The Stars of Harad

Chapter 4

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Next   

Aragorn peered through the canopy of green leaves in front of his face without moving. Crouched on the low limb of a large oak tree and hidden by its foliage he held perfectly still. It was a trick Legolas had taught him and it worked well. People rarely looked up to see if they were being followed or watched.

Somewhere in the underbrush off to the far right, Laener was equally well hidden.

The small group of men that the two rangers were observing was totally unaware of their silent presence; had been for weeks. By now Aragorn and Laener knew the name and appearance of every man in the troop, and the traders did not even know they were there.

Aragorn and Laener had made good time on their journey down to West Emnet, but had nearly missed the people they sought all together anyway. It was only Aragorn’s keen observation skills that matched up the odd sealing ring on the hand of this band’s lead man to the impression on the broken seal on the letter they had intercepted when they crossed paths with these traders in the small town of Ihel, now many leagues behind them. From a distance of course, the young ranger hadn’t been able to be entirely sure. He’d needed a closer look.

If he had not been intent on being completely still and silent, Aragorn would have rubbed his jaw ruefully.

He had pretended to be drunk in order to get a closer look at the ring without seeming suspicious. He got a closer look all right, as well as a complimentary sample of the other man’s knuckles when the one who they now knew was Seobryn, punched the supposed ‘drunk’ in the face. The incident had also earned Aragorn a night’s stay in the town’s lock-up for being drunk and disorderly. Laener thought he was crazy, but the young ranger considered it all worthwhile, because they could now be certain that they had found the men they sought. Even Laener had to agree with him there.

All that was a long way behind them now. Seobryn and his men had passed from the grasslands of Rohan into Anórien, following the old trade routes along the base of the White Mountains. All the while Aragorn and Laener followed the group, silent and undetected. The rangers had concluded with some frustration that they had come upon these men too late to discover who they had been meeting with, since the course they were taking suggested that the group was on the return leg of its journey, if they were in fact from somewhere in Harad as the letter they had found seemed to indicate.

The sun was setting and a couple of biting insects buzzed around Aragorn’s exposed neck and face, but he didn’t dare swat them, he was too close to their quarry to risk detection. The air was hot and perspiration made the young ranger’s hair cling to the sides of his face. It was the heat of summer down here in the southlands and already much warmer than the balmy northlands ever got. It was in fact so warm that Aragorn had been forced to stop wearing his leather-overcoat. Most of their gear the rangers carried with them, even when spying, but for tonight’s watch Aragorn had left his coat behind at his and Laener’s campsite, because the tree-scaling involved made any unnecessary baggage a liability. He would retrieve it before they moved out again.

Four days ago, they had circumvented Minas Tirith and crossed the Great River to link up with the caravan route known as the Harad Road. There was now no doubt that Seobryn and his party were heading to Harad. This was both a good and a bad thing for the rangers who followed them. It was good because it meant that Aragorn and Laener had a chance of following them to wherever they were going and hopefully finding out what was going on, but it was bad because the further and further south they got, the harder it would be to send back word of what they found.

So it was that the rangers had decided that they needed to risk getting a little closer to their quarry. Thus far they had mainly followed at a distance, so as to keep out of sight more easily. But tonight they stationed themselves dangerously close to the traders’ camp, hoping to overhear some of their talk. If they could find something out now, before they were too deep into the south, then one of them could bring word back to the other rangers while the second continued to follow. It was a risky gambit, but the two rangers felt they had little choice.

Aragorn had volunteered to take the most dangerous position, almost directly over the traders’ heads, leaving Laener to watch the flank.

From where he perched, hidden in the trees, Aragorn could hear most of what was being said in the camp below. So far none of it had been particularly useful. Just when he was beginning to think this was all in vain, he heard Seobryn talking to a man named Chadoc, who appeared to be something of a second-in-command.

"I will just be glad when this whole thing is over," Chadoc was saying. He was a gloomy man who was fond of pointing out the downside of things, often times to his employer’s great irritation.

"You weren’t complaining the last time you spent your pay," Seobryn shook his head. "And the big payoff doesn’t come until we finish this off."

"If we can finish it off. Seobryn, you know that things aren’t going as well as you made them out to be back north. There will be trouble if this falls through. Big trouble."

