The Stars of Harad

Chapter 9

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Legolas sat quietly on the edge of camp as the sun dipped towards the horizon, his quick fingers gliding swiftly over the familiar task of fletching the new arrows he’d made the previous evening. He didn’t really even have to look at what he was doing; after as many years as he had been making arrows, his fingers knew the well-worn paths on their own.

He had been traveling with Seobryn’s group for the better part of five or six weeks. They had covered a lot of distance in that time. The kinder climes of Ithilien and Gondor had given way to the harsher and more unforgiving regions farther south. The people too, began to change.

Dark-eyed Easterlings were a common sight in Near Harad; both the native peoples in their earth-colored robes and the militia in their striking gold and red uniforms that covered all but their eyes. However the further south they traveled, the more these peoples gave way to the darker-skinned natives of Far Harad who built few cities, but populated many tent and mud-hut villages.

Living and working on a daily basis with Seobryn and his men had been more than awkward for Legolas at first, but many small adjustments, including having to learn to sleep with his eyes closed and carry himself with a heavier, rougher manner than he was accustomed to, had served to keep the elf from discovery. He had settled more or less comfortably into his role by now, and his companions had learned that their latest member was not a big talker and preferred to keep to himself most of the time, which was no skin off their nose so long as he pulled his own weight, which he always did.

Legolas had carefully mended the tear in the shoulder of Aragorn’s overcoat, although he no longer wore it all the time for the simple reason that it was too hot down here to wear so much leather. Not that it bothered the elf, but it was another one of those things he’d had to do for appearances. He kept the garment safe, however, rolled up with his gear, for he had every intention of one day being able to return it to its owner.

By now Legolas had found out that they were in fact heading towards the dwelling of the man they called Rhuddryn, the same one Seobryn had indicated that the ranger had been left with, so the elf knew that his goal was growing close. Nibbling at the back of his mind was the horrible question of what exactly he was going to do if the ranger was not Aragorn, but Legolas did not let the doubts waste much of his time. It did no good to borrow trouble; he was just going to have to wait and see.

The subject of the two rangers had not come up often and Legolas hesitated to press it lest he arouse suspicion by his unusual curiosity. Thus far, however, he had been able to gather the idea that Seobryn and his men had turned the ranger they captured into some kind of slave and left him with Rhuddryn to fulfill the same function. Sometimes they laughed as if the whole thing was some sort of big joke, but Legolas failed to find any humor in it whatsoever. Much less so when they carelessly referred to the ranger as Seobryn’s ‘pet’. Legolas feared what had been done to his friend... if it was his friend... the elf pushed the thought away. He’d told himself he wasn’t going to worry about that yet and it was a resolution he meant to keep.

Legolas was aware that someone was watching him, but didn’t look up; he knew it was Seobryn from the man’s step and the cadence of his breath.

Seobryn watched Legolas working the arrow fletchings with skilled fingers. He had to give the kid points for knowing his trade at least; the one he knew as Tyndel certainly could handle himself. He had proven that several times over the course of their long journey. The elf was too quiet for his tastes personally, but he’d rather have a silent man who was on the ball when needed than a loud-mouth who sloughed off when it came to action any day, so the trader did not regret his decision to hire Legolas on. Especially since the elf was largely to thank for foiling a warg attack that might otherwise have proved fatal to the whole party a week ago. That was the reason Legolas needed new arrows in the first place. He had lost quite a few that day.

Of course that didn’t mean that Seobryn necessarily trusted the ‘young man’ yet. He had told Tyndel nothing about their work with the crossbreeding, or what exactly their association with the place they were heading was, other than that Rhuddryn was an acquaintance and a client whom he traded for. Telling his newest employee too much was an unnecessary risk, and Seobryn didn’t believe in people knowing any more than they had to, especially if he didn’t know them very well, and even though Tyndel had spent the past weeks with them, he still felt as if he knew the youth very little.

Presently Seobryn dropped down to sit on the log next to Legolas and the elf looked up for a moment as was expected of him, before dropping his eyes back to his work. That was another thing he’d had to learn. Men were easily disconcerted if he knew who they were and where they were without looking at them. Legolas was using one of his knives to straighten a slight deviation in the arrow he was making and Seobryn watched the blade move with interest.

