of the men spotted the faint black outline of a large cat limping slowly off out onto the fields retreating from the compound. Further investigation was unwarranted as the guards mistakenly assumed that a small animal must have taken shelter in the shed and the taerg had followed it. Talft stepped up and kicked a loose piece of wood back into the dark interior. Closing the door he locked it and looked back for the feline, the taerg had disappeared into the night.

With the attention off themselves and the guards congregated near the woodpile, the elf and the Haradrim blended once more into the shadows and quickly reached the tents with no further delays.

Sircyn stumbled into the tent first, tumbling onto the floor near Mambre as Legolas backed in slowly, listening and watching to see if their flight had been discovered.

He turned as Sircyn fished the small bag of herbal roots from his vest and handed them over to Mambre. Without another word she and the other females removed themselves from the fire and moved to the back of the tent to begin crushing the roots into powder for the following day.

Dropping the tent flap quietly down Legolas left the doorway and stalked back to where Sircyn was recounting the taerg attack for his father. The elf sat down wearily on the mat next to Aragorn and gently touched his friend. The ranger had fallen back asleep, his chest rising and falling slowly with the depth of his rest. Wayward strands of the human’s dark hair covered his eyes and the elf carefully brushed the hair back, laying his hand gently on the man’s head. "Sleep Estel, tomorrow will be a long hard day I think." He spoke softly in Elvish.

As if knowing his words Cabed glanced up, "He fell to sleep after you had left. We let him rest. Tomorrow we will all need to be rested, it is a big day."

Legolas nodded slowly, glancing to the far side of the tent where the women were preparing the drug. He only hoped they had enough of the thick nodular roots to cover all of Rhuddryn’s guards. Sircyn had been very sure, reassuring the elf that it took very little of the potent herb to drug a full grown human. Tomorrow would tell them.


With a deep sigh Legolas laid down next to Aragorn. Tomorrow would bring them one day closer to going home. 


Aragorn sat quietly in the predawn, listening to the muted sounds of the bugs that buzzed and chirped outside the tent. Even the Olybryn had yet to waken.

Glancing down at the form of the elf asleep next to him, he smiled softly. There was so much on his mind, so many thoughts and memories. The memories...

All of his anxieties were coupled with the day that faced them. Today they would take the guards out and secure the house after Rhuddryn left. Once that was done they would be able to procure weapons and then go after Seobryn and stop the crossbreeding that he was performing to create this new army that had been ordered by... by whom? The mystery behind the question still bothered him, but he let it go for the present. Today had enough troubles of its own and he wanted to make sure that that trouble was visited on the guards only and not on the Olybryn.

It would be tricky. Nenil, one of the household servants would tend to the wine vats kept in the cellar by Rhuddryn. If all had gone as planned the serving staff already had the nandani drug in their possession; Sircyn should have taken it to them during the night while Aragorn slept. If the guards stayed true to their routines, as the Haradrim were adamant that they would, then by midday they would be lax and Rhuddryn’s main sentries that watched the house would begin to help themselves to their master’s draughts. Then came the tricky part, drugging the rest of the guards in the fields and the groves without anyone catching on. But then what if...

"We have been over it many times. It will all work out well." Legolas’ soft voice interrupted the ranger’s thoughts and he glanced quickly down at his friend.

The surprise of being caught in the act of worrying shown easily in the young man’s eyes and the elf smiled as his friend quirked a questioning eyebrow, the lopsided smile that crossed his face caused the prince to laugh lightly.

"Yes my friend, you are that easy to read." Legolas sat up and smoothed the hair out of his eyes, "I know you too well. You worry that something will happen to these people and it will be somehow your fault for suggesting they could be free."

"Am I truly that easy to read?"

The elf snickered lightly, "Yes you are. And I have been in your company long enough to know how you think." He laid his hand gently on the human’s shoulder and easily changed the subject, "How feel you this morning?"

"Well enough." Aragorn moved closer to the elf and lowered his voice so as not to wake anyone else. He switched effortlessly into the Elvish tongue and continued speaking. "I slept hard, I did not hear you return. In fact I had not realized that I had fallen sleep. I take it all went well last night."

