Chapter 6

by Cassia and Siobhan

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“What do you mean?”  Aragorn eased the man down onto the grass as the medics reached his side.  He kneeled over the prone messenger.  “What has happened?  Where?” 

“In Lithiant,” the man continued. “The Corsairs came back.  Small groups have passed by before, but they never stopped... until now.  They are taking the townsfolk for slaves.  They came from out of nowhere.  We weren’t prepared.  My Addie, they took her...” 

“Shh...we’ll get them back.  You rest, these men will care for you.”  Aragorn glanced quickly at the soldiers who cared for the wounded, their curt nods answering his unspoken request.  

Grabbing two of the men gathered around them Aragorn shoved them back towards the interior of the camp saying, “Rouse the men, gather all who can join us, we leave for Lithiant. You!” He pointed to another, “Go get Captain Denethor; Lithiant is under attack, hurry!” 

Turning back towards the guard tent, Aragorn noted Alcarin talking with Gariss and called to the soldier. 

“Alcarin, round up your division. We leave for Lithiant, she is under attack!” the young commander shouted.  They needed all the soldiers they had; this small force had, after all, not been intended to see battle.  

Alcarin nodded and raced back towards where he and his men had been quartered. 

In seconds the camp was mobilized.  Men were running in all directions, obeying the shouted orders being quickly barked out.  In a matter of moments Aragorn was on the move, his soldiers on his heels. They had no time to spare, the Corsairs were ruthless and the ranger had no intentions of allowing those people to be taken. 

By the time they crested the small hills to the north of Lithiant, the town was in chaos.  Corsair soldiers and brigands were running through the buildings and setting the structures on fire.  They behaved more like ravening pirates than soldiers but, although the scene was chaotic, the raid had evidently been very well planned ahead of time to take the city down as quickly as it had.  

With a loud war cry the Gondorian army beset the invaders, routing them by the surprise of their attack into the southern reaches of the sprawling farm village. 

Aragorn led half the contingent in one direction as Denethor swerved in the other, followed by his foot-soldiers as they swept in on the right flank of the Corsair raiders. 

Alcarin had split from the flanking force and joined Thorongil as they drove straight through the center of town, dividing the invading forces in half and trying to cut off their route of escape.  Castamir charged into the fray next to his commanding officer. 

In moments the fighting was so heavy that the Gondorian soldiers were easily separated from one another, fighting pockets of resistance in the middle of the burning town.  The buildings were falling around them as their structures became unstable, sending showers of flaming shards into the air.  Smoke choked the alleyways and muddied streets and still the Corsairs ran through the village, setting fire to what few homes had thus far escaped their destruction.  Horses and livestock that had not been secured by the raiding armies ran through the streets, adding to the chaos. 

Aragorn leapt out of the way as a plow horse dashed between him and the Corsair he was fighting.  The animal, panicked by the fires, careened into the midst of another group of soldiers, breaking up the conflict.  The momentary distraction benefited the ranger as he quickly stepped back in towards his opponent and drove his sword into the man’s midsection. 

A shout to his right drew Aragorn’s attention and, in the momentary lull of fighting around him, he spotted Alcarin one street over from his position, in the midst of a group of Corsairs, battling wildly to stay on top of the skirmish, but the odds were overwhelming. 

“Alcarin!” The Gondorian commander ran towards the soldier, intending to aid him in his fight. 

Smoke swirled up from a barn that had been set ablaze, obscuring Aragorn’s view and he faltered, choking on the thick air.  Bits of flaming straw blew into his face, scalding his cheeks and forcing him back.  The structure swayed uneasily in the slight breezes and as the wind brushed the haze out of his eyes Aragorn watched in horror as the Corsairs beat Alcarin to the ground.  One of them raised his sword high and drove the killing blow into the Gondorian officer.  He heard Alcarin’s scream followed by the shout of anguish from another. 

“Alcarin, NO!” 

A young soldier pelted up behind Aragorn, his sword drawn, his face pinched in horror as he fled towards his downed leader.  A rending shriek diverted Aragorn and he glanced back to see the barn lean to the right and topple into the street, cutting them off from the group of soldiers around their fallen comrade, showering the area in an explosion of flaming debris.  