"You know, I’ve been meaning to ask you, Tyndel, what the story behind those is," he nodded his head towards the ivory-handled knife in the prince’s hand. "That odd scrawl on them, that’s elvish, ain’t it?" He wasn’t sure but he could have sworn he’d seen something like it before and had been told it was elvish.

Legolas considered the knife in his hands for a moment. He had already prepared an answer in case anyone asked about them; indeed, he had thought the question would come up a long time before this, but he had found that the men were not overly observant.

"It is," he nodded.

"Where’d you get a thing like that?" was the next predicable question.

"From an elf," was the truthful answer, but Legolas smiled somewhat wickedly when he said it and let the man’s mind make its own assumptions and leaps about what he meant.

Seobryn chuckled. "You’re a really tough character, Tyndel. Elves, rangers... I begin to think I hired an assassin instead of a hunter."

Legolas just smiled thinly, one of those looks that neither acknowledged nor denied anything. Seobryn had become used to that from this one and just shook his head. He didn’t care if the boy wanted his past kept a secret; most men in this line of work did.

"We’re being followed, you know," Legolas said after a few moments. He had been meaning to broach that subject to the group’s leader and now was as good a time as any.

Seobryn’s head snapped towards the elf and his attention was caught quickly. "What do you mean? By who?"

Legolas made mental note of the fact that Seobryn seemed awfully jumpy, as if he had reason to worry much about such things. The elf had long ago decided that these men were more than the simple traders they purported themselves to be, but just exactly what their true business was he could not yet begin to guess.

"Not who, what," Legolas corrected, his hands never stilling. "For the past two nights I have seen shadows in the trees or the tall grasses near camp. A pack of something large is trailing us, but they are neither wolves nor wargs."

Seobryn seemed to relax slightly, although still obviously concerned with the news. "No one else’s said anything." He silently noted the need for a lecture on his other men’s attentiveness. "But I’ll wager anything it’s a bunch of those blasted taergs that you’ve been seeing."

"Taergs?" Legolas raised an eyebrow as he repeated the strange word.

Seobryn nodded matter-of-factly, then read the question in the elf’s face. "You’ve never been this far south before, have you kid?"

Legolas shook his head. It was true; he had never been this far away from the lands he knew before. The hot and increasingly arid climate was unlike the places he was used to and even the stars were strange here, holding nothing familiar in their sparkling firmament.

"Didn’t think so. You don’t get wargs down here, or many wolves either. The weather’s wrong for them or something, but whatever the reason, they just don’t survive this far south," Seobryn explained. "Now taergs, they’re a different story. They’re like huge cats, big as a horse sometimes, with fangs as long as your hand. They can kill a man or beast with just one bite. I’ve seen it happen. Some breeds of them are only nocturnal, but the most dangerous kinds are day-hunters. Now they’re the opposite of wargs, you see; you take them up north, away from their natural habitat, and they don’t make it very long. I’ve seen that happen too. They don’t actually hunt in packs so much, like wargs do, they’re more solo hunters, but sometimes you’ll get three or four working together.

"Watch out for them, Tyndel. They’re ferocious when hunting, or when they think they’re being threatened. Not as aggressive or easy to provoke as wargs, not by a long shot, but nearly twice as dangerous if they go after you. They can move with absolutely no sound so you don’t even know they’re there until it’s too late. If there’s more than one of them trailing us it means one thing, drought in the higher regions has forced them down here into the valleys searching for food and they’re not too picky about what they get. We’ll have to double our watch."

Legolas nodded, absorbing all he could about this new threat and matching it up with the shapes and shadows he had been seeing. When in a new place like this it was best to know up front what he was dealing with. For a fleeting moment the elf thought it mildly surprising that Seobryn knew so much about taergs and wargs, or that he compared them so often just now, as if speaking of the pros and cons of each species. The trader didn’t seem the kind to pick up a lot of trivia that didn’t directly benefit him like that. But the thought did not appear to have any importance at the moment, so it slid away without much notice.

