The Stars of Harad

Chapter 17

by Cassia and Siobhan

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The cool of predawn darkness wrapped about the small group of beings that quietly trekked across the oliphaunt fields.

The women, children and most of the men had been left to see to the daily affairs of the house. Cabed and the elders had elected to take turns standing watch over the still unconscious guards, what was to be done with them had yet to be fully decided. When Aragorn and Legolas had left that morning, the only ones awake had been those guarding the punishment house.

Sircyn led Aragorn, Legolas, Timbrel and three of his cousins towards the south end of the fields where Seobryn reportedly kept his secret camp. This area of Rhuddryn’s lands dipped into the hilly places of Harad. Gullies and valleys running with now dried up rivulets made the companies passage more difficult and Legolas stepped closer to Sircyn, guiding the Haradrim through the rough places that his eyes could not see.

A gentle touch to the elf’s shoulder stopped the prince in his tracks and he turned to gaze into Aragorn’s dark eyes.

"Something follows us. Do you not hear it?" The ranger’s words frosted on the cool morning air.

Glancing over the human’s shoulder, Legolas could see into the gulch behind them. A mass of dark, slowly moving objects shuffled after them.

"It is the mûmaskil. They have followed us." He glanced at the Olybryn about him.

"They must have scented us." Sircyn whispered.

"They will give us away." Timbrel’s worried voice came from Legolas’ left.

"No," Aragorn glanced back at the animals; "they will cover our tracks and our smells. The mûmaskil walk everywhere in these fields unquestioned. No one will think twice about seeing them here. Let us continue. They will not follow us into Seobryn’s encampment; they hate the scent of taergs." He pressed the elf forward and followed him over the next levy.

When they reached the lip of the ridge, Legolas stopped and dropped down into the tall grasses, edging forward on his stomach. He turned and glanced at the ranger as Aragorn eased up quietly next to him. The glow from a dying fire lit the hollowed out bowl that Seobryn had chosen to establish his compound in. The small valley was ringed on three sides by rolling hills and eroded cliff faces, effectively blocking in his quarry. Large cages butted up against the cliffs on one side of the ravine. Taergs paced endlessly in small circles inside most of them. However the two cages nearest the spies held wargs, but the beast lay unmoving in their prison cells. Beyond these cages were even more, built of a sturdier fashion they held an array of predatory animals the likes of which neither the ranger nor the elf had ever seen. Horrific creatures rattled the bars and chewed on the iron slats of the cages, these animals were the deranged miscreations of Seobryn’s evil attempts to create a new species. The beasts were misfits, ill tempered and unequipped to survive on their own. Most died early in their life spans, their bodies not capable of bearing the alterations that had been worked on them.

"Legolas..." Aragorn whispered in horror as he viewed the compound. "They have nearly done it."

"They have done it." The elf glanced quickly at his friend, his brow furrowed in anger, "Once."

"How do you know this?"

"I killed it on the pasture lands. It must have escaped. It was like nothing I have ever seen." He eased away from the edge and stared into the dark eyes that watched him closely, "It was not like the ones down there. It was fast, quiet and very lethal. It was capable of thought like the wargs and it was wholly evil like them as well." He leaned back and glimpsed the deranged animals on the far side of the encampment; "I do not see anything like it. But if they accomplished this once they will do it again even if that is through error."

Aragorn was nodding. This was worse than he had thought. "We need to destroy those animals."

He leaned over and watched the large predators for a moment but the elf’s gentle tug on his tunic brought him away from the edge. "What is it?"

"Not the taergs." Legolas shook his head quietly.

"Why not? They kill the Olybryn, they hunt the younger mûmaskil, they are a threat Legolas." Aragorn did not understand.

