Chapter 10

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Dark eyes regarded the fallen captain with something akin to amusement, although there was nothing pleasant about the look in them at all.  

“Alcarin?” Aragorn blinked in shock.  Next to him Denethor and Castamir were also staring in surprise.  

“Quite un-dead I assure you,” the traitor in the Gondorian uniform gave a mock-bow.  

Denethor’s face was pale from pain and blood loss but his jaw quivered in rage.  “It was you.  It was you all along, wasn’t it?” 

“Guilty as charged,” Alcarin smiled.  His whole manner had changed; he no longer seemed the soft-spoken officer they had known.  It was as if a mask had been discarded and they could see with true vision now.  He leveled the point of the sword in his hand with Aragorn’s throat.  “And now I have you all exactly where I want you.  Where I have always wanted you and all of your kind.” 

The Corsairs, including the ones dressed in the uniforms of Gondor, which Alcarin had led over, converged around Denethor and Castamir, making any thought of movement impossible.  Roughly they relieved Castamir of his weapon.  The soldier scowled darkly but did not move away from the life-saving tourniquet he was applying.  There was nothing they could do against such numbers.  

“Why?” Aragorn sat up slowly, wary of the blade hovering near his neck.  Shaking his head he rubbed his aching ribs.  Trying anything sudden right now would only result in all their deaths so he acted with caution.  Alcarin had the air of someone who wanted to gloat about his victory, obviously, or else they would all be dead already.  Hopefully if Aragorn could nurse that desire along a little, it would give him time to come up with a better plan.  “What could they pay you to sell out your own countrymen?” 

“My own countrymen?” Alcarin spit in derision.  “THESE are my countrymen, my people.” He snorted, motioning with his free hand to the men standing behind him.  The traitor pressed down a little on his blade, pushing Aragorn further back onto his elbows to avoid being skewered.  

“Or at least as close as I can get to having a people.  I’m a half-breed as you people so carelessly like to call us, but I’m sure you never knew that did you?  No, the high and mighty army of Gondor would never have accepted someone whose father was a Corsair.” He drove the blade down a little further.  “All your high and mighty prattle about laws and justice.  My family never received any!” 

Aragorn, now nearly flat on his back, winced and reflexively pulled back a little more.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the fallen hilt of his sword just out of reach of his out-flung right hand, hidden from their attackers' sight by the boulder beside them.  If only he could scoot a little to the right without Alcarin noticing... 

“Oh but the best joke of all was that my father was far more loyal to you than I have ever been.” Alcarin was still talking, a lot of planning and pain had led to this moment and if he had the time, which he felt he did, then these men would know how they had done this to themselves before they died.  “He was a mercenary soldier and he fought and died in your blasted wars for you, but my mother and I had to live in shame and ridicule as if we were traitors.  We were never accepted.  The grief eventually killed my mother, but I made my way to Umbar and found where I belonged.  Your people called my father a traitor, but he was loyal, and me...” he grinned.  “Ironic, isn’t it?”  He drew back his arm a little, an almost imperceptible motion, but clearly signaling to Aragorn that he was preparing to end this talk.  “The Corsairs didn’t buy me, don’t you understand?  They didn’t have to, I volunteered.  I was planted!  Long ago.  Years and years I have tolerated you people and now it’s over.  Now you pay.  Now you all die.” 

“Yes, just like Elan and Krit died. You killed them, didn’t you?” Aragorn was desperately trying to stall as he inched a little back from the blade hovering above his neck and slowly stretched his hand out towards the concealed weapon.  People like Alcarin could almost always be coerced into talking about themselves and their cleverness a little longer, even in the middle of a battle and especially when they felt so sure of their victory.  “Did you always mean to blame it on Legolas or was that just an accident?” 

Alcarin laughed, but his face sobered a little.  “Your elf friend was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He’s the only part of this I almost regret, but it was too good to pass up.  He almost made it too simple for me.  You all jumped on him just like I knew you would.  Just as was done to my father.  It is so easy to distrust that which is different from you, isn’t it?” he leveled his cold glare on Castamir. 

The other soldier’s eyes burned with rage, but he still didn’t really understand how all this could be yet.  It didn’t make sense! 

“But Castamir was right in his guess of what happened, he simply had the wrong killer, isn’t that true?” Aragorn pressed, stretching his fingers as all the pieces of the mystery came together at last.  “It was you who lured those boys out into the woods and somehow shot them with Legolas’ arrows.” 

“Which he never even knew were missing since I played the part of retriever in his little targeting exposition for the men.  He thought I broke them by accident when pulling them free,” Alcarin put in, obviously very pleased with his own cleverness.  

That was a fundamental weakness of a brilliant plan, Aragorn reflected. There was no enjoyment in it unless you had someone to tell it to after the fact.  His fingers brushed the hilt of his sword.  