"We retrieved the nandani, and then Mambre and the women crushed it into fine powder. All is ready. It will be well. Trust me." Legolas gave the ranger a gentle shake.

"As always, my friend." Aragorn whispered back.

"What are you whispering about?" Sircyn’s quiet voice broke into their conversation.



"Why are you awake?" Aragorn questioned.

"It is time to be awake." The answer came back through the inky darkness.

Legolas laughed, "So it is. Then let us begin the day." He smiled at the ranger and stood nimbly to his feet. His eyes, easily adjusted to the morning gloom, allowed him to step lightly over the still sleeping slaves to the fire ring.

Kneeling next to the well-used pit in the center of the tent he quickly started a fire with the smoldering coals in the bed of the ring. Turning a brilliant smile on the ranger he nodded as the room lit with the warm glow of fire, their day had begun.


When the slaves had all been assembled in the court yard for their morning assignments the guards, instead of issuing the daily orders, fell into rank as Rhuddryn rode past his household staff seated on the back of one of the large male oliphaunts. Aragorn recognized the creature as the one who had a habit of following him around and demanding the Olybryn’s undivided attention; the large cantankerous one who let no one else tend him. The ranger barely held out his hand when the mûmakil reached out for him with its trunk as it passed by his station. The soft touch of the animal caused him to smile and he glanced up quickly at the intelligent dark eye that watched him. Talft, at the end of the line of slaves to Aragorn’s right, cleared his throat and the man swiftly dropped his hand to his side and returned his gaze to the ground.

Rhuddryn stopped his mount and addressed his guards, explaining that he would be gone for the next three days, attending the local yearly festival and auction. He admonished his slaves to behave and with a hearty farewell he urged the oliphaunt forward. The mûmakil lumbered off, a trail of servants and guards following in its wake, chosen by the master to attend him on his journey.

When the train of people has passed out of sight the guards quickly sent the slaves off to their posts, roughing up those that did not move as fast as they wanted them to.

Aragorn shot Legolas a sidelong glance out of the corner of his eye as Lur walked by them and cuffed the elf alongside the head, demanding that he pick up his pace.

The slaves for their part were more docile than usual but the festive air that colored the guard’s perception of the three-day holiday from their employer made them oblivious to the changes in those under them.

Talft and Lur were especially jovial and overt in their actions. As the Olybryn reached the mûmakil fields Talft hooked his arm around Syna’s waist and pulled the young slave from the file of people passing through to the meadow beyond. Sircyn bristled and stopped mid-step, trying to move around the slaves and get back to his sister’s side.

Seeing the Haradrim’s intentions Legolas grabbed the young man and whispered fiercely in his ear, "Do not follow your anger. It will not serve you here. Wait." The elf nodded his head in Aragorn’s direction.

The ranger had quickly backtracked his steps and headed towards the two guards and the female slave they had trapped. He feigned clumsiness as he swiftly picked up a bucket filled with brackish water from yesterday and stumbled in the direction of the small scuffle that had ensued.

Syna was desperately trying to get away from the sentries, who were enjoying the challenge of keeping hold of the young girl.

"Syna can you help me?" Aragorn questioned as he walked towards them. He pretended to stumble, loosing his balance and tipping the bucket of water so that it splashed into Lur’s face causing the guard to lose his grip on Syna.

Wrenching away from Talft the young Haradrim ran through the gates and into her father’s arms, watching in fear as Lur disgustedly brushed himself off.

"What is wrong with you Adrar?" Lur forcefully shoved the northerner away. Aragorn stumbled slightly but kept his balance, trying to keep up the act without giving away that he still was not the idiot they thought he was.

"I only needed help with the water bucket. I’m sorry, I forgot..." His apology was interrupted as Talft walked to his side and cuffed him roughly across the back of the head, forcefully shoving him through the gate and giving a swift kick that caught the young ranger in the stomach.

"Next time you pay better attention or we’ll have to teach you not to interrupt us when we are having a conversation with someone else." The guard slammed the gate shut, causing the animals to jump and shy away.

Aragorn had been unable to stop himself from collapsing in the field and he lay for a moment on the ground, catching his breath.