The elf pressed his face close to the ranger’s and spoke softly slipping easily into Elvish; "They kill them because their own are imprisoned here and they know it, but do not understand. They are not evil Aragorn. They are frightened and they are striking back. Rhuddryn and Seobryn hunt them. If we release them, they will return to their own and leave this valley. There is not the water here now that there was in the spring, which originally drew them down. They stay because their families have been broken up and they want their own back. We let the taergs go." The elf’s voice was decided.

Aragorn had no love for the predators, but everything he had learned about them, had been from the Olybryn who feared the large animals. Legolas was always right about these types of things; there was no reason not to trust him on this as well. Finally nodding in agreement, he edged back down on his stomach and pulled the elf with him, indicating the thrown together buildings that sat opposite the rows of cages.

"Very well, you release the taergs. Put the wargs down, we can't have them escaping down here in the south, I don’t care what shape they are in. I will take care of those abominations that Seobryn and his evil intentions have created. When we are through with the animals, we can take on the humans. It looks like Seobryn only has eight men. Six that travel with him and two that must stay here full time. We can take them easily if the animals don’t alert them to our presence. Besides even if we fail to stop Seobryn now, we must put an end to the crossbreeding, we can risk no more successes." He glanced sidelong at the elf to see if the prince agreed.

Legolas wasn’t sure that leaving the men to the last would work, either way it would be risky. "Have the Haradrim stay here until we call for them. They are not warriors by nature Aragorn and they will only get themselves killed if we aren’t careful."

"Good thinking." The ranger slid backwards through the tall grass and easily leapt the short distance down the small sloping incline to where Sircyn and the others waited for him. They stood among the mûmakil, patting the large creatures and talking softly to them. Legolas was correct, he smiled softly to himself, they were shepherds, not warriors although they would have to learn now that the compound was theirs once more.

Legolas joined him at the foot of the hill. He listened as the Haradrim argued with the ranger, but the argument was short lived and in the end Aragorn won them over. They would wait until they were called for.

"I do not like it." Sircyn muttered softly as he rubbed the forehead of the large oliphaunt that butted up against him, vying for his attention.

"You do not have to." Aragorn smiled leaning in front of the Haradrim and patting the mûmakil. "But I need you to do this for me."

With a nod the five Haradrim followed the elf and the ranger around the side of the hills and entered the natural valley through the dead streambed that cut through it. The oliphaunts had followed and their feet crushed the small pebbles of the riverbed, making soft sounds in the predawn. Morning was only an hour way now; they had to move quickly. Motioning the Haradrim to stop, Aragorn crept quietly after Legolas.

They entered the compound near the cages that held the wargs. The elf crouched low next to the large iron cell. The beast inside did not move. Its red small eyes tracked the elf dully and its breathing was labored.

Aragorn moved stealthily behind his friend, touching the prince lightly on the back as he knelt behind the elf. Turning slightly Legolas whispered softly, "They are dying."

"Then be swift and end their misery." Aragorn eased around the elf and glanced down the row of cages, his eyes darting to the low-lying buildings, nothing stirred inside of them. "I’ll meet you in the middle." He called softly before he darted swiftly into the darkness heading for the far side of camp.

The caged taergs paid him no attention as he moved quickly down the row of pens. It was when the ranger had reached the cells that held the deranged miscreations that their trouble started. The animals in the steel cages looked like someone’s worst nightmare. Their body parts mismatched to oversized heads or paws. They threw themselves at the bars of their prisons as Aragorn crept towards them, creating a racket that could not be silenced.

Knowing they had given themselves away, Aragorn stood from his hiding place and called back to Legolas.

The elf had already put the wargs down, ending their tormented existence with mercifully quick, deadly arrows. He knew their weak points and gave them swift deaths. Quickly he threw open the slats on the cages that held the taergs, easily releasing the animals as Seobryn and his men spilled out of their tents.

The camp filled with cries and chaos. The released taergs were confused by the torches that the men held and they scattered easily, some racing to the hills others heading out onto the flats. One unlucky taerg fled up the ravine towards where Sircyn was hiding. The smell of the creature frightened the oliphaunts.