"You worry too much, Chadoc! You’re supposed to leave that to me," the head trader scowled. "Think of what we’re creating. Think of the possibilities. After all, once we have success, we don’t have to sell all to one place, no matter who commissioned them. Have you any idea how many buyers there would be for a creature that could survive either north or south, that combines the silent ferociousness of the taergs coupled with the cunning and controllability of the wargs? With creatures like that at their command anybody could be a king, right? Once we’ve bred our new species, the money won’t stop rolling in!"

"You’re talking double-dealing," Chadoc raised one eyebrow. "You know the boss wants them all for himself. He’s got plans."

Seobryn snorted. "What do I care for his plans? I’ve talked to Rhuddryn, he’s in on it if we are and this far south, who can touch us anyway? Besides, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him."

Chadoc nodded slowly. He had to admit he liked the idea of crossing the white wizard if he had the chance to do so safely.

Aragorn listened with keen interest. Some of what they spoke was a mystery to him. He did not know what taergs were, but if they were mentioned in the same sentence with wargs, then they had to be deadly. Was this it then? Was that the secret these men carried, the new army they were creating? Some kind of horrible new breed of warg, ferocious enough to suppress and oppress entire regions? It was a frightening thought, and a terrible danger if they succeeded.

The young ranger tensed, anxious now to be able to get out of here and share what he had heard with Laener. However, he knew that he could not relinquish his position until everyone was asleep and whoever was on watch that night moved away to the perimeter of the camp. He was too close to dare risk moving until then.

Time crept on, and Aragorn stoically ignored how badly his legs were cramping or how uncomfortable his position was. Night had fallen and the murmur of the camp below was dying down. Chadoc was standing the first watch and he knelt to light a long-burning torch from the dying embers of the fire before moving off to his post. Soon Aragorn would be able to...

An ear-splitting, heart-stopping howl rent the quiet curtain of the night and Aragorn could not help jerking, his eyes quickly scanning the darkness outside the camp, seeking what had made such a sound.

Everyone below him did the same thing as men bolted upright in their bedrolls and stumbled to their feet, looking to Chadoc who was already making his way off to the right, towards the source of the sound, torch in hand and sword drawn. A second man with a bow strung and ready was not far behind. Whatever that was had been much too close for comfort.

The howl came again, only it was more of a growl this time, like the cry of a pouncing animal. The snarl turned inexplicably into a yelp of pain before it fell silent.

"Chadoc! What is it, what do you see?" Seobryn was on his feet now, lighting a torch of his own.

Chadoc cursed in surprise. "A wolf, but its dead, someone... hey! Someone’s out here! There! He’s running!"

Seobryn looked truly alarmed. "WHAT? What do you mean someone’s out there? Get him!"

Chaos erupted. Somewhere out in the dark the hiss of arrows being released whistled sharply on the night air, but it did not sound as if they had struck anything. Chadoc’s bobbing torch got rapidly farther away.

Aragorn closed his eyes and swore silently. Laener. The wolf must have gone after Laener and in having to defend himself the ranger was forced to give away his presence. This was not good and Aragorn tensed, wondering what he should do now. A moment later that decision was made for him.

At the mention of wolves and intruders everyone in the camp started lighting torches. Huge bats, which had come to rest quietly in the overhanging branches of the trees around the camp as darkness fell, fluttered free of their perches in large groups as the sudden flare of torchlight illuminated their gathering spot, angering and driving them away by its brilliance.

Several flew into Aragorn in their blind haste, their large, heavy bodies and the surprise of their impact nearly knocking him off balance. The young ranger grabbed the branch next to him to keep from slipping and falling as the bats picked themselves up and flew off with the others.

The men in the camp ducked and called out in surprise as the large, black, leathery-bodied creatures swept screaming over their heads and into the night. Unfortunately, this caused the men to look up into the trees.

Seobryn’s eyes locked onto Aragorn. The young ranger had not yet had time to pull back into the deeper cover of the branches after his close encounter.

Aragorn knew his cover was blown the instant he saw the trader’s gaze fall on him, even before Seobryn had a chance to open his mouth.

Jumping down from the tree quicker than most would have thought possible, Aragorn landed on top of Seobryn, knocking the air out of him, before dashing quickly by the startled, confused men who could not figure out where in the world he had come from.