A gentle hand was laid on his back as Legolas crouched next to him. "Aragorn?"

"I’m alright." The ranger sat slowly up, helped by the elf.

"That was foolish."

"But it worked." The human smiled up at the elf. He knew, or at least had hoped, that he could get away with that because they thought he was a simpleton, whereas anyone else would have probably ended up with a much more severe beating. "Besides," He whispered in Elvish as Legolas helped him to his feet, "That is the last time he will ever do that to me again."

"Let us hope." The prince shook his head; his own smile uncontainable as he walked out towards the animals that waited them. "For now though, we tend the oliphaunts."

The day passed like any normal day. The only difference was the waiting. At midday there had still been no word from the house staff and Aragorn was beginning to worry. Talft and Lur were unusually lax in their overseeing of the Olybryn and the slaves for the most part were left to themselves.

"Something has gone wrong." Aragorn whispered to Legolas as he smoothed ointment around the eye of the large mûmakil he was attending. He passed the small vial of thick balm to the elf.

Legolas glanced up at the ranger; his thoughts lay along much the same path. He feared the slaves that worked in the house might have been discovered. Hiding their conversation in his work, the elf knelt and rubbed the balm into a scratch on the oliphaunt’s leg next to him before glancing back up. Instead of answering the human, motion on the shaded path behind Talft and Lur caught Legolas’ attention and he touched his friend, gently redirecting the ranger’s worried glance.

Nenil’s sister, Tali walked up the garden path a flask of wine held in her hands.

"I think all is well." Legolas whispered softly.

Aragorn stooped quickly and retrieved a small stone from the ground. He threw the flat rock so that it smacked Sircyn in the back, garnering the slave’s attention. With a nod towards the guards, Aragorn silently informed the Haradrim that it had begun.

Tali glanced quickly at the Olybryn before coyly approaching the guards. "I have brought you some wine from the master’s cellar. A gift," she spoke softly, her words musical as she taunted the two guards with the soft smile she laid on them, "a gift from Alkyn."

Alkyn was the head sentry that oversaw the comings and goings in the house and it was a cue for the Olybryn that things were indeed moving along as planned.

"And did he send you to us as well?" Lur questioned, his eyes everywhere but on the flask that the female slave carried.

She stepped easily out of their reach as Talft relieved her of the wine and smiled sweetly, "No. Alkyn said to tell you that I am his tonight and that you had best not keep me."

The Haradrim guards smiled wickedly at Tali, "Saves the best for himself does he?" Talft joked coarsely, "Then be off with you or he won't have you at all." The guard uncorked the flask and took a long drink, passing it to Lur who was still watching the female slave as she walked away. Talft shoved the other guard teasingly holding the flagon up in front of his friend’s face and blocking his view. "Here drown those thoughts before you get us into trouble."

Aragorn deftly moved the mûmakil he was working with closer to the fence, gently pushing his body weight against the animals side until he was as close to the guards as he could possibly be with out seeming obvious. Legolas watched the ranger carefully, making sure he had a good view of his friend and the two Haradrim overseers.

Talft and Lur were so busy toasting each other and the three days ahead of them that they failed to notice when every Olybryn stopped to watch them drink the drugged wine.

Aragorn glanced back at the slaves, seeing they were all watching the guards and fearing the unusual attention would give them away he kicked a dirt clod in the direction of Sircyn and mouthed the word ‘work’ at the Haradrim. Realizing what they were doing, the young slave cleared his throat, catching the attention of the others and motioned for everyone to continue as if nothing were amiss.

By the time the two guards had drained the wine container Aragorn was sure they were in trouble. Both were still busy recounting past holidays and the conquests and fun they had had at the slave’s expense. The ranger sighed in frustration and glanced at Legolas turning his palms up in question, but the elf only shrugged his shoulders.

Passing near Sircyn, Aragorn whispered fiercely, "I thought you said that drug would work."

"Nandani is slow acting but they will be out for a long time when it hits them."

"If it hits them." The northerner muttered darkly as he walked back to the feeding trough a bucket of fruits in his hands.