Denethor saw the movement and tensed slightly, but made it a point to not look at the other Captain so as to not draw any attention thither.  He began to see what Aragorn was doing and chimed in.  “You dragged the bodies into the woods where your Corsair friends were waiting, they were the ones who fired on the elf and then retrieved the arrows after he left, casting all the suspicion on him.  Then what?  You stymied them and dragged them down here so you could carry on your treacherous ways?” 

Alcarin’s grin turned condescending.  “I had no control over bandits and sudden floods, those were accidents.  But when I heard that a Gondorian troop was heading south, stealthily as if not wishing to be seen... well.  I knew I had to join them.  And when I found out you knew, or were about to know, far too much about our doings downstream... let’s just say I didn’t get much rest when everyone thought we were sleeping before you returned.  I had people to warn.” 

“So you wipe us out before we can take word back to Lord Ecthelion and thus leave Gondor unprepared for your little invasion, is that it?” Denethor’s voice was hard.  “You faked your own death to gain the element of surprise and now your mission is to kill the two of us.  Without captains the whole army would be temporarily crippled.  That’s been your goal all along, hasn’t it, to cripple the army in any way you could?”  It struck the captain hard to realize that Legolas had been telling the truth all along, but he did not have time for the luxury of remorse right now.  

Alcarin nodded approvingly.  “You’re not as stupid as you look.  But I hope that gives you no comfort on your way to the Halls of Mandos.  There are only two pieces of knowledge I want you to take there.” His look darkened.  “That you have all brought this on yourselves, and that your land will fall and your people will serve us in chains!” 

He thrust forward sharply, meaning to kill Aragorn, and at the same time giving the signal for his men to finish the other two.  

Aragorn’s hand closed tightly around the hilt of his sword and he brought it up quickly, rolling to the right and knocking Alcarin’s blade aside.  The traitor’s sword cut a deep groove across his collarbones as he pulled away.  

Denethor, already prepared to act, grabbed the bandage on his leg as tightly as he could, freeing Castamir’s hands.  No order was necessary to spur the soldier to action.  Grabbing up Denethor’s sword, which had been hidden at his side by Castamir’s body and therefore not confiscated with the others, the soldier jumped to the defensive.  

Alcarin swung at Aragorn, making the ranger roll away once more as the blade crashed into the ground where he had been, tossing up sparks.  Gaining his feet, Aragorn crossed sabers with him again.  

“You can dress it up in a lot of words, Alcarin, but you’re still just a traitor!  You murdered men who trusted you with their lives and let the innocent take the blame!” 

Seeing another Corsair about to go after Denethor, Aragorn kicked Alcarin hard, his boot connecting with the man’s chest as he broke away from the fight, jumping over the rock to give assistance.  Alcarin quickly regained his balance and attempted to follow the ranger, but his forward motion was suddenly checked when Castamir leaped on him.  

“You sold us out!  You lied to us!  You killed my nephew and made me believe an innocent was guilty!” the soldier raged as he threw Alcarin backwards with the force of his rush.  

Alcarin recovered quickly.  “No, Castamir, you did that perfectly well on your own.”  Spinning around he stepped inside the other soldier’s guard and got a clean swing at Castamir’s head.  But the stroke never fell and instead Alcarin’s eyes went wide.  He stumbled forwards a step, his mouth opening silently before he fell to his knees, the knife from Aragorn’s boot imbedded firmly in his heart from behind.  

Unfortunately there was no rest for the weary because the enemy just kept coming.  Aragorn and Castamir found themselves being slowly hedged in once more as they stood on either side of Denethor’s prone form.  

Holding the bandage on his leg with one hand, Denethor struggled and tugged at his tangled gear with the other.  With some difficulty he managed to extract the large horn which hung strapped across his chest.  Lifting it to his lips he blew several quick, clear notes: an obvious distress call. 

For a few minutes no one seemed to have heard, but presently a wave of Gondorian soldiers pressed the position from the rear, driving through the enemy as they rushed to answer the Horn of Gondor; all there knew that it was only blown at direst need.  

Given a lull in fighting, Aragorn dropped down beside the future Steward, but Denethor was unconscious, his blood flowing much too freely.  Clamping the bandage down once more, Aragorn and Castamir lifted the fallen Captain and carried him off the battle field as their fellow soldiers cut a clear path through the enemy, pressing the Corsairs back away from their leaders and slowly turning the tide.  

Some hours later the fighting finally died down.  The last of the Corsairs were either dead or fled and the small, rag-tag remnant of Gondorian soldiers were left the victors, if victors they could be called at this point.  At the moment it seemed their only victory had been survival, but that was enough. 