Seobryn struggled to his knees, roughly gasping to get his breath back. "DON’T JUST STAND THERE!! Get them or I’ll have your hides!! NOW!" he shouted angrily at his men, who were already rushing to obey.

Aragorn fled towards the cover of darkness outside camp, moving as fast as his legs would carry him. Bursting out of the trees almost before he realized he had reached their end, he found himself in the large, empty plain beyond. Dry, knee-high, withered grass whipped at his boots as he ran. An arrow whistled by his head, stirring his hair, another hissed past his hand and he started zigzagging as he ran, making himself a harder target for the men who were close on his heels.

One of the pursuers tripped on a hidden hillock and fell, his torch rolling from his hand and instantly setting the dry grass aflame. The predominately westerly wind fanned the flames, spreading them quickly in the direction that the men had been running.

Getting the same idea at the once, several of the other men fanned, out, using their torches to light the grass, turning night into near mid-day radiance.

Ahead in the distance, Chadoc and the men, chasing Laener saw the glow and realized what was happening. Quickly, they circled around to the flank, setting the grasslands ablaze behind them, creating a second sweeping curtain of flame to trap their quarry like hunters lying a snare.

Aragorn choked on the billowing smoke that stung his eyes and burned his lungs. The flames raced after him faster than was possible for his human pursuers, who followed the burned-out path that the blaze left behind. Although the grass burned hot, it burned fast, leaving only dead char in its wake.

The young ranger could feel the heat growing nearer behind him, and up ahead, saw a second curtain of flame rising up to obscure the stars. The flames drove him further and further to his right, just as his pursuers knew it would. The light of the fire was making him an easy target and the arrows that sought him kept coming closer and closer.

Reaching a section of overgrowth covering the top of a steep ravine Aragorn ducked under the foliage and scrambled down the incline. He hoped to get to lower ground, where the sinking haze of smoke from the wildfire, drawn down to the earth by the oppressively thick air, would mask his presence at least a little. The scramble ended up becoming more of a tumble and at the bottom he nearly ran into someone. The young ranger scrambled back, going for his weapon, but a moment later his stinging, watering eyes made out who it was.

"Strider, this way, we’ve got to get upwind," Laener grabbed the younger man’s arm as the two of them scrambled through the little brush-choked ravine. The flames had followed them down and were now lapping along the walls of the shallow indent.

Aragorn coughed hard, pressing his nose and mouth against his sleeve as he stumbled along, trying to breathe around the smoke. "Laener, I heard them, I know what’s going on," he choked out around his own inability to breathe properly. In case only one of them made it out of this, it was important that both of them knew. "They’re cross-breeding wargs with some other creature, trying to create some kind of super-monster army. We have to tell the others!"

Laener nodded, his own shirt pulled up to cover his nose and mouth. "Listen to me Strider, I don’t know if we’ll both get out of this, but one of us has to, all right? If one of us has the chance, we have to go for it, no matter what; this news is too big to risk losing."

Aragorn nodded his agreement; he had already been thinking the same thing. Word of this had to get out. The alternative was too horrible to think about.

The wind pushed the fire through the ravine quicker than anyone would have guessed, overtaking the two men. The brush had caught fire as well as the grass and dead vines and small branches fell flaming from above the rangers as they battled their way through the overpowering curtain of flames.

Aragorn yanked Laener out of the way as a large heap of burning brush toppled down from the ravine wall, scattering fire and sparks everywhere. The air was too thick with smoke to breathe now, and the two rangers had to stay low, nearly crawling in order to not suffocate on the fumes. The end was in sight as the billowing inferno around them opened out into the deceitfully tranquil beauty of the star-clad night ahead. But the mouth of the gully was overhung by thick, interlacing vines that the fire had already reached. The blazing stalks groaned and creaked, ready to come crashing down, fatally trapping the two rangers.

Rising to their feet and rushing forward at the last possible moment, Aragorn and Laener burst out of the gully just as the curtain of fire fell behind them with a crackling rush and roar.

The small ravine emptied out into another flat plain which dropped down towards a swiftly flowing river, but Aragorn only had a moment to take in the lay of the land before Laener was pushing him to the ground urgently. For a moment the younger man didn’t understand, then he felt the hot pain against his back and shoulder.

