Title: Hidden Agenda ch 17 Author: sheraiah For full disclaimer, see chapter 1.

A/N: Well, I'm still writing, albeit far slower than I'd like. Real life is crazy busy and fun stuff like this unfortunately gets relegated to the back burner. Just know that I have no intention of abandoning any of my stories, with the exception of my POTC fic 'Pearl of the Sea'. I'm also doing a massive re-write of 'What Comfort You May Find' which will eventually replace the current story. If you're especially fond of it, you may wish to make a copy of it, It will eventually get taken down. Other than that, I do intend to complete all works in progress.

It was not often that Aragorn Elessar Telconter swore. He had often been heard to say that swearing was an indication of a lack of vocabulary. However, there were times that nothing summed up a situation so well as a string of curse words. This was one of those times, and Aragorn was doing it justice.

His foster brothers, now law-brothers, sat off to the left of where Gondor's king was pacing, very quietly discussing the stream of words coming from the mouth of their sister's husband.

He got that one from Legolas, I am certain, Elrohir said, sotto voice. His twin nodded.

I think you are right. Oh, that was one I have not heard before! He and his brother exchanged a look before agreeing, Eomer. Elladan's eyebrows rose at the next one. That had to be Halbarad, Valar keep him.

I am certain I have heard that last one coming from my lord's mouth a time or two, Luinloth chimed in softly from behind them. Is this a private game, or may any play?

No, you are welcome to join in, for so long as he keeps it up, Elrohir said, equally quietly. He has yet to surpass Legolas' record for endurance, but he's made up for it with diversity.

Hmm, that one sounds dwarvish. Gimli, then, the older elf opined.

I am sure you are correct, Elladan said. He has not run down yet, he might well surpass Legolas.

He has not begun with Quenya yet, Brother, Elrohir said. And to be fair, Legolas had both that and Avari to fall back on.

He probably knows some good ones in dwarvish by now.

He does, Luinloth confirmed.

Morgoth's Balls! This is not the time for that nonsense! We have just lost the only lead we had into this mess! Aragorn threw up his hands in exasperation. Thus far everyone we have linked to this conspiracy has ended up dead before we could question them, and right under our noses as well!

With respect, my Lord Elessar, we are not so badly off as all of that, Luinloth said, a speculative look on his face. True, having Durmir wind up dead in his cell is a setback, but not an insurmountable one. Aragorn frowned thoughtfully, his eyebrows rising a moment later.

Serai's father. Durmir was the only one who knew of that connection. He sighed, walking to his chair and dropping into it. This will have to be handled carefully. Regardless of his cruelty to her, he is still her father and I would not have him harmed for her sake.

Yes, Elladan agree, shifting forward in his chair. I would have the child have no more regrets where he is concerned than she already does. Whether she will say so or not, she loves him still, despite his actions towards her.

Agreed, the king replied. I would also not lose this source of information as we have the others, regardless of who he is. Suggestions?

I would hide him somewhere besides the Citadel. Somewhere where agents of this conspiracy would be unable to reach him, Luinloth said. Somewhere like my prince's current home.

I agree, Ithilien is the one place that anyone trying to reach him to silence him would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb, Elladan said, sitting up straight.

And the elves are beyond suspicion in this, Aragorn said, obviously thinking furiously. We would have to move swiftly. Luinloth, are there any among those that accompanied Legolas or King Thranduil that you would choose to escort Serai's father to Ithilien?

Aye, myself, Mennelion, Carandraug, Glorlas, and Duinion, the older elf replied. Pending my Lord's approval, of course.

Of course. Let us go share this with King Thranduil and Legolas so that we may act sooner rather than later, lest we lose this link as well.

Seldar, son of Saldon, rolled over in his bed with a groan and sat up, fumbling for the bottle he kept on the table next to his bed. Two long draughts from the bottle and he thought he might feel well enough to try to find the slop jar. A glance showed it to be full, making his stomach lurch. No matter, the back door of the small house he occupied led to an alley. That would do for his purpose and he stumbled out, only just clearing the door before opening his breeches. He braced his right forearm on the wall, and rested his forehead on the cool stones, sighing in relief. The wind caught the door closing it and startling him briefly, but he shrugged, returning his forehead to the wall and closing his eyes.

He drifted, thinking of nothing but finishing the bottle inside his house before he left to earn enough money for another, when faint noises from inside his house reached his ears. Seldar paused, for once having clarity of thought enough to see the need for caution, and the made his way down the alley as quietly as he was able. Just as he ducked behind some barrels at the back of the cloth merchant's shop at the end of the alley, he heard the back door of his house creak on it's hinges.

Damnation, the old sot isn't here!

He can't have gone far, look! The alley stinks of piss, and this puddle is still fresh. Where would he go this time of day?

He earns a bit of coin carting away grease and rags from the taverns in the city, the first voice said. He'd likely be on his way to get his cart.

Too public for our needs, what does he do after?

What else? He drinks up his profit in the Archer's Rest.

Hmm, it's dim enough in there for our purposes. That'll do. We'll wait for him there, buy a couple rounds for him, and make sure he doesn't leave the public room alive. Seldar heard the door close. He remained crouched behind the barrel, shuddering, for what seemed to him like hours. He did not dare enter his home again, the men had almost certainly left someone watching it. Where could he go?