That night when he was on watch, Legolas saw the faintly glowing eyes in the darkness outside camp again, and this time he had a name to put with them. But the taergs kept their distance and gave no indication of being ready to make a move against the occupants of the camp and when morning came they had disappeared from sight once more, although Legolas was sure they were not far away. He would be watchful. 


Two or three days after Legolas had first sighted the eyes in the night, they reached Rhuddryn’s estate. The previous evening the taergs had come closer than ever and Legolas had actually been able to see the markings on one's face, but they had faded with the dawn once again. However, Legolas was uneasy. The other men seemed to consider the danger past now that they were entering familiar territory, but Legolas couldn’t shake the feeling that the beasts were not content to be silent shadows much longer.

Legolas looked around him as they walked. Although there were no fences or walls or clear demarcations, it was obvious that they were now on someone’s property rather than in the wilderness, because the trees were tended and evenly spaced, the flora and fauna was tamed, and the evidence of human habitation was everywhere. Presently they did come upon a high, stone wall through which they passed into the inner grounds of the estate. The magnitude of the place was staggering. Even Legolas’ sharp eyes could not find the end of it. The fields and groves that confronted them seemed to go on forever in every direction, and here, there and everywhere Legolas could see the bustle of human activity, although from this distance he could not see what kind of work was being done.

Ahead of them, surrounded by some of the prettiest of the native manga groves, was a large house of almost palace-like proportions that Legolas rightly guessed must belong to the owner of this place, the man they called Rhuddryn. They did not proceed to the house, but set up camp in the shelter of the trees to the far right of the structure. Seobryn disappeared to talk to the master of the residence, but the rest of the men stayed in camp, content that their journey was over.

It was several hours before Seobryn showed up again. Another man was with him. From the way he carried himself, as if he were lord of everything he saw, Legolas guessed that this was Rhuddryn. The two men did not seem to be making for the camp, but rather strolling beneath the trees, enveloped in their own conversation. Legolas tried to hear them, but they were too far away. Suddenly a slave ran up to them and spoke quickly to Rhuddryn. From his manner, Legolas could tell the slave was greatly distressed or frightened about something.

While Rhuddryn dispensed orders to the slave and ran off in one direction, Seobryn quickly changed course and approached the camp. "Chadoc, Tyndel, Malk, Vavon, Teek, Zelbo," Seobryn quickly picked out his best warriors. "Get your weapons. Seems they’re having a little taerg problem."

As if to emphasize his words, a high-pitched woman’s scream echoed from not far away, followed by other shouts, screams and frantic yelling, most of which were uttered in a language Legolas did not recognize. However, the panic and pain in the voices was only too easy to read. The elf already had his bow in his hand and was running through the manga trees towards the source of the disturbance almost before the others had even started, although they were not far behind.

Legolas outdistanced Seobryn and his men without even trying and arrived first. Three large taergs were easily visible on the grassy plain near a portion of the stone wall that surrounded the grove. One stood over a dead mule, feeding from the carcass and fiercely protecting its kill. The other two were going after the desperately scattering slaves who had been busy harvesting the ripe manga fruits from this grove. Before one even had time to wonder how the taergs got in, a fourth beast dropped easily from the limbs of a tree that grew outside the wall, but overhung into the manga grove. Obviously, the taergs were skilled climbers.

Rhuddryn had arrived as well, but he was alone, the men he had sent for not having arrived yet, so he remained on the safe side of the clearing, away from the fray, a deep frown on his face.

As Legolas brushed lightly by him the thought flashed through his mind that these were probably the same taergs that had been tailing them for the past several days, but that hardly mattered at the moment.

Stringing an arrow faster than sight, Legolas shot one of the taergs in the throat. The large beast growled and turned on the elf. It only took Legolas a moment to realize that he was going to have to be a lot more precise than that, since the taergs’ hides seemed difficult to pierce, and the creature was advancing on him, even though it had one of his arrows protruding from its neck.

Quickly aiming again, this time Legolas’ arrow caught the taerg in the eye and it fell dead on the spot.

Sighting in on a second taerg that had pounced on one of the fruit-pickers, about to deliver a killing blow, the elf felled the creature with one shot, now that he knew where to aim for the quickest kill.