The ranger turned at the last moment, tearing his gaze from the burning hulk of wood and catching the young soldier that was intent on reaching Alcarin.  He grabbed the youth around the waist and pulled him back out of harm’s way as the wind caught the flames and pressed them towards the Gondorians. 

“It’s too late.” Aragorn consoled the soldier as he turned them both away, shielding the younger man with his body and pushing them back up the hill. 

“No!”  The other fought the restrictions, “He’s my commanding officer. I can’t leave him.” 

“You can’t save him. He’s gone.”  Aragorn pressed the boy back, glancing quickly around them. Denethor was trying to get his attention, pointing with his sword and shouting over the tumult of war.  A small group of soldiers stood round him. 

“What’s your name?”  Aragorn asked the soldier next to him.  The youth kept glancing over his shoulder, tears welling in his eyes.  The captain had seen this before: battle shock.  It was hard on the young ones sometimes when they had their first taste of bloodshed.  Nothing could quite prepare anyone for its ruthlessness.  Getting stuck in his shock, however, was only going to get this young man killed before his time. 

Aragorn shook the boy and dragged him along until they were both running.  “Your name, soldier!”  

“Sir, y...yes sir.” The boy fixed him with a steady gaze, sprinting next to him to keep up as they headed towards Denethor’s position. “My name is Tyrion, Lt. Alcarin was the captain of our guard.” 

Nodding in understanding Aragorn laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “He was a good man, his sacrifice will not be forgotten I promise you tha...” Thorongil’s words died off as he made out Denethor’s frantic shouts.  

“Wait.”  He shushed the man next to him and concentrated, watching the commander’s mouth as he spoke.  The wind that had picked up tore every other word away but understanding dawned on him quickly as he read the man’s lips. 

Denethor cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted. “The Corsairs are retreating and taking the prisoners with them! Take your division and try to cut them off. I will send the others round through the gap and try to box them in!” 
When Thorongil nodded, grabbing the youth next to him and tearing off after the retreating army, Denethor turned to the captain standing beside him.  “Rally what is left of the men who aren’t following Thorongil and stop those blasted Corsairs no matter what it takes.  Assist the commander in anyway you can.” 

“Aye, and you, Commander?” 

“I’m returning to camp with these soldiers.”  Denethor’s gaze darkened as he watched his men running through the valley pursuing the captured townsfolk and overtaking the stray groups of enemy fighters.  An inordinate number of Gondorian soldiers had already fallen, both to the enemy and to the flaming town itself.  Someone of them had to stay to be sure that there were not more Corsairs hiding out there, waiting to ambush those left behind with the camp and the wounded.  They had seen such tactics all too often in the war with the Haradrim and could not afford to fall prey to any unpleasant surprises. 

“We need to set up places for the wounded.” Denethor looked around, sizing the situation up quickly, the storm clouds shrouding his face darkening a shade.  “...and I have some business to attend to.  This attack was planned.  The Corsairs obviously knew exactly when we would arrive and where. They already had the people moved out, they were waiting here just for us.  That means they knew not only that we were here, but also where we were camped.  The town was bait to draw us in and we fell right for it. Many good men have died today and countless innocent people have been taken...” His voice was bitter.  This was turning into a disastrous mission, and he felt the blame for it crashing down upon his shoulders with crushing weight.  He was in charge, which meant he was responsible even for the things he could not control.  

“I will not let it happen again if it is within my power.”  Denethor turned and stalked back down the small hill heading back to camp, his muttered words lost on the winds, “And I think that it is within my power to do so.” 

Turning back to the soldier on the hill he glowered at the man, “Tell Thorongil I have gone back to prepare the camp.  Don’t just stand there!  Move!  Do not leave him unprotected!” 

The soldier’s feet, suddenly freed by the direct command, raced down the opposite side of the hill. He rallied the men in the outlying fields as they chased the Corsairs back towards the south and the harbors where their main contingents where stationed. 


Denethor returned to camp nearly an hour later in the company of the dead and they dying.  His men carried and supported those who could no longer walk as those who had been left in camp raced out to lend aid and set up a swift triage to treat the casualties.  