Aragorn was weary beyond measure, but he would not rest until he had seen to all the wounded.  Most of the medics had been killed, leaving precious few who knew more than just rudimentary care.  As much as he wanted to sleep and never wake up, Aragorn knew that he was the only real healer present and the only one who could save some of the more seriously injured.  Tarcil and Castamir stayed with him the whole time, helping as best they could.  Tarcil, he had been instructing in the healing arts, and so between the three of them and their handful of helpers, they somehow managed.  

Dawn had already risen and the sun was high in the sky before Aragorn tied the last suture and placed the last bandage.  He stood up to stretch his back.  When he ended up on his knees again he didn’t know quite what had happened or how he had gotten there, except that he didn’t want to rise.  

Tarcil saw the Captain’s knees buckle and hurried over.  They were all dead tired, but Thorongil had extended himself beyond his reach these past few hours, pouring all he could into the injured he sought to save.  Lord Denethor alone had required hours of attention and much work to sustain since he had lost so much blood.  

Taking Thorongil’s arm, Tarcil gently pulled him to his feet and guided him towards the sleeping area.  Aragorn shook his head, trying to protest.  “Have to... have to check on Denethor once more...” his words were starting to slur.  

“I’ll check on him. He was doing fine the last time.  You rest now or you’ll kill yourself.” Tarcil let the man down easily and laid his cloak over him since there were no blankets left to be had.  

Aragorn didn’t have the strength to protest, but his mind would not rest.  He had not yet found Legolas, either among the living or the wounded... or the dead.  That bothered him greatly.  “Legolas...” he murmured.  “Must find him...” 

“We will,” Tarcil assured.  Grabbing Castamir by the arm as he passed by he pointed at Aragorn.  “Make sure the captain stays put.  Sit on him if you have to.  I’m going to check on Lord Denethor.” 

Aragorn couldn’t have risen if he wanted to, so Castamir just sat down and stared at him for a moment.  Now that the danger was past the soldier wasn’t sure what his position was.  He could have run any number of times, but for some reason he had stayed.  It was hard. Alcarin’s betrayal had confused him greatly and feelings of shame and horror over the way he had behaved towards someone who was truly innocent were beginning to gnaw at his conscience.  

“Legolas...” Aragorn murmured again and Castamir flinched, looking down at his hands.  What had they all done?  He knew he could be horrible when he’d been drinking, but that was no excuse.  He had never liked the elf and he still didn’t, but he would never have treated him the way he had if he hadn’t truly thought him a heartless murderer and traitor.  

“Captain Thorongil?” he said quietly. 

“Hmm?” the tone suggested that the Captain was not really awake.  

“I’m sorry.” It was barely murmured and stiffly said, as one not used to making apologies.  “I-I didn’t know... I was wrong.” 

Aragorn was too weary to hold the man any hatred and too exhausted to think much.  Instead he just nodded slowly as he drifted off to rest.  “Hate destroys us all and always hurts the innocent,” he murmured and was asleep almost before he’d finished.  

Castamir buried his head in his hands, shaking slightly from the adrenaline run-off and emotional shock of recent events.  

That it did.  That it certainly did. 

In the end, hate had hurt them all. 


The wind was strong today and it caught the flags and banners flying from the ramparts of the white tower, making them stand stiffly at attention over the heads of the mustered forces waiting outside the city gates for their commander.  

Inside the city, Aragorn stood in the great hall before the Lord Ecthelion.  With the report they brought back there was no longer any doubt that action was needed and Aragorn had easily obtained the Steward’s permission and blessing to take a force up to Umbar or at least as far was necessary.  

Ecthelion squeezed the Captain’s shoulder one last time in parting.  He had come to care for the younger man like another son, but something in his heart told him this was the last time they would see one another in this lifetime.  “Go with blessings, Thorongil. May your mission be successful.” 

Aragorn nodded and bowed.  There were no words of final parting spoken, but it seemed somehow an unsaid understanding between them as Aragorn turned and exited the hall.  

Leaving the great hall behind, he made his way towards the gate, but slowed and stopped when he saw Denethor sitting in the courtyard, watching him.  The other Captain’s broken leg was splinted and he was seated on a litter on which some of the servants would carry him about until he could make use of the limb once more. 
The injury made it impossible for him to go with the army, so it was only natural that Thorongil should lead this venture, even if not taking into account that he had been its main advocate in the first place.  All the same, Aragorn wondered if Denethor resented him this mission.  The future Steward had said very little to him since regaining consciousness on the journey back to Minas Tirith, almost as if he were half-avoiding the other Captain.  

For a moment the two men said nothing.  Before the impasse could become uncomfortable however, a small voice broke the silence.  

“Daddy!” the tiny child to whom the voice belonged catapulted unsteadily through the archway behind Denethor.  The little boy couldn’t have been quite two years old yet but his bright eyes danced as he ran to Denethor’s chair.  