Another scream rent the air. A woman was desperately trying to climb one of the manga trees to get away from the taerg that was going after her. It was a futile gesture; the great cats could climb better than humans could. Legolas sent an arrow deep between the creature’s shoulder blades, but although it slid down the tree a few feet, it did not give up on its cornered prey. They were hidden in the branches and Legolas could not get a clear shot.

Running across the field and letting loose another arrow if nothing more than to distract the great cat, Legolas sprang up into the tree, putting himself between the ravening beast and the terrified woman. White fangs greeted him, snarling and slashing with a speed and fluidity that was frightening. The creature’s huge claws grazed across the elf’s arm, scratching him, but doing no serious damage because the prince’s quick reflexes saved him. Pulling one of his knives, Legolas jammed it under the creature’s chin, forcing the blade up sharply, before quickly pulling back to slash the hairy neck. The taerg fell out of the tree almost without a sound. It was eerie how quiet these creatures could be, even in death. Legolas had never battled anything quite like them before and he saw that, at least in this case, Seobryn’s account of them had not been exaggerated.

Dropping quickly out of the tree himself, Legolas looked up in time to see Seobryn and his men arrive, followed shortly by Rhuddryn’s guards. They were attacking the remaining taerg that had left the mule carcass in favor of confronting the newcomers.

Suddenly a heavy weight landed on the elf’s shoulders, knocking him to the ground before he knew what had hit him. Legolas rolled over only just in time to see the flash of glistening fangs before they would have closed around his throat in a killing snap. Jabbing the knife still in his hand up into the creature’s chest and heaving upward with all his strength, the elf dislodged the beast enough to allow him to roll away. He slid quickly under the taerg’s jaws, avoiding the creature’s claws. For a moment it rattled him badly that he had not been aware of the fifth creature’s presence, nor sensed its approach, but he allowed no time for shock, which was well because he had no extra time to spare. He was dealing with a new breed of threat here, one he’d not faced before, but he wasn’t about to let that shake him for long. His knife was still buried in the creature’s chest and it was howling madly in rage as it pounced at him. Rolling swiftly and springing to his feet, Legolas nocked and shot an arrow in less time than it took to blink. It caught the creature right in the center of its open, snarling mouth. It fell dead at his feet, barely five inches away from him.

About the same time, Seobryn’s men and Rhuddryn’s guards finished off the other taerg. A hushed quiet fell over the grove.

Legolas took a deep, steadying breath to recover from that last little shock and then calmly pulled his knife out of the dead taerg, wiping the blood off on its tawny hide.

He felt a little sorry for the creatures, for although they were deadly hunters that could catch even an elf unaware, he did not feel malice or evil in them, as one did in wargs and other twisted beasts of darkness. No, these were just creatures hunting food. He felt no compunction about killing them to protect the lives of others, but that didn’t mean he did not regret that it had to be that way. He supposed that if one was not lower on the food chain than they, the taergs would be beautiful to watch in motion.

"Hey Tyndel, you all right?" Seobryn called as the others approached Legolas’ position. Legolas thrust his knife into its sheath on his back once more and offered the frightened slave woman, who was still cowering in the tree, a hand down. The woman seemed hesitant to accept it, but was shaking and crying too hard to do make it down on her own, so she finally gave in.

"I’m fine," Legolas called back, while checking to make sure that the same was true of the trembling fruit-picker. The woman leaned against his arm, holding onto his shoulder tightly for balance as she got over her fright at nearly being eaten. "Thank you," she whispered.

The others reached the spot. Seobryn was laughing. "You did it again, Tyndel. You know, like I’ve told you before, you really didn’t have to try to handle it all by yourself. Do you have a death wish or something? You coulda waited for us."

"People would have died," Legolas tilted his head. "I’m fine."

"People?" Seobryn shrugged. "Just slaves. But hey, I don’t care, it’s your life," he shook his head with a bemused grin. Sometimes he thought Tyndel was a little odd and definitely too much of a risk taker, especially considering situations where there was nothing in it for him.

Rhuddryn’s guards arrived a moment later and the slave woman quickly backed away from Legolas, but not quick enough for the guards who grabbed her by the wrist and yanked her away, slapping her and letting her fall to the ground.