In his arms Denethor carried the broken body of a three-year-old boy who had died only a few minutes before they reached camp.  Tenderly he took the small body to the grassy knoll where the dead were being laid out and set it next to that of a deceased woman who could have been the child’s mother.  The future Steward’s eyes clouded as he looked over the growing lines of dead and realized how many of them were children.

“Cold-blooded murderers...” he murmured to himself, shaking his head.  “They have no feelings!” 

A voice beside him unexpectedly concurred with his thoughts.  “Vipers, the lot of them!  The Corsairs have no use for the very young; they do not make good slaves, so they are viewed as liabilities and, therefore, disposable.”  

Denethor looked up to see Castamir standing beside him, looking down at the bodies with saddened disgust. 

The future Steward’s face hardened.  Disposable.  Liability.  That could be his little son lying there, or his wife!  What kind of animals did this?  And more importantly, how could they be stopped?  He drew in a deep breath.  That last question at least he knew an answer to. 

“Castamir, come with me.” Denethor turned on his heel, beckoning the other to follow.  “We have some questions that need answering.” 



I hear a voice saying “don’t be so blind”,
Telling me all the things that you would probably hide... 



Legolas knew something was wrong the moment Denethor entered the tent, soldiers in tow.  The fact that Castamir was one of those soldiers did not make matters any better.  Everything that had happened recently had taken its toll on the elf, and despite the small reprieve he had been given here, he was still run down from his rough journey with Alcarin’s division.  However, it did not take much strength or clarity to read the look on Denethor’s face and Legolas knew it boded ill even before the guards pulled him to his feet and prodded him to the center of the tent. 

“You and I need to have a little talk, Legolas,” Denethor fixed him with a piercing glare.  “I don’t pretend to know how you got involved in all this, but I cannot now afford to wait for an official inquiry in Minas Tirith, too much has changed too quickly.  It’s time you started giving us some answers.” 

“Where is Thorongil?” Legolas asked apprehensively, trying not to show the fear that was building inside him as Castamir and the other soldier holding him roughly removed his tunic.  Aragorn had promised him that everything would be all right, but the elf was not sure that Aragorn had as much control of this situation as he thought he did.  The elf was weary and felt horribly as if he knew where this was going to go, where it had been destined to go from the very start.  

“You can hide behind Captain Thorongil no longer,” Denethor said seriously as the two soldiers pressured Legolas onto his knees, binding his hands around the center support pole of the tent and pulling the ropes tight.  “I am in charge of this mission, not he.  It’s my head these lives that have been lost today are on for not taking action sooner.  I was blind.  I did not see the danger because I did not wish to see.  I did nothing to stop this.”  The human’s eyes were dark with his own guilt.  “But I will change all that right now.” 

“By beating me?” Legolas asked quietly.  He wasn’t stupid, he knew what the position he was being placed in meant, he had been there too often to not know.  He held no illusions about what kind of ‘questioning’ this was going to be.  His heart drummed loudly, sinking under the weight of a heavy prick of dread that was quickly pulling it down. 

“If I have to, but I’d rather not.” Denethor paced back and forth, his hands clasped behind him.  He was disturbed, he was troubled and he was going about this the only way he knew how, even though some small part of him warned him it was wrong.  Silencing his conscience, he continued.  “That’s up to you, really.  You can’t have been working alone.  I begin to see now that there are more traitors in our ranks, and out of them, than we could ever have known.  All I want is for you to tell me who they are and how it is that the Corsairs knew we were here?  How do they seem to know our every move before we make it?  What they are planning and what they want!” 

“Oh, I see, that’s all,” Legolas’ tone held a bitter edge.  He already knew how this would end.  “I’d say it is obvious what the Corsairs want.  They want Gondor and they mean to take it by war if they can.  And think you that if I knew who it was that is betraying you to them, I would not have already told you?  If for no other reason than to prove it was not myself?” 

Denethor caught Legolas’ chin in his hand and tipped the elf’s head up.  “A barbed tongue will not serve you here, master elf.  I want answers and I want them now, before any more of my men are slaughtered or any more innocents carried off!  Do you have any idea of the lives that have been lost today?  The men, women, children?!  I will not see it happen again, I will not!” 