Sircyn slowly stopped his work, his eyes locked on guards. Talft yawned and stretched his legs out from the bench he was seated on. He slouched down on the wooden seat and laced his fingers behind his head. Lur slipped off the low resting-place and leaned his head back against the base of the bench with a soft sigh. In moments they were both asleep.

Silence fell on the small group of slaves as they watched intently, hoping that the guards were not merely napping and that the drugs in the wine had indeed done their job. Breaking the stillness Aragorn opened the gate and walked quietly to the shaded watch post. Legolas leapt nimbly over the fence and followed his friend. He could see the steady, even rise and fall of the men’s chests as they breathed.

Cautiously Strider reached out to touch Talft. The guard fell limply over onto the seat when the ranger pushed him gently.

A cheer rose behind them from the slaves and Aragorn spun and quickly shushed them. "The other guards in the groves may not yet be drugged. We do not need to tip them off. Sircyn, you and Timbrel go check on the slaves in the groves and in the house. If all is well and the guards have all been taken out then instruct the workers to bring them to the punishment hut. We will contain them there. Go! Quickly and bring back word." He called after the two young Haradrim as they ran beneath the trees, Sircyn heading for the house and Timbrel veering off making for the manga groves to the south of the mansion.

Legolas turned Talft over and stripped the guard of his weapons. Laying the large hunting bow and quiver aside the elf tossed the Haradrim’s knife, sheath and all, to Aragorn who quickly buckled the blade about his waist.

Disarming Lur next and passing the weapons to Cabed, Legolas pulled the empty flask from the guards fingers and broke the gourd open, burying the pieces of the broken flagon in the ground as instructed by the older Haradrim. The flask could never be used again because traces of the nandani would always be in the flesh of the gourd itself.

Aragorn talked quietly with Mambre, asking the women to finish caring for the mûmaskil while they rounded up the drugged guards. It would be safer for them here and not all the animals had been seen to yet.

Sircyn came running back down the path from the house. He skidded to a stop near where Talft had left the cart that they had followed out to the fields that morning. Easing the large bulls back into the heavy wooden yoke he steered the animals closer to the pasture fence. When he reached Legolas and Aragorn he was still trying to catch his breath but the smile on his face gave away his report.

"It went well?" Aragorn asked as he and Legolas picked up Lur’s limp body between the two of them and tossed the man onto the back of the cart.

"Very well indeed." Sircyn answered as he and Cabed eased Talft onto the wagon next to the other. "Timbrel said to tell you he went with the manga workers to take their guards to the hut. He will meet us there." The Haradrim quickly strapped on the scabbard that his father passed him and leapt onto the wagon to make sure that the guards did not fall off on their way back to the house.

When they reached the punishment hut they were met by a number of nervous but excited slaves. Legolas and Aragorn drug their former overseers into the low building and bound the men with rope that Nenil had procured from the main house.

With more gentleness than he felt towards the Haradrim, Aragorn leaned Talft in a corner of the building, his hands tied behind his back.

"When will they wake?" He asked Nenil without turning around, helping Legolas to lay Lur on the ground near Talft.

"At least they will have each other to talk to when they wake." The elf teased. He did not like the guards, nor their attitudes towards the slaves and it pleased him slightly to see them bound in their own building where they dealt out such cruel punishment as they had to him.

Aragorn laughed lightly before looking over his shoulder to where Nenil was helping to bind the last of the household sentries. "The guards are not likely to wake until well into tomorrow if I got the dosage correct." The small Haradrim answered absently, quietly directing the others as they finished their tasks.

"If?!?" Aragorn turned fully towards the shorter slave and questioned him.

Realizing what he had said Nenil raised his hands in a placating motion, "No, no I got it right. I am sure." The dark skinned man repeated himself. "Yes. I am sure. It is right."

Legolas exchanged a questioning glance with Aragorn before smiling ruefully. They both hoped the small slave was correct.

Leaving the older men to stand watch over the guards, the ranger took Nenil aside and spoke with him quietly, "Nenil, did your master have an armory?"

"I do not know." The Haradrim answered softly. "I was part of the kitchen staff only. It was just recently that the master even let me down into the cellar you see. I never saw any other parts of the house."