Part of Aragorn’s tunic had caught fire in that last narrow brush and the elder ranger quickly helped smother the flames with his hands as Aragorn rolled to put them out. As soon as that was taken care of, the two men were on their feet again. They had totally lost track of where their pursuers were, but they could not be far away, and perhaps just as deadly, the fire had rapidly spread out of the small rift and was right on the rangers’ heels again as they made swiftly for the river. If they could get across, then hopefully both the fire and their pursers would be behind them.

The river was swift, but not deep. The cool water was welcomingly refreshing as they plunged into the current, quickly struggling to the other side.

Laener was the stronger swimmer, and made it first. Aragorn got caught in a small jetty that carried him a little further downstream before he was able to finally make shore. When he pulled himself up onto the bank on his hands and knees he looked around for his companion... and found instead the pointed head of an arrow staring him in the face.

Before he could even blink, strong hands closed around his arms as his hands were jerked behind his back.

Looking up, he saw Chadoc and the other men who had been chasing them standing all around, weapons drawn. Laener they held between them, his hands bound behind him and a gag in his mouth. Their torches had been put out; giving their quarry no warning of their presence until it was too late.

Trapped with the enemy in front of them and both the river and the fire still blazing on the opposite shore, behind them, the two rangers had no way out.

Aragorn let his breath out slowly as his hands were tightly bound behind his back and the realization of what had happened sunk in, forming like a ball of heavy ice in his stomach.

Laener’s gag was removed and he was shoved to his knees on the riverbank beside Aragorn as they were both searched for hidden weapons.

Chadoc eyed the two dripping prisoners. He smiled, obviously very pleased with himself. "First rule of a prize-hunter, if there’s fire, your quarry will flee to the nearest water. Now, do you two want to tell me who you are and what you were doing snooping around our camp?"

Predictably, there was no answer.

"Look at this," one of the men who had just confiscated their weapons pointed to the elvish lettering on the blade of Aragorn’s dagger. "Elvish weapons and a nose for trouble... sounds like rangers too me."

Chadoc was squinting hard at Aragorn. "Aren’t you the one who caused all the trouble back in Ihel?" Aragorn didn’t answer, but he didn’t have to. "You are, aren’t you?" the man straightened up again with an emotionless chuckle. "I don’t know what you two are up to, but you’d better reconsider this silent attitude of yours before we get back to camp, it won’t serve you at all, I promise you that," he said with a wicked gleam in his eye.

Aragorn steeled his jaw as they were dragged back to their feet once more. They had failed. And now who knew what price they, and the rest of the world was going to pay? 


Elrond heard the great wooden doors of the house open and close. He knew by the sound of the careful closure that the ones who had just entered were trying to keep their presence quiet, but the whispered conversation and the light footfalls told him what he needed to know. Standing from his desk, he laid down his pen and quietly walked into the main hall.

Elladan and Elrohir were softly conversing with one another.

"And if he asks?" Elrohir whispered, his face mere inches from his twin.

"Then you’ll let me do the talking." Elladan glanced furtively about them, hoping they were alone.

"Oh right," Elrohir argued back quietly, "the last time that happened..."

"The last time that happened you had taken your brother out for target practice, and he was the target you were practicing with. Just what are you two talking about?" Elrond’s deep voice cut through the whispered conversation. He barely repressed his smile as he took in the guilty looks that quickly passed across his son’s faces before being replaced by innocent stares.

Neither of the twins spoke, their conspiracy having been interrupted before they could agree. Elrond shook his head and motioned them in.

"Elladan, did you meet up with the Beornings?" When the eldest twin nodded slightly he continued playing out his hand, "And how are they faring? Did they send any word back?"

His tongue loosened by what he perceived to be a reprieve in his father’s original line of questioning, Elladan relaxed and answered, "Yes we did meet with them and they are doing well. They send their regards and a request for more of the lathril herb. It seems they have had an outbreak of the stomach sickness again and have found that the lathril helps to ease it."

"They also sent a fairly large supply of their honey-cakes back for Celboril." Elrohir smiled widely at the announcement.

The Beornings were famous for their honey-cakes and Elrond knew how much the twins enjoyed them. He could not contain his smile at the pleasure that was easily read on their faces. "Then we will send lathril to them immediately."