“I cannot tell you things which I do not know.” Legolas pulled his head away.  Why did men never believe what he told them?  Perhaps the better question was why he continued to expect them to believe him when they never did.  “And the things I do know you will not heed, so of what then shall we speak?” 

Denethor caught the eyes of the man behind Legolas and gave his head a small, downward jerk.  Castamir nodded. 

The prince tensed and pressed his lips into a tight line as the fiery, familiar bite of a single-tongued lash drew a red, painful stripe diagonally across his back from his right shoulder down to his waist.  

“Don’t bandy words with me,” Denethor’s face was steely.  “You are alone in this, elf; you had better look to your own concerns.  Your Corsair friends do not care what happens to you and you have burned your bridges with any friends you had here.  My patience with you has run out and you have only the choice to answer me or accept the alternative.  Not even Thorongil will stand up for you now, so think carefully before you reject your chance to take the easy path.” 

Another blow.  Slow and deliberately painful, meant to aid his decision-making.  Castamir was enjoying his work far too much, although he knew better than to let the captain see that.  However, he’d felt the traitor had this coming for a long time and was glad someone was finally taking the initiative. 

“Do not speak to me of Thorongil as if you knew his mind.  One falsehood makes all your words sound false.” Legolas’ voice was curt; he was rewarded with another blow, this one quicker and meant to punish.  

“I am not the one who speaks falsely.  If Captain Thorongil did not think this was what you deserved, would he not be here?” Denethor swept his arms around them to prove his point.  True, he knew that Thorongil was not in the camp, but in his own mind he really didn’t think that the other captain could with any conscience continue to stick up for the elf after what they had seen today, so he did not consider himself to be speaking untruths.  “No one can stomach what we have seen and not know you for what you are.” 

“You lie.” Legolas’ gaze was hard.  Denethor’s words were unnervingly lacking in deceit, but the prince would not believe that of his friend, he could not.  It may have been many years now since he and Aragorn had been together for any length of time, but Legolas refused to believe that his friend could have changed that much.  That was not the Aragorn he had talked to only earlier today. 

Denethor clenched his fists, but did not strike the elf as he would have liked to.  He had a job to do here, nothing more, and petty thoughts of personal vengeance had no place.  He’d done enough things wrong lately. He’d ignored a threat that was now proving to be very deadly indeed, and he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes again.  

Another steady, deliberate stroke made Legolas close his eyes and inhale deeply.  

Denethor was silent now for a time, but he watched the elf intently as Castamir metered out the beating with careful deliberation.  Let the pain loosen the elf’s stubborn resolve a little, then he would try again.  He wanted to look away, but forced himself to be still and watch.  Denethor did not like having to witness the way that the fair being flinched each time he was struck.  Torture was not a first, or a preferred resort in Gondor, and Denethor had only witnessed such a small handful of times in his life.  But he had never been the one in charge before.  The notion that he was responsible for the pain of another did not sit particularly well with the Captain, but when he remembered the twisted, heart-breaking bodies of the children who had been forever silenced, his resolve deepened and he swore to himself that he would not be too weak to see this through.  

Legolas leaned forward, letting his head hang down and allowing his tousled, unbraided hair to slide forward off his shoulders and hang beside his face, half-obscuring his tense features.  He didn’t want to show them the hurt they were inflicting, but that was becoming impossible.  At least they would not get to see it on his face.  His loose hair shielded him from their sight and he hid behind that protection as the pain drew more and more of a reaction out of him.  

Jaws tight, the prince braced his bound wrists against the support pole that his arms were tied around, letting his forehead fall forward to rest against the smooth wood as the whip drew another thin line of fire across his back, rocking him forward from the force of the blow and eliciting a soft grimace from the silent elf.  

Legolas was one of the Firstborn, his body always healed without scarring, but just because his smooth skin hid the true tale of how many times before he had felt the bite of a lash, or been beaten senseless at the hands of another, that didn’t mean he did not remember.  Although he was young yet for an elf, sometimes the prince felt incredibly old.  Felt as if he had already seen too much in his life, especially too much pain.  Whether from humans or his own kind... it barely seemed to matter at this point.  All his weary, hurting body knew was that it was happening again and he wanted it to stop.  