The large creatures trumpeted in terror at the familiar scent and sight. Sircyn, Timbrel and the others clung tightly to the animals, trying to calm them, but it was no use. The tension in the air and the presence of the taerg spooked the oliphaunts who broke away from their handlers and stampeded towards the large cat. The taerg yowled and sprung quickly away, darting for the hills, but the rampaging mûmaskil did not seem to notice. In their frenzy, they stormed into the camp, adding to the bedlam that already raged there.

The earth shook; thundering with the pounding, stamping feet of the huge animals, the cool morning air pierced with their loud trumpeting cries. Unheeding of where they were going, the Oliphaunts crashed into the buildings, tearing the sleeping quarters to shreds and crushing those unlucky enough not to escape under their huge feet.

The Olybryn chased after their charges, trying to calm the frightened beasts.

Aragorn had only succeeded in destroying two of the deranged, crossbred animals when the mûmakil stampeded through the gulch. He turned towards the chaos, trying to see by firelight what had happened. At his inattention, the beast in the cage in front him threw itself at the bars of its prison, rocking the pen off its foundation and loosing the slats that held it captive. It leapt out of the cell, knocking Aragorn over and landing several feet behind the ranger. Saliva dripped from long jagged fangs that jutted out at intervals from underneath its upper lip. Stringing an arrow onto his bow as quickly as he could, Aragorn had nearly released the projectile when a dark shape fell from the cliff above him, rolling the ill-created creature off its feet. A huge taerg sunk its fangs deep into the animal’s neck and shook its head violently, snapping the others neck with a lethal ferocity.

Stunned, Aragorn stood with his bow at the ready as the beast turned quick, bright on eyes on him.


The ranger’s glance darted towards the far side of the gully and he spotted Legolas leaping across the tops of the now empty cages, running in his direction. When he looked back to where the taerg had been, only the dead half-warg lay there; of the predator there was no sign.

Legolas jumped down next to the human and pushed him aside, his bow strung, he quickly began dispatching the miserable, wretched creatures that were the examples of Seobryn’s failures, calling to Aragorn over his shoulder, "Our element of surprise is gone my friend and the Olybryn are in trouble. We must be quick."

Shaken out of his surprise, Aragorn left the elf to his task and raced towards the middle of camp where Timbrel was locked in combat with Malk. Of Seobryn’s men only Chadoc and Malk seemed to have survived the initial onslaught. Vavon, Teek, Zelbo and the two that Aragorn had never met appeared to have either been crushed by the oliphaunt stampede or slain by the taergs as they attempted to escape. The ranger leapt over Vavon’s mauled corpse, running towards Malk as the northerner knocked the young Haradrim in the face with the pommel of his sword and Timbrel fell backwards. Quickly reversing the hold on the blade Malk drove the sword towards the incapacitated slave.

"NO!" Aragorn’s loud cry startled the northerner and he only had a brief glimpse of the ranger as Aragorn threw his weight into the man and rolled him away from Timbrel.

He struggled with the trader, as they came to a halt. Malk had gotten the upper hand and knelt on top of the ranger, pressing the blade of his sword against the flat of Aragorn’s, trying to overpower the young man. Malk pushed with all his might, driving the ranger’s own blade dangerously close under Aragorn’s chin.

Aragorn resisted violently, slowly moving his knee up between them, trying to get an edge over the heavier man that held him down. He had nearly gotten the upper hand when a rake of pain sliced across his stomach, separating Malk from him. He watched as the trader was tossed high into the air over the back of a large mûmakil that had come upon the fighting men. The Oliphaunt lowering its head had caught Malk on its huge upper tusk and tossed the man away from its Olybryn. The sharp edge of the tooth had dug into the ranger’s soft skin, leaving a deep, nasty welt across his abdomen.