"We can go back with it father, if you like." Elladan volunteered.

"No my son, I’ll send Moranuen. My heart would have here you for a bit." His smile turned sad and he quickly changed the subject. "And did you experience trouble along the way?" He asked, resuming his previous line of questioning; he had yet to find an answer to his query.

"No father." Elladan replied innocently, for it was the truth. Their travel had been easy and swift.

"And did you stay on with Beaoma?" Elrond knew that his sons frequented the master baker’s home often when with the Beornings. They enjoyed the cantankerous older man and he in turn took pleasure in their lightheartedness feeding them all the honey-cakes they could eat when under his roof.

"No, we just dropped off what they asked for." Elrohir replied, his face blank of all expression.

Elrond smiled wickedly as Elladan winced and looked down to the floor, he knew his twin had just given them away.

The two young elves shifted nervously under the piercing stare of their father. With a snort of disgust Elladan cuffed Elrohir upside the head, "I told you to let me do the talking."

"I blew it didn’t I?" The youngest twin looked petulantly between his brother and father.

"Yes, nice going." Elladan growled.

"No, you did not." Elrond quietly corrected his son, "I already knew."

"HOW?" The twins were shocked by their father’s admission. They had thought they had they had covered all their excuses and their journey had taken less than a month which was unusual for the long trip over the mountains that separated them from Mirkwood.

"Your length of travel for one thing, albeit it swift, it was no turn around from the Beornings. Barahir is missing for another." Elrond laid out all the reasons behind his assumption, "Your acts of innocence, which were pathetic attempts to hide your guilt. And..." He stopped, his gaze softening as he glanced between his sons, "And I know the both of you very well. Your love for Estel and the fact that you both assume the role of the older brother would not allow you to leave him to himself for any moment of time under the given circumstances. He forbade you to follow him, you have never been successful at tracking him since he turned sixteen when he does not want you to, and I also told you to let him go. However, Legolas was not forbidden and he among all of us can track that young human no matter how Estel does not wish to be found as he has proved before. I knew the night you left, that you were going to his estate."

Elladan dropped his gaze, knowing he could not lie to the older elf, "I’m sorry father. It’s just that I couldn’t..."

Elrond held up his hand, forestalling any arguments or apologies. "Do not apologize. I had secretly hoped you would do just as you have. Although Estel is now an adult." The elf lord laughed as the twins began to protest, quieting them with his voice as he continued, "Yes, he is my sons and he must be treated as such. In human years he is very much an adult. However the way he left breaks my heart and I wish for his return every night. What happened between us, as a family, is not irreparable. Merely a misunderstanding, and yet Estel’s heart is broken as well I fear."

With a soft sigh Elrond stopped speaking and walked towards the large picture window that comprised nearly half the far wall, hands clasped behind back. When he spoke again his voice was soft, "Who can blame him? Among our peoples your sister is the most beautiful of them all. It just never crossed my mind that he would fall in love with her. Perhaps if they had grown up together like the three of you..."

A small laugh, escaped Elrohir’s lips, "Nay father, I think not even that would have prevented this. For it is not all Estel’s fault."

Elrond whirled on the twins. "She talked to you?"

"No." Elladan answered him, "She did not have to."

"You can see it in her eyes, in the way she looked at him..." Elrohir finished his brother’s thought, and in turn was interrupted by his twin who completed the sentence.

"...when she left." Elladan nodded, "It was obvious."

"Yes" Elrohir agreed, glancing between his brother and father.

"I thought as much." Elrond mused quietly, turning back to gaze out into the night with a deep heavy sigh. Still... Arwen was young. Sometimes these things were passing fancies. She might well forget all about it eventually. However he doubted that Estel would, and that was the painful part.

"Father, don’t worry. Legolas left ahead of us. He said he would speak with him... He will find Estel and they will both be home before you know it."

"I hope that it is as you speak." Elrond’s gaze and thoughts were far away, focused on a boy who would be a man and the predicament that fate had laid in their laps, "but I fear it may not be that easy."

Celboril had quietly entered the main room and stood off to the side, waiting for a chance to speak. He had almost decided to leave the small family to itself and come back for them later when the lull in conversation and the awkwardness of the moment lent him the opportunity he needed. "My lord?" he spoke softly, gaining the elves attention, "Your pardon my lord, but dinner is ready if you are." He left the invitation open.