An exhausted, slightly jaded sense of despair pulled at the prince. Denethor’s lie about Aragorn’s lack of objection to these proceedings and the conviction with which it had been said was also eating away at the elf, although he refused to really believe it.  Still... Aragorn had also promised him he was safe here. 

Another blow cut deep, making the elf hold his breath and tense before slowly letting it out and pulling in another.  Then they halted for a moment and Legolas tensed again.  They weren’t done with him.  This hadn’t been nearly bad enough for them to be done yet if past experience was any guide.  Being helpless to face the unknown was almost as bad as the pain itself, but Legolas couldn’t even dredge up enough energy to hate his situation.  It was as if he was emotionally empty, the past month having drained him of even his ability to feel anger over the injustice of the situation.  He was worn; badly worn.  He just wanted this over. 

Denethor’s gloved hand pushed the elf’s hair back from his face, tucking the golden locks behind the prince’s ear and turning Legolas’ flushed face towards him with the side of his hand.  The man dropped down into a crouch to place himself at eye-level with his captive.  

“Don’t make it have to be this way,” the future Steward’s voice was soft, but laced with a quixotically hard edge.  The entreaty, however, was earnest.  “I’m not a monster, Legolas. I take no pleasure in your pain, but if it will prevent another atrocity like what happened in Lithiant today, if it will keep any more of my men from being slain or having to watch helpless while scores of innocent women and children are put to the sword and carried off into bondage... then I swear I will not hesitate to press you until your blood runs freely and you beg for either mercy or death.” 

The elf prince was unmoved by the threat.  He had heard the likes of it before and he had suffered through the dreadful fulfillment of such promises more than once.  There was very little Denethor could do to him that would be new.  Of course that didn’t mean that the elf did not feel the familiar, hard knot of fear forming in his insides, but he would never let them see that.  

Denethor saw the jaded ice in the elf’s eyes and switched tactics.  Fear and intimidation weren’t going to get him far unless he either was very brutal or unless he found a weak spot in the elf’s daunting emotional armor.  Since brutality was not his first choice in any case, he decided to try appealing to the elf’s conscience instead.  “You were friends with Thorongil once, Legolas, which means you must have been a decent person at one time, for although there are many things I would call him, traitor is not one of them.  Doesn’t that past mean anything to you?  Do you know what he told me, Legolas?  He said he was willing to pin his life on your honor... don’t make a mockery of that trust.  Don’t let this go on.  Doesn’t the thought of innocent children being slaughtered because they aren’t useful slaves move you at all?” 

Denethor’s eyes burned intensely as he held the elf’s gaze.  The young Captain was desperate to get those missing people back, to keep this from ever happening again, they all were. 

Legolas’ gaze was tired and edged with pain.  Surprisingly enough he honestly believed that Denethor really didn’t want to hurt him, but he knew the Captain would hurt him, perhaps badly.  Denethor would never take the elf’s word that he had nothing to do with the Corsairs and no information that would reveal who the traitor was that was still giving them away.  Denethor needed someone to blame, needed to believe he could find an answer to this unraveling disaster.  Legolas was not going to try to explain the truth again.  They had all heard it before; it wouldn’t make a difference now.  They would believe what they wanted to believe.  The truth mattered little.  

“You presume much to speak of a friendship you cannot begin to fathom.” The elf’s voice was too worn to be sharp and in too much pain to be defiant.  His tone was steady, but held out little hope for himself or for this situation.  “And you, Lord Denethor, will never understand what I feel about all that has happened, nor do you wish to unless it fits with the picture you have already fixed in your mind.  If you would learn the truth about anything, you must first let go what you think to be reality, in order to find what truth really is.” 

Denethor dropped his hand away from the prince and rose back to his feet.  “They say elves speak in riddles.  But I do not have time for games, Legolas.  Answer me plainly or take the consequences on your own head.”  He had already seen what came of being too lenient, too trusting.  People had died because of it.  Because of him.  He would not fail them that way again. 