Startled to no end by the abrupt treatment, Legolas moved quickly in her defense, stepping between the guards and the woman before they could hurt her any further. "Why did you do that?"

The guard pulled up short, obviously surprised that one of Seobryn’s men was interfering. They usually never did. "They aren’t allowed to touch their betters without permission," the man explained, as if it were perfectly logical and common knowledge.

Inside Legolas rankled at the sheer disrespect and contempt for another living being that was being shown here, but he knew such feelings would serve no one so he held them inside and did not let them out, but neither did he move away from the slave woman. "She didn’t touch me, I touched her; I did not know. Don’t punish her for my mistake."

The guards shifted somewhat uneasily but shrugged. "All right then, you heard him. Get out of here, Myrta, get back to work," the guard brusquely ordered the woman, who scrambled quickly to obey. "This isn’t a holiday, come on, everyone back to work!" the guards started calling to the other slaves who were still standing around, staring at the dead taergs. The guards then moved off to organize a few groups of the workers to remove the bodies, leaving Legolas and Seobryn’s men alone with Rhuddryn who had just made his way over.

Rhuddryn was watching Legolas. He had been there to see everything that had happened and although he was not about to admit his admiration out loud, he had never seen anyone take on and take out four taergs all by himself. Nor had he ever seen such accuracy with a bow before. This new young man of Seobryn’s interested him greatly.

"You’re quite a sharpshooter..."

"Tyndel," Seobryn supplied for Legolas, glad to be able to brag on the abilities of his men. "Yes he is. Now you see I wasn’t kidding you about how he handled that warg attack we ran into up north."

"Well, you have my thanks, Tyndel. I don’t like to have to replace slaves if I don’t have to. They’re expensive," Rhuddryn remarked casually.

Legolas just nodded with a slightly thin-lipped smile. "Always glad to help. But I have to wonder what brought the attack on," the elf shook his head. Now that he had time to think about it, it bothered him. "I’m almost certain these are the same taergs that have been hounding us for the past few days, but they seemed hesitant to attack... why would they chose to do so when it would be harder for them than it would have been in the wilds?"

Everyone shrugged somewhat uncomfortably and Legolas immediately realized that somehow he had hit on something that no one wanted to talk about.

"They’re just stupid brutes, what do they know? They got tired of waiting I guess," Seobryn muttered.

"More likely it’s that," Rhuddryn said after a moment, pointing to the large refuse pile that was stacked against the back wall a few lengths off. "Kitchen scraps are thrown there and the smell of the fresh blood and rotting flesh probably attracted them. I’ll have the slaves move it away from the wall. And they were supposed to have gotten rid of the trees along the outer fence yesterday. I will have to speak to my overseers about the lapse."

Legolas nodded. The explanation made sense, but he still felt like there had been a moment where the others were thinking something else, something they either didn’t want to tell him, or didn’t want to say out in the open. He wasn’t sure which. What it was, however, he could not begin to guess.

"We’ve been having quite a problem with the taergs around here lately," Rhuddryn remarked as they moved away from the site of the near disaster, heading back towards the house and camp. "The dry weather here has brought them down in droves to the nearest water sources they can find, which, unfortunately are here on my estates. They have been bothering the herds especially, culling out the little oliphaunts and even the big ones occasionally. Done more damage to my Olybryn though actually, because the herders are easier to take down than the oliphaunts. Don’t suppose I could interest you in a job, Tyndel? I pay very well."

Seobryn laughed and interjected, cutting off any response that Legolas might have made. "Oh no you don’t. I don’t try to steal your men from you, Rhuddryn, and you don’t take mine from me. Besides, what would a kid like him do stuck around a place like this all the time? Youngsters want to see the world, not sit herd for a bunch of oliphaunts."

Rhuddryn didn’t really seem surprised or offended by Seobryn’s unwillingness to lose the young man. He would have been surprised if the trader hadn’t protested, but couldn’t resist making the offer. After all, if he could get one man to do the job of several, which Tyndel obviously could handle... then he would save a lot of money. It had been worth asking anyway, and, he noticed, Tyndel had not been the one who refused. They would just wait and see.

Legolas did not care too much for being spoken for, or for Seobryn acting like he owned him, but he wisely kept his mouth shut and just followed along as the conversation turned to other things. 