"I am not hungry." Elrond stated simply, turned back to the window.

"We’ll be right there." Elladan smiled at the housekeeper and nodded, releasing the elf from the room.

Elrohir walked up behind the older elf and gently touched the Elrond’s back, "Father?"

A simple nod answered the unspoken request. "You will both be staying on for a while will you not?"

The twins look at each other in surprise. Thoughts of leaving hadn’t actually crossed their minds and they wondered at the odd request.

"Yes of course." Elladan replied somewhat hesitantly.

"Good." Elrond glanced at each a small smile tugging at his lips. "Let us go see what Celboril has prepared then shall we?"

Elladan watched as his brother and father left the hall before him. Glancing back out the darkened window he whispered. "Find him Legolas, and be swift." Turning on his heels he quietly followed the others out to dinning hall.


Chadoc led the men back to camp. They had had to wait until the wildfire they had kindled had burned itself out, but that hadn’t taken long. The grassfire was quick and hot, but had not spread to the trees and burned itself out fully in less than an hour. A little ways upstream, the riverbed was shallow enough to allow chest-high wading and the small group made its way back across the recently scorched landscape.

Only two or three men had remained behind with the traders’ gear, but upwind and far back in the trees as the location was, there had been no danger of the fire posing any threat to the campsite.

Seobryn stood from their own small fire where he was crouched stoking the flames as if half the meadow had not just been blazed away hardly less than an hour before. He glared at the two rangers bound in the midst of his men, his eyes mere slits as he appraised the intruders.

"Were there only two?" He glanced slowly at Chadoc. The hunter nodded quietly, eyeing the silent rangers.

"They aren’t talking." Chadoc cast his gaze back to the two prisoners. "But I know they overheard us. They were sure in a big hurry to get out of here."

Seobryn nodded pushing one of the men guarding Aragorn away from the ranger. "What did you hear?"

The young dark haired man before him remained silent, casting his gaze out across the ravine. Inside Aragorn was trembling, working hard to control his breathing and steel his face from the apprehension that gripped his heart. It would do no good for these men to think they had the upper hand, he would never tell them what he knew, he couldn’t. One of them had to make it out of this alive and tell the others.

"If you talk now it will go easier on you later." Seobryn’s rough voice grated in his ears.

Beside him Laener stiffened. The older ranger stared straight at the warg breeder, his eyes matching the coldness of the other.

"I suppose you know nothing either?" Seobryn growled glancing up at the tall man. "Of course not." Shaking his head in disgust the trader turned and walked away talking as he paced back through the camp. "Well that’s all right because there are ways to make you talk." He stopped and glanced over his shoulder, "Shall I show you them?"

Snapping his fingers Seobryn motioned to the tree he stopped in front of, "Bring me the tall one."

Chadoc grabbed Laener, shoving the ranger forward towards where his boss stood waiting.

Fear spiked through Aragorn. He couldn’t watch while they tormented Laener for information, he knew the ranger would never give up what he had overheard. He had to do something and do it now. The guards near him were lax watching what was taking place across the campfire.

The camp was in disarray, a small table stood near his left, it was covered in an odd assortment of objects including a burlap pouch and a small wood saw, propped blade up. Seeing his opportunity to escape and knowing that they had precious little time, Aragorn slammed his shoulder into the guard on his left pushing the man off balance and driving him to the ground. Gaining the makeshift tableside he raked his bound hands across the serrated blade and broke the ropes from around his wrists.

Balancing against the tabletop Aragorn kicked out at the guard, rushing him from behind. He caught the man in the chest, knocking the wind out of him and pressing him back. Rounding quickly on the surprised guard he smashed his fist into the side of the man’s head, driving him to the forest floor. Kicking the man over on his back he swiftly drew the hunter’s sword and turned to face the rush of Seobryn’s men.

They had left Laener at their employer’s demand and raced to contain the loosened prisoner.

"Get him now!" Seobryn shouted over the chaos.

"Laener go!" Aragorn caught the blade of one of the trader’s on the edge of his sword, twisting inward towards the man and punching him with his free hand before the hunter could respond.