Legolas just turned away and let his head fall forward to rest against the tent post again.  It didn’t matter.  They wouldn’t listen.  He had known it was coming to this; he had known it since he was arrested.  He had known it since he found himself caught in Denethor’s one-sided power struggle against Aragorn... but that didn’t make it any easier to take now that it was here. 

Denethor’s gaze hardened.  “Very well then!  Perhaps pain will loosen your tongue if there is no shred of conscience or remorse left in your heart over what you and whomever you’re working with have done here!” 

Legolas bit his lip as the lash cut across his back again, curling around his ribs and catching for a moment before being ripped away and brought back for another stroke.  

Edan...” it was the Elven word for human. “You will punish me because I am the stranger, when it is one of your own who is guilty.  Because I am of another race that you do not fully trust and such is the folly of men that they paint with a broad brush that which they know nothing about.”  Legolas hissed between his teeth in Elvish, balling his fists and pressing his eyes closed against the pain washing over him.  

Edhel,” Denethor responded quietly in understandable, if not perfectly fluent elvish.  “Elf, you are not treated thus because of your race but because of your crimes.  The men of Gondor do not mistrust the elves as some of the ignorant races of men do, but neither do we fear them as above the law.” 

Legolas started slightly and looked up when the captain spoke to him in his native tongue.  He had not expected Denethor or anyone else here to understand him.  Yet although Denethor was human, the blood of Númenor was in his veins as surely as it was in Aragorn’s, if not quite as pure and unmingled.  The high arts and languages were still taught to the upper and ruling class of Gondor. 

The next stroke caught the elf while he was still looking up and for a moment Denethor was treated to the full look of pain that tensed the prince’s fair features and glazed his eyes as the elf gasped slightly and grimaced, having been caught unprepared.  The unexpected pain ripped Legolas’ guard down momentarily.  For an instant the human and the elf’s eyes locked and Denethor saw past the calm, closed exterior the prince presented to the world.  The future Steward found himself faced with a gaze that appeared unimaginably old and galvanized by much mistreatment at the hands of men, and at the same time also seemed young, frightened and full of pain.  His own gift of perceptive insight allowed him the privileged look that few men could ever, or would ever see: the elf prince as he truly was, his bared soul. 

Denethor’s eyes narrowed.  This elf might have been more than a dozen times his age, but he was not nearly so stoic or jaded as he let on.  This elf was afraid.  This elf had been hurt before.  If Denethor had been paying better attention he would have seen the honesty behind Legolas’ defense of himself but the Captain’s own past and pain clouded his perceptions and he used what he had seen to his advantage. 

Legolas dropped his head again quickly, horrified at having let this man see so deeply into his vulnerable emotions.  No one got to see that deeply into him, no one.  The prince closed his eyes tightly, once more letting his hair fall forward to cover his flushed features and the humiliating signs of pain that he could not hide as the lash continued to slowly draw bleeding lines across the bleeding lines already layering his back.  

Denethor knelt on one knee next to Legolas.  Part of him was haunted by the look in the elf’s eyes a moment ago, and part of him was afraid that he was going to let sentiment get the better of him.  It was said that he was a man of keen sight who could see into others' hearts.  Well he had just had a straight look into this one’s soul but, as Legolas had said, his own perceived reality tainted those perceptions.  

The human pushed Legolas’ hair behind his ear again, not allowing the elf to hide in that manner anymore.  He laid one hand on the elf’s bare shoulder and turned the prince’s head towards him with the other.  Another stroke from the whip made Legolas tense under Denethor’s hand.  

Legolas closed his eyes, refusing to let the human see into his pain and his fear again.  But Denethor didn’t have to look into his eyes, he could see it in the tense lines of the prince’s face, in the in the way elf’s chin trembled when he pulled it roughly away from the human’s hand.  

“You’re afraid of me,” Denethor said quietly. 

“I’m not afraid of you,” Legolas bit back vehemently.  “I have met beings worth fearing and you do not rank with them. Do not flatter yourself, Captain of Gondor.”  He was so tired of this.  So tired.  And he was afraid, which irritated the prince to no end.  You would think after all his experience... but there are some things to which one simply becomes accustomed.  