Standing quickly to his feet, the ranger patted the enraged mûmakil, trying to calm the animal. He stumbled to Timbrel’s side and pulled the Haradrim to his feet. "Get the oliphaunts out of here." He instructed the terrified Olybryn. "Now, Timbrel quickly!" He gave the young man a good shove towards the large, agitated animal that stood behind them, "Seobryn will begin killing them if he sees they are a threat. GO!"

Regaining his senses, Timbrel nodded and grabbed the oliphaunt’s large tusk, steering the animal back towards the end of the valley and the route out through the riverbed. Aragorn heard him calling to Sircyn and his cousins as the Olybryn began to round up the mûmakil and attempt to exit gulch.

Aragorn glanced back through the debris that littered the valley. The fire pit had been destroyed and the fire had leapt out of the ring of protective stone, burning through the heaps of destroyed canvas and wood that had once been Seobryn’s housing. The smoke hung thick and low in the small ravine and it was difficult to see through the shroud that wrapped the camp.

Morning was coming; the skies were streaked with red fingers that seemed to reach out over the destruction that marred the landscape. Across the compound, the ranger caught site of Legolas putting down the last of the misbred creations. Movement to the left of the elf drew his attention and he recognized Chadoc slowly gaining on the prince.

"Legolas, your left!" He called out in elvish, warning his friend seconds before Chadoc got the upper hand. Intending to aid the elf, Aragorn ran towards the far side of the camp only to be knocked to the ground as a spear that had been thrown in his path impeded his legs, tripping him up. He rolled hard onto his shoulder and came up in a crouch, the surprise of the attack catching him off guard.

Seobryn walked slowly towards him, his sword drawn. His face was a mask of anger as he stalked the ranger.

"Well I guess Chadoc was right for once." He circled Aragorn as the young man gained his feet. "I should have killed you when I had the chance Adrar." He spit the ranger’s slave name at him.

Aragorn wiped the sweat from his eyes with the sleeve of his tunic, smiling back mirthlessly into the face of his tormenter, "Would have saved you a lot of trouble Seobryn."

"Damn you rangers and your entire race!" He shook his head, "You have no idea what you have done. You have no idea who you are up against. I’m the least of your worries. You are on the wrong side."

"Oh and I suppose you’d let me join you now." Aragorn feinted at the trader; the man quickly sidestepped his thrust.

"Too late for that now my pet," he growled. Moving closer to the ranger Seobryn swung his blade low in a wide arc that Aragorn jumped, narrowly avoiding. "I made you. Now its time to get rid of you, like I should have done before." He rushed the ranger and attacked him fiercely.

To the trader’s surprise, Aragorn gave him no ground, but met and parried every blow and strike. Spinning around quickly and ducking underneath a sweep of Seobryn’s blade Aragorn slammed the pommel of his sword into the man’s face, throwing him off balance and breaking his nose.

Seobryn stumbled backwards, one hand covering his face, breathing hard. He looked at the blood that cover his palm and licked his lips where the blood had dripped down his face; his eyes were hard and fierce.

"Who is your employer?" Aragorn questioned.

Ignoring the question, Seobryn stepped back in towards his opponent, his anger igniting the fierceness of his attack. Unable to keep up with the trader, Aragorn swept low and spun in a crouch, attempting to get out from underneath the onslaught, but Seobryn was ready for him.

Moving in close to the ranger, he twisted his ankle around the young man’s pivotal foot and jerked back wards, slamming his fist into the side of Aragorn’s head. Momentarily stunned senseless, Aragorn did not move. Seobryn grabbed the collar of the ranger’s tunic and pulled the semi-conscious man towards him before punching Aragorn hard.

The trader dropped the younger man to the ground and stood over him, spitting out the blood that had accumulated in his mouth, he smiled down grimly at the youth. "You were never cut out to be a ranger. Neither you nor that pathetic excuse of an old man that you drug around with you. If I had the time, you’d die the same way he went - screaming." He spit the words at Aragorn, hefting his blade; he prepared to drive it through the young man’s heart.

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