Rhuddryn sat on the shady veranda of his big house, working at a desk that had been brought out for him, as he often did when the weather turned especially hot. One of his slaves stood unobtrusively behind him, fanning the landowner with a slow, steady rhythm.

Between his lips Rhuddryn held a smoldering migar, sucking slowly on the unlighted end of it as he worked. The milani leaves that were specially treated and rolled to create the migars were native to this part of Harad and becoming quite a popular cash crop. The landowner had almost invested in planting milani fields instead of getting into this whole breeding business with Seobryn, but the money had simply seemed too good too pass up. Now he was beginning to wish that he had gone with his first idea instead.

Rhuddryn smoked quietly for a few minutes, deep in thought. Things were not going well. He was a very skilled breeder, as his excellent oliphaunt herds attested. However, it was not oliphaunts he was concerned about. The crossbreeding they were attempting out in the south hills was another matter altogether, and it was either failing, or turning up very undesirable results.

And now this taerg problem. Somehow or another he knew it was related to what he was working on out in the far southern portion of his huge estate, as if the taergs were coming seeking those of theirs that he had been forced to continually capture and bring here in the course of the trial. The bottom line however, was that the taergs were costing him money. A lot of money, and if things fell through with his current contract, then he was going to be out a substantial amount, with no way to make up for it. The man grimaced in irritation, dropping the small stub that was left of his migar and rubbing it out under his heel with more vehemence than was necessary.

"Master?" A quiet voice made him look up to see the face of one of his house slaves. "Someone here to see you, Master, one of Mister Seobryn’s men."

"Show him over," Rhuddryn could see from where he sat that the person in question was Seobryn’s latest acquisition. The one called Tyndel. Seobryn had been back for about two weeks, but he was getting ready to set out again, for supplies and news this time, and didn’t know how long before he’d return.

Work was getting very serious out in the south hills, and Seobryn had kept busy while he was there, although his men were not always with him. Just how busy the trader had been was evidenced by the fact that he had never taken time to reclaim his slave, Adrar, from Rhuddryn, but seemed content, for the time being at least, to leave the slave completely to the other’s care and ownership. That was not something which Rhuddryn minded greatly however, because Adrar had proved himself a very hard worker in the months he had been here, and got on well with the other Olybryn, especially the Simbani tribe which seemed to have more or less adopted him. Any slave which hadn’t cost him a penny to buy was a good one, and he was no longer seriously worried about the young man’s memory returning. It seemed that it was truly gone for good.

Rhuddryn was curious about why Tyndel wanted to see him. He had seen little of the fellow the past couple weeks. "Hello, Tyndel, won’t you have a seat?" he offered when Legolas halted by his desk. Pulling another migar from his desk drawer, he proffered it in the prince’s direction, but Legolas declined. The land owner shrugged and took it himself, clipping off one of the twisted ends of the thin cylinder with a small, silver cutter he pulled from his shirt pocket before lighting the freshly trimmed stub. "Can I help you?"

The elf accepted the chair and sat. "I think you can, if you were serious when you offered me a job before."

Rhuddryn sat back in his seat, steepling his fingers. This was interesting. "You want to leave Seobryn?"

"I want to know if you’ll make me a better offer," Legolas played his role calmly. He had spent his entire time here trying to search the grounds for any sign or mention of a ranger, or a northerner, since there weren’t many around here other than Rhuddryn and Seobryn and his men. But the estate was huge and he was getting nowhere. Now Seobryn was getting ready to leave and Legolas did not want to go. If he worked for Rhuddryn, he would have free access to the grounds without seeming snoopy or suspicious and he would be able to stay and continue his search.

"That depends on what you consider better..." Rhuddryn named a figure.

Legolas knew better than to accept the first offer, although he really couldn’t have cared less about the money.

After a small bit of haggling, Legolas accepted the terms, which pleased Rhuddryn to no end, because he honestly would have gone up more if seriously pressed, but was glad to get by for less.

"You know, Seobryn isn’t going to like this," Rhuddryn remarked, not really caring what the trader thought. After all, it wasn’t as if he were stealing his men. Tyndel had come to him.