“You’re afraid of men then,” Denethor’s voice was searching, appraising and he noticed that although Legolas flinched in time to the next whip stroke, he did not answer this time. 

“But not all men...” the young human’s eyes narrowed as he tried to read the puzzle before him.  Thus far he was doing a distressingly accurate job.  “Only ones who have power over you.  What did they do to you, I wonder, to garner your fear and your hate?  Someone did though, didn’t they?  Humans hurt you.  Hurt you deeply.  And you hate us for that.” 

“I don’t hate you,” Legolas’ voice was quiet.  “And I learned a long time ago that to despise a whole race for the sins of a few was as foolish as it was futile.” Indeed, Legolas’ kind had treated him little better at times and his own uncle had hurt him worse than many. 

The elf hissed softly in pain as the lash found a place on his back that was already bleeding.  He wished that Denethor would remove his hands from him.  Legolas could stand the pain, but he did not like being touched while he was being hurt.  He would never like being touched in a situation like this.  It made him feel vulnerable... or rather, it simply brought home how truly vulnerable he already was. 

“But you do fear us.” Denethor could tell this line of talk was unsettling the elf.  If he had been looking for a weak spot he seemed to have found one.  

“No.” The answer was not as firm as Legolas might have wished.  

“Then why will you not even look at me?” Denethor had pulled his gloves off and he lightly touched the elf’s eyes, which were still pressed closed.  

Legolas jerked and his eyes fluttered quickly open, his gaze hard and flinty.  But Denethor did not miss the fact that the elf had moved away, putting himself farther from the human.  

“More than once...” Denethor murmured.  “I’d wager my life that men have hurt you more than once in your life.  That’s reason enough for the calluses behind those deceptively young eyes of yours, reason enough for fear.  Isn’t it true, Legolas, you do fear us?  And despite what you say one always eventually hates that which they fear.  That’s it isn’t it?  That’s why you killed those sentries on the road to Dalthad, that’s why you sold us out.” Denethor pressed him hard, his hand tightening on the elf’s shoulder.  “Because you’re afraid of us, because you hate us and you want revenge!” 

“No!” Legolas gasped slightly.  The lashing was beginning to hurt incredibly.  “That is not true!  And even if it was, why would I sell one group of men out to another?  What kind of vengeance would that be?” 

“You tell me.” Denethor’s eyes were dark.  “Is it just us in Gondor that you hate?  Is that it?” 

“No,” the elf shook his head again.  “You know nothing of what you speak...” his words cut off when he had to clench his jaw against crying out when the whip bit deep into an already well worked laceration.  Legolas dropped his head, breathing rapidly in pain.  Too much.  It was hurting too severely for him to keep this level of control much longer.  

Denethor pulled Legolas’ head back up, cupping the side of the prince’s face and refusing to let him look away.  

“Don’t touch me.” The elf’s voice was quiet and lethal.  His tired eyes blazed.  

Denethor did not comply.  “You can’t deny it, it’s true.  You did this to punish us, our race, so that we too would suffer as we at some point made you suffer.  Isn’t that so?  Isn’t it?” his voice rose tensely.  

“NO!” Legolas shook his head, his chest rising and falling swiftly and his breathing starting to hitch with the pain he could not longer suppress.  He had had that choice to seek vengeance long ago; it was not one he had taken.  

The future Steward did not relent.  “What did the Corsairs promise you?  What did you consider to be worth the lives of mothers and babies?” 

“Nothing!” Legolas spat, trying to pull his head away, his ire rising with the pressure and the false accusations being placed on him.  

Denethor’s hand tightened painfully on the side of the elf prince’s face, twining in his hair and jerking Legolas’ head back up roughly as another excruciating blow made the elf cry out softly in pain. 

“Who else have they bought?  Legolas, I need to know!  Who else have they bought?!  How are they anticipating us?  How do they know?!” Denethor demanded, his eyes intense and his will an almost physical force. 

Legolas’ body was jerking, spasming because the elf would not allow himself to sob in front of these men.  “If I knew, I would tell you!” the prince’s voice trembled.  “Ú-iston, ú-iston...” Legolas slipped into elvish, his voice hopeless.  