Legolas noted the quiet conversation and stepped nearer Aragorn; "You look for the armory?" He unconsciously switched to elven to disguise his questioning.

"You know where it is? You have seen it?"

With a nod the elf stepped over the sleeping bodies of the guards and led the ranger into the house. Slaves came and went through the large doors, some going about their everyday chores others preparing beds and dispersing sheets and pillows, blankets and coverings that the slaves had not had the privilege of using in years. Clothing was passed out to those who needed it and soon the closets were empty of all save the shelving units that were once full.

"The armory is back here," Legolas glanced over his shoulder at the ranger and the young Haradrim that were following them, easing his way past a group of women who were walking in the opposite direction, bedding piled high in their arms, "It is behind his study. I was able to see it once. Rhuddryn was found of bragging and Seobryn had goaded him into letting him see it. I was there that day with them."

The elf easily pushed the door open and stood aside. Normally the room would have been guarded so there was no need to keep it locked, but with the sentries all subdued the house was wide open to the wishes of the slaves.

Aragorn brushed past Legolas and quickly began handing out bows and quivers to the Haradrim that had followed them in. Once the others had been outfitted with weapons, he chose a sword of good weight for himself and strapped the weapon to his side before selecting his own bow. Legolas had taken down one of the large recurve hunting bows that the guards normally used out on the fields to combat the growing Taerg problems. He ran his hand up the spine of the weapon, feeling its weight and checking its craftsmanship. Stepping into the curve of the bow he bent the top down towards the floor and expertly strung it, testing the tension before slinging it over his back.

"I wish I had my own." He murmured softly.

The northerner watched him quietly before speaking; "We’ll find it. Knowing Talft and Lur they have it hidden out in their things."

"And what will we do with the guards Aragorn? What happens when they wake?" Legolas turned a worried look on the human that stood behind him.

"They can choose. They can leave of their own free will or they can leave under duress. I do not think that they will have the courage to stand up to the slaves now that they have been disarmed and the very ones they have tormented stand in their places. The slaves outnumber them dozens to one, now that they are armed and roused, it would be no contest, and surely they will see that. If they are truly cowards like their actions show, then we will have no troubles. If they choose to fight it, they will either be driven out or..." He stopped and considered his words carefully, "or they will die. It’s a simple choice." He met the serious eyes of the elf with his own gaze.

"It may not be so easy." Legolas cautioned.

"I know but we will deal with that after tomorrow."

"And what of the master?" a soft thickly accented voice interrupted their conversation, "What will we do about him? He returns the day after tomorrow and he may not be so willing as the guards to let this go."

Aragorn glanced at Legolas; the elf shook his head slightly. They didn’t have answers yet. The future was mapped with possible difficulties, but the only way over them was to take them head on. They had made the first step; there was no turning back now. "We’ll deal with that when the time comes also. One step at a time Cabed." The ranger smiled at the older Haradrim.

"No matter what, he will be made to see that he can stay and work with you or he can leave and find a new place elsewhere. This is your land now. It has always been your land." Legolas spoke quietly.

Cabed tipped his head slightly and gazed up at the tall elf, "And you think it will be that easy? Rhuddryn is a powerful man with many connections. We could have serious trouble."

With a slight nod, Legolas replied, "Yes it will be that easy. Aragorn will convince him."

Aragorn shot the elf a quizzical look, "Oh I will, will I?"

"Yes you will." The elf smiled conspiratorially at the human. "After tomorrow morning we will have what he wants most. From the letters we both have seen, Rhuddryn’s benefactor will not tolerate his failure with the crossbreeding project. He will have the choice; he can leave and we will report his demise and the collapse of the project or he can stay and face the wrath of this one who has threatened him already if he does not come through. He will not want to stay on once he finds out what we have done and you my friend have your memory back and can implicate him in the murder of Laener. That alone will earn him a death mark in the northern places. He will leave of his own free will and he can start a new life, elsewhere." Legolas turned to Cabed and smiled gently, "It will be fine."

Clasping his friend’s shoulder Aragorn steered them out of the small, now empty room. "Let's go discuss Seobryn’s encampment and get some rest. We’ll head out well before dawn. I want to catch him unaware."

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