Laener threw his arms up over his head and jerked his hands hard, breaking free the barely formed knots that held him bound. He ran for the line of picketed horses, intending to lose his pursuers. He hated to leave the younger ranger behind, but one of them had to make it out alive, the information they possessed was too vital and he was not about to waste the opportunity that Aragorn had presented them with.

"Damn it!" Seobryn turned swiftly on his heels seeing the other ranger run off towards their horses. "Stop him!"

One of the hunters heading towards Aragorn paused mid-step. Unslinging his bow he notched an arrow and sighted in on the retreating form. Before Seobryn could stop him the projectile was flying through the air. It slammed into Laener’s back shoving him forward and off balance. The picketed horses balked as the ranger stumbled towards them, shying away from the quick fumbling movements of the wounded man. Overcome by the pain and dizzy from being unable to draw breath Laener tumbled to his knees close to the embankment they were camped on.

As if in slow motion Aragorn saw the ranger fall over the side of the short cliff, the sounds of his own voice screaming Laener’s name fell oddly in his ears as he tried to press forward to help his friend.

Chadoc reached the fighting ranger’s side, realizing he had no weapons he grabbed the first thing his fist closed about: a rough cloth bag that Seobryn had brought with them from their last stop and was now sitting on the corner of the makeshift table. He hefted the weighted sack and threw it into the distracted man’s face in an attempt to stop him.

Aragorn was aware of the fact that Seobryn was yelling at his own men but his vision was suddenly clouded and a choking dust filled his nostrils as the burlap bag smacked him squarely in the face, its contents exploding out of it upon impact and sending him reeling. The images before him distorted as though rippled on the very air that was burning in his throat and lungs.

Taking advantage of the ranger’s confused state Chadoc grabbed a thick limb from the woodpile near the fire and smashed the timber against the side of Aragorn’s head. The wood impacted the ranger’s head with an odd sickening crack and Aragorn crumpled to the ground, blood welling from a deep gash that cut across his left temple. He lay on his side, his eyes half opened and his pupils swiftly dilating; his vision fixed across the camp to the far side where Laener had been.

"What were you thinking?!" Seobryn yelled at Chadoc shaking the now empty burlap sack in front of the man’s eyes. He waved his hand before his face in irritation, brushing specks of the dust that had exploded from the small bag out of the air in front of him. "Do you have any idea what this was?"

Chadoc opened his mouth but was quickly silenced as Seobryn stepped dangerously closer to him, "Now we’ll never know will we? This was for Rhuddryn from that sorcerer. Have you any idea how hard this will be to explain?" He threw the burlap against the chest of the other hunter and turned back to glare down at the ranger on the ground. Aiming a hard kick at Aragorn’s midsection he stormed across the camp yelling instructions to his men.

"Go get that other one and bring him back up here if he’s still alive, this one is no use to us now." He cursed quietly to himself as he threw the flap to his tent back, wondering darkly if the day could get any worse.

Pain exploded inside Aragorn’s head, images swam in front of his eyes and he drifted in and out of consciousness. A sharp constant ringing in his ears pounded in rhythm to the deep throbbing ache in his temple. He did not know what it was he had ingested but it was wreaking havoc with his mind. His breathing came in ragged gasps as he tried to still his convulsing diaphragm, trying to deal with the blow Seobryn had dealt him. He thought his mind deceived him and he blinked wondering why Laener was back in camp once more.

Consciousness taunted him as he fought with himself to remain awake and to try to escape, he needed to help Laener and make Seobryn stop, but his body had long ago failed to respond to him and he lay trapped within himself, his own blood clouding his vision and coloring the scenes before him as his wounded mind tried to deal with what he perceived. And what he perceived was a nightmare.

Sound came and went and he was never sure if it was him who was moaning or someone else. Seobryn’s voice echoed in his ears sharp and angry and he allowed it to be blocked out by the incessant roaring that fired through his awareness.

The last thing he was aware of consciously was seeing Seobryn’s men lift Laener’s lifeless body and throw it back over the embankment that he had fallen from earlier. Tears tracked unnoticed down Aragorn’s bruised face. It is over then, the thoughts whispered to is over. His will to fight failed him at last and his mind withdrew from all the pain and all the hurt and all the ache and sorrow, finding refuge in the darkness in the nothingness that waited to enfold him. was over...

First > Previous > Next