“Boromir, what are you doing out here?” Denethor questioned in surprise.  His tone attempted to be stern, but his true feelings showed through as he dropped his hand down to run through the boy’s short, wavy hair.  “Did you leave TaTa behind again?” 

“Boromir!  Boromir!” the child’s nurse called in reprimand as she hurried through the archway after him.  But the little boy had not been allowed to see his father since Denethor’s return and was not about to be put off any longer.  The tall chair was too high for the child to scramble onto, but he was trying. 

Aragorn stooped and lifted the small boy up, placing him gently on his father’s lap, careful of Denethor’s bandages and splint.  Denethor smiled in spite of himself as his son burrowed happily into the crook of his arm.  

His nurse came over to take the child away, apologizing for the interruption, but Boromir was ignoring her attempt to get him to come to her. 

“Missed you, Daddy.  Take me with you next time.  I can fight too!” the boy said seriously in his infant voice.  

“Not just yet, little one,” Denethor shook his head softly, letting the child play with his fingers.  “When you’re older.  It’s all right, Tatiana,” he waved the nurse off.  “Let’s go find your mother, Boromir,” he said, much to the child’s delight. 

The servants standing silent and ready lifted his chair at the indirect command. 

Aragorn watched father and son with a small smile.  Interacting with Boromir was the only time he had ever seen a gentle side to Denethor and he hoped for the sake of the child and any who followed after that the future Steward would not drive them with the same relentlessness with which he drove himself.  He feared the result would only be heartache.  

Denethor hesitated a moment, his gaze going back to Aragorn.  “May the campaign be successful and Gondor prevail,” he said at last in way of parting before motioning the litter bearers to take him away. 

Aragorn nodded and watched them leave.  He sighed slightly as he passed out of the gates and made his way swiftly through the city to where the troops were awaiting him.  He did not understand Denethor at all sometimes.  He knew that the Captain felt badly about how he had treated Legolas, but the fact that he had been wrong and Aragorn right had not furthered their relationship.  

Denethor was a good man.  If only he could understand that he didn’t always have to be right in order to not be a failure.  That sometimes it was all right to admit when you were wrong, not just ignore it... the ranger shook his head.  Relations between he and the future Steward would never be what he would wish he supposed, but he also understood that it was becoming too late to change that now, for his time here was drawing to a close.  He considered this to be his last mission for Gondor.  Once he could report that the Corsair threat had been eliminated and the people were safe again then his job here was over.  Just as well, since if Ecthelion was right and his time was failing, Denethor would most likely not continue to welcome or tolerate his presence once the Stewardship passed to him.  

A small, dry grin touched Aragorn’s lips.  At least he and Denethor had not parted enemies.  That was something. 

As Captain Thorongil passed out of the city and moved to take his place at the head of the assembled troops he put all other thoughts aside.  He had a job to do.  He had to ensure the safety of the people of Gondor and then...  

Then he was free.  

Many thoughts and concerns about the coming campaign crowded his mind, but even so, one concern remained ever near the surface.  


He had not seen the elf since the last battle with the Corsairs.  The day after the fight he had searched for hours, he had re-examined all the wounded, checked every body before it was buried, scoured the surrounding area.  Not a trace of the elf, not even his weapons or a piece of his gear left among the ruins.  Legolas was gone without leaving a single clue.  

Aragorn’s first thought, and his lingering hope, was that the elf had taken advantage of the chaos as an opportunity to do what the ranger had been urging him to do and run, since once the attack began there was no longer any way that anyone could definitively blame Aragorn for his escape.  But the human couldn’t be sure, and even if that were the case, he still wanted to find Legolas, to let him know that he was freed from the false accusations, and that he hadn’t killed anyone, by accident or otherwise.  

For that purpose Aragorn had left Tarcil and a small company of men behind.  Partly to keep the area secure, but mostly to look for the missing elf.  Tarcil was the only man Aragorn trusted with that charge and the commander understood the weighty trust his captain had placed upon him.  Aragorn hoped that his second-in-command would have good news for him when he returned with the rest of the troops.  If not... if not, then finding out exactly where Legolas had gotten to and tracking him down, all the way back to Mirkwood if necessary, was on the top of his to-do list as soon as his current obligation was fulfilled. 


Legolas moaned softly.  All he could see was darkness.  He could feel nothing, sense nothing.  The world was a dim, unreal blur.  

“Hey, Goldie-locks is coming around again.”  Rough, disembodied voices spoke from somewhere far away.  

“Well put him back out for crimminy’s sake!” a second voice snapped.  “You want him trying to get loose again?  I can’t afford to lose any more men.” 

Legolas felt what could have been a damp cloth pressed against his face, over his nose and mouth.  He tossed his head and struggled weakly, but in vain, as leaden unconsciousness crept back over his body, plunging him once more into the darkness.

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