Legolas just smiled somewhat darkly. "He doesn’t have to like it."

Rhuddryn chuckled. "I think we understand one another, Tyndel. Welcome to my service." 


Seobryn was not pleased at all, but he couldn’t change Legolas’ mind and he had no wish for bad blood with Rhuddryn, so in the end he grudgingly let the matter go and set off about his business, leaving and taking his other men with him. Legolas was glad to see them go; living with them this long had not been easy.

Now the elf was once again plunged into a situation that was totally new to him, but in the course of the past months he had become quite good at adapting to whatever the moment called for and he did not have any trouble settling into his new job.

Several of Rhuddryn’s head overseers showed him the lay of the estate, or at least, the parts of it that he was going to need to worry about. They explained where the taerg attacks happened most often, and told him the shifts of watch that he would be responsible for. The last item of business was giving him a quick tour of the Olybryn huts, where lived the slaves who tended and cared for the oliphaunts.

Since all the paid employees on the estate were above the slaves, Legolas was expected to be an overseer and guard for the slaves, as well as a marksman to guard the herds; Rhuddryn had explained that to him when he hired on. Legolas could not abide the practice of treating other sentient beings as if they were goods or beasts of burden, but he wisely kept his thoughts to himself and forced back the ire that rose in his throat every time the slaves were referred to or treated as mindless commodities.

Legolas was brought to the Olybryn huts in the early morning, when the slaves were being mustered out front for the day’s assignments. In the sea of chocolate skin, black hair and dark eyes that comprised both the slaves and the overseers, Legolas stood out very pronouncedly and when they thought no one was looking, the slaves’ eyes followed this newcomer curiously.

Legolas was in fact one of only a very small handful of northerners that Rhuddryn had in his direct employ.

A small child’s voice piped up from among the slaves as a little boy tugged on his mother’s skirt, pointing at Legolas. "Look mama, another adrar!"

"Hush, Kidrin!" Mambre knelt quickly to silence the child before he got in trouble. Fortunately for them, none of the guards seemed to care about the little one’s outburst of curiosity. However, Legolas’ eyes were drawn to the scene, quickly sweeping over what was obviously a family. A mother, a father, children of varying ages... then his eyes caught and stopped.

Standing next to a tall young man who was probably an older brother of the child who had spoken, was another person who stood out of place amidst the gathering.

The young man upon whom his gaze fastened was tall and stood erect, although his eyes were fastened down on the dust at his feet in the expression that all the slaves wore. The slave’s skin was bronzed a deep tone from the harsh southern sun, but it was obvious at a glance that underneath the dark tan he was a northerner like Legolas, and not a Haradrim. The young man’s hair was wavy and dark, but the sun had lent red and gold highlights to it. Although the physical appearance was very different from the last image Legolas had in his mind, the elf didn’t even need a second look to tell him that his search had just ended.

A huge weight seemed to lift off his chest as he felt that for the first time since meeting Seobryn at the inn and finding out about the two rangers he could actually start breathing again. It was Aragorn. Aragorn was alive.

Aragorn’s eyes flicked up from the ground, as if he could feel the prince’s gaze upon him. For the briefest of moments their eyes met, then Aragorn quickly dropped his gaze back down before he got in trouble again.

There had been no visible sign of recognition in the young Dùnadan, but Legolas knew his friend had seen him. It was well thought of he realized, of course Aragorn wouldn’t want to give away to the guards buzzing all over that there was anything between him and Legolas.

The overseer next to the elf had been quickly filling him in on the day’s routine as they walked down the line of gathering slaves. The other guards were already busy about giving the slaves their work assignments for the day. The man stopped when he realized Legolas had stopped moving. "Something wrong?"

"No," Legolas quickly shook his head and caught up. "But I’m a little surprised. I thought all the slaves were more or less local."

The overseer just chuckled. "Oh you mean Adrar. Your previous boss brought him here a couple of months ago. Not quite right in the head that one. Now, over here’s where the supplies are kept for the..." the man moved on with his swift tour.

Legolas wondered about the guard’s comment, but did not take it too much to heart; these men always talked about the slaves as decidedly inferior. However, the sooner he could get a chance to catch Aragorn alone, when they could talk, the better.

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