Well, it seems you have gotten yourself into quite the predicament, have you not? a cheerful voice said just above and behind his right ear. He startled violently, swinging around to confront the owner of the voice, only to fall onto his rump in shock. The voice's owner, a dark-haired elf, was perched cross-legged atop one of the barrels. I should think swearing off drink would be the second thing on your list of things to do today, the elf continued, a smirk crossing his lips briefly before a look of utter seriousness replaced it. Right behind getting to your knees and thanking Eru that the daughter you threw away still loves you and has made some powerful friends. He rose gracefully and held out his hand to Seldar. If you would like to continue living, I suggest that you accompany me.

Two hours later, Seldar huddled miserably in the back of a wagon, covered by a tarp. He had been taken to an unoccupied house, allowed to bathe and change into clothing the elf had somehow found for him, and then was bundled into the cart and warned not to make a sound until he was told otherwise. He had dozed, feeling ill, for most of the past hour. His ears told him that they were beyond the city walls now, but he had no idea what direction they were taking him in. His head was pounding, and his stomach felt like it was going to rebel at any moment. Suddenly, the cart stopped and the tarp was thrown back.

This is as far as I go, the driver of the cart told him. You can get out and stretch your legs a bit if you wish. I imagine your escort for the rest of your journey'll be along in a bit. Seldar stumbled out, nearly falling until the driver steadied him. Here, he said, handing Seldar a waterskin. It's not the hair o' the dog, but it'll help. Seldar took a careful sip, drinking more deeply as he recognized the flavor of the herbs in the water as a common remedy for over-indulgence.

Thank you, he said, leaning against the cart and taking another draught. The man shook his head.

I'm not doing this for you, sir. Get that straight now. I'm doing this for Serai. Valar know why, but she doesn't want anything to happen to you. It's far better than you deserve, after the way you treated her.

How do you know Serai?

Well, sir, I intend to marry her and will count myself the luckiest of men if she'll have me, the driver replied. Name's Lorran, son of Lorris, and I'm a guardsman up at the Citadel. I met Serai when she stumbled across Lord Legolas after the scum that attacked him and abducted him dumped him in an abandoned building and left him to die. Serai was looking for a place to survive the winter in and ended up leading us to Lord Legolas before it was too late. Needless to say, she's pretty high in the king's favor now, not to mention that of Lord Legolas' father. I don't really care about all of that, you understand. I'd still be wanting to marry her if she was a street urchin or a lady's maid. I just thought you ought to know what kind of a daughter you threw into the streets for something that wasn't her doing. Seldar stared numbly at the driver, who met his gaze squarely before glancing at the surrounding trees. Best hide yourself again, sir. I hear horses. It should be your escort, but I'd not take a chance on that if I were you.

Seldar did as he was told, watching through the slats of wood on the cart. Lorran walked over to the nearest tree, miming heeding the call of nature, while keeping his eyes on the trees in the direction the horses were approaching from. Apparently, the riders were the ones he was expecting because he moved away from the tree and flipped the tarp back again.

Well met, Master Luinloth, Master Glorlas! You made good time.

As did you, Guardsman. No trouble, I trust? The elf Seldar had met previously replied, jumping down off his horse.

Not a bit. He's a bit the worse for wear, however, Lorran said, nodding toward Seldar. 'I don't think sudden sobriety agrees with him.

Lords Elladan and Elrohir sent a potion that should help with that, Luinloth said, handing Seldar a small skin. Drink it, and then eat a small amount of this, he handed Seldar a loaf of coarse bread. It will help settle your stomach and your head.

Seldar did as he was instructed, beginning to feel better almost immediately. He gathered his nerve and faced the tall elf directly. I don't want to sound ungrateful, my lord, but this can't be just because of Serai. Why are you helping me?

Because of certain things you may have heard or witnessed. I do not think you to be an inherently bad man, Seldar, but you have allowed yourself to sink into despair to the point that you have made some very serious errors in judgment and have kept company with some truly evil Men. Now is the time to redeem yourself, if you would do so. The king has need of any information you might have on your friend Durmir and his associates and their activities. Help him, and you may become again someone who is worthy of your daughter. The elf studied him for a moment. I have known despair such as you have experienced, Seldar, son of Saldon. It can cripple you, or you can use it to make yourself stronger and live for your one remaining child. The choice is yours.

What did you choose? Seldar asked. Luinloth gave him a sad little smile.

I chose to remain for one I loved as if he were my own son. I serve him still, and his son as well. His eyes became distant for a moment. Eru willing, I will see my beloved and the others I lost so long ago one day. In the meantime, I wish for my life to have meaning and purpose. And so, I believe, it has. He met Seldar's eyes and the man found that he could not look away. What will you choose? To continue to wallow in despair for what you have lost or to regain your honor, your purpose, and the love of your daughter? He looked at the sky. We are wasting daylight. Can you ride? Seldar nodded mutely. Good, this horse is for you, he said indicating the riderless horse he had been leading. We need to be going.

Where are you taking me?

To Ithilien, to the elven settlement there. You will be safe while you decide what path you wish to take.