Denethor knew enough to understand that the elf was saying he did not know.  But that was not possible, it could not be.  “You have to know, do not lie to me!  Tell me the truth!” 

Thenin... Truth... What is truth?”  Legolas whispered in despair as the lash continued to fall, reverting back to his native tongue since he didn’t care who could or couldn’t understand him.  “Should it not protect the innocent?  Ah Elbereth... man agornin?  What have I done?  What have I done that I should be here?”  The prince could not keep his shoulders from shaking and he closed his eyes again, turning away as much as Denethor allowed, but he could not hide the few, painful, shame-filled, silver tears that escaped his clenched lashes and slid down to wet the future Steward’s fingers where they lay against the prisoner’s cheek.  

Denethor withdrew his hand as if the elf’s tears burned him, which, emotionally speaking, they very nearly did.  Legolas’ tears stained one of his hands, and the prince’s blood stained the other.  The human took several deep breaths.  Damn!  He was very nearly trembling himself.  What power was it that this being seemed to hold over him?  Maybe elves were magical as tales told, maybe this one was only playing tricks on him, but something in Denethor could not take the sight of the elf’s tears, could not bear to attempt to totally break the will behind those beautiful, pain-filled eyes.  

“Enough.” Denethor rose swiftly, signaling his soldiers to stop the beating.  “Enough.  We... we will question him again later.” The Captain quickly banished whatever he was feeling from his voice.  It would never do for his men to see any doubt in him. 

Legolas’ body sagged forward, allowing the pole he was tied around to take his full weight and hiding his face against his arms.  He was humiliated and ashamed.  Denethor had gotten much farther under his skin than anyone had ever done and if the human had continued to press him, he very well may have broken the elf eventually, for all the good it would have done him.  Dully, Legolas wondered why Denethor had stopped when he was so close to what he seemed to want, but the elf didn’t really care, just so long as it was over, at least for now.  

“Care for his hurts,” Denethor instructed Castamir, gesturing for the other two soldiers to follow him as he turned to leave.  “Stay, make sure he is not disturbed tonight. We will speak again in the morning.” 

The Captain was aware of the dark looks that many of the men had been giving the traitor and with current tensions what they were he wanted to avoid any problems.  Turning away he pushed open the tent flap, the other soldiers following. 

Legolas closed his eyes.  Leaving Castamir to protect him was like leaving a wolf to guard the flock, although he doubted Denethor realized that.   


Aragorn rubbed his eyes wearily with battle-stained fingers.  Frustration and failure rippled through his entire being as he led his company back into camp.  Seeing Alcarin slain before his eyes had bothered the commander deeply.  He had come to respect the soldier and his passing had been brutal, in the fashion the Corsairs were known for.  He had seen too much death and the fact that he had not been able to reach the man in time troubled him.  Much about this war sat uneasily on his conscience.  The sun had set over an hour ago and the area was lighted by torches, but they did little to lift the gloom either of the night or that hung over the soldiers’ hearts. 

They had been unable to catch up with the main host that had taken the villagers away.  They had had too much of a head start and a huge rearguard of their enemy had blocked their passage and held them up for hours.  Although that battle was eventually won, they had lost all hope of re-taking the captives.  

The ranger pushed his hair back out of his face, ignoring the sting of a deep cut that ran across his cheekbone.  He had been fighting for untold hours straight and was almost too weary to feel pain.  His body ached and his eyes wanted to close by themselves, but he first made sure that his men were seen to, and their needs met before he slowly made his way across camp in search of Denethor.  They needed to reconnoiter and try to pull together the pieces of what had gone wrong here.  

The Steward’s son was not in his tent and Aragorn stopped one of his aides.  “Where is Captain Denethor?” 

“He’s in the guard tent sir,” the soldier reported after quickly saluting his superior.  

Aragorn’s brow creased and he tried to rub some of the tired fog from his head.  “Why?” 

“I believe he is questioning the prisoner in connection with today’s events, sir.” The young soldier had barely gotten the words out of his mouth before Aragorn had spun on his heel and was striding quickly in the direction of the guard tent, his weariness completely forgotten. 

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