Tales From Middle Earth: The Harad Road

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The road from Near Harad was hard. The day was hot and dry and the three travellers were tired and thirsty. They had been on the march for three weeks now and the pace was telling. Suddenly Aragorn veered left, his feet kicking up sand as he spied a solitary tree at the side of the road. Its meagre shade seemed a boon.

"Aragorn!" Legolas called out. "There is water not far ahead, let us not tarry here."

Aragorn turned, hands on hips, "How far ahead?"

"Very close," Legolas responded.

"You said that an hour ago," Elegost reminded him with a smile.

"Then we are closer still," Legolas responded also smiling.

"There had better be a watering hole around the bend elf." Aragorn growled from up ahead.

Legolas did not reply but his smile broadened. In truth he felt just as irritable and tired as Aragorn. He simply hid it better.

It was better than a watering hole. It was a meandering stream lined with stunted grass. Elegost dropped full length on the ground and immersed his entire head in the cool water. Aragorn was more circumspect. First he filled their water skins and then cupping his hands drank deeply. When he had had his fill he saw that Legolas was not drinking but keeping watch on their surroundings.

"Are you not thirsty?" he asked.

Legolas nodded but still did not move.

"Do you hear something?"

Legolas shook his head. "I feel something lurking near. I cannot tell what, but it disturbs me."

"Then I shall keep watch. Slake your thirst and let us be gone from this place. I long to see the greenery of Gondor."

Having satisfied his thirst. Elegost relieved himself and then noting Aragorn's alert stance caught up his bow.

"Man cenich?" he asked when he got closer.

"T'is nothing I see but what Legolas senses."

Elegost turned to look at the elf who was kneeling at the river's edge.

"That is good enough for me. I will look to the south."

The rangers kept watch while the archer drank and refreshed himself, but nothing stirred abroad.

The terrain changed as the miles ground on underfoot. The dusty road and barren countryside gave way to a rough stony road and rocky hillsides. The three slowed as the road narrowed and the hills rose on either side of them. They had not used this road on the way to Near Harad. Their party, which had been eight strong, armed and horsed, had followed the raiders from South Gondor straight across the dry plains to the slaving post of Gandurg. The battle had been fierce and bitter. The Harad raiders killed many of the villagers that they had taken, in an effort to force the rangers to give up the fight. But that had only increased their determination. In the end many of the rangers were wounded and only a handful of women, boys and little ones were saved. All speed to Gondor was necessary to save those who still lived. Aragorn decided that he would travel the long road back on foot and give up his mount to those who needed it more. Legolas did the same. Elegost an experienced and hardy ranger of the southern house also cast his lot with the two friends.

"The road is hard and long, three makes a better number on such a journey." he had said.

And thus the three had taken the Harad Road that lead north to home.

The night was cool and Elegost chose first watch as they settled in. They were hemmed in on two sides by bare hills that seemed to go on forever. They had no choice but to bed down to one side of the road.

"I do not like this place, we should continue on." Legolas protested quietly to Aragorn as the ranger tried to find a comfortable spot on the ground.

"Were I as hardy as you, I would mellon nin. In a few hours mayhap I will be able to move on."

Legolas nodded but an ominous feeling darkened his heart. Elegost had not yet kept watch for an hour when Legolas relieved him.

"I will get no rest here. Sleep, I will keep watch for rest of the night."

Time seemed to slow and then to crawl. Legolas walked along the road in both directions many times, but saw nothing. He scanned the hills but nothing moved up there. Still the feeling would not go away. Aragorn and Elegost slept peacefully.

It was in the late hours of the night when all was dead and still that Legolas felt them come.

"Aragorn, Elegost awake!" he shouted "The enemy is upon us!"

Elegost was on his feet before Aragorn, both drew their weapons. They could see nothing for the night was at its darkest, but they could clearly hear the shrieks of the rabble. The twang of Legolas' bow was loud in the night. They heard it twice before the creatures were upon them. They fought for their very lives for the dinhorde was hungry.

Legolas abandoned his arrows in favour of his knives. There were so many of the fell creatures that even as he cut them down their number did not waver, he feared for his companions. He was south of them but he could hear the ring of their swords and their shouts.

The orc surge soon separated the two rangers. Aragorn pushed back at them his sword hewing at their vulnerable necks and sides, but they kept coming. Elegost fought with cutlass and long knife. The battle went on and orcs fell only to be replaced by others, but the hearts and the minds of the three were focused and the tide began to turn in their favour.

In the midst of battle, they clearly heard Legolas cry out.

With a mighty effort Elegost pushed back against the orc horde and strove forward.

Pinned against the hillside, it was impossible for Aragorn to move in any direction though he tried his utmost. In desperation he gritted his teeth and began to hack, cut and swing like a mad thing.

The Wraith was furious. Sent by his master to gather rabble orcs to Mordor, it had been caught unprepared by the elf and the rangers. Now the three were eating away at the rabble that it had so painstakingly gathered. Its glowing eyes fell upon the sole elf, but he feared the deadly twin blades it carried. Then his eyes lit upon another. He descended from his mount intent on revenge.

The ominous feeling that had been with Legolas for days grew, but it was only as the wraith revealed itself to strike that realization hit.

The Wraith's screech cut through the night chilling the hearts of not only the elf and the men but the orcs as well.

The shadow moved swiftly and even as the ranger turned it was upon him.

Locked in the wraith's deadly embrace Aragorn felt his heart grow cold as It breathed its cold breath and more into his open mouth. A chill raced through his body and then turned to fire as the wraith pulled back and uttered the foulest of curses. Waves of pain curled in his gut and he screamed. Then the fire flowed upward and out of him as he fought against it, but the wraith caught that fire. He swallowed it and tasted it, gave it a name and a purpose and poured it back into the struggling man. Aragorn burned as the fire settled low down inside of him. He began to tremble as a young leaf does, in the middle of a tempest.

Scrambling for a secure foothold on the hillside Legolas climbed above the horde. Atop a narrow lip of rock he stopped and looked down. By the cold grey light of dawn he saw that Aragorn barely struggled in the wraith's hold. In anger he shot, yet his arrows were true.

The Wraith screamed and dropped its prey as the missiles found their mark. The keening sound made both Elegost and Legolas clap their hands over their ears. It screeched again and this time the orcs responded to that call.

Move on, it said to them, move on, this battle is over.

Legolas leapt from the hill and ran to where Aragorn had fallen. Elegost was feverishly searching for wounds. Legolas cut through Aragorn's outer jerkin and under shirt and bared his upper body. There were no marks on his skin.

"Turn him over," said the elf and together they rolled him onto his side. There was no wound.

"Sorcery," whispered Elegost.

The sun beat down mercilessly on them as they travelled wearily along with their precious burden. Legolas carried Aragorn, Elegost all their supplies. As yet Aragorn had not stirred but lay cold and unresponsive in the elf's arms.

The barren hills finally gave way to dry plains which were dotted with sparse vegetation. Under a copse of stunted trees Elegost and Legolas sought shelter. They both drank sparingly of the water they carried. Wetting a cloth Legolas moistened Aragorn's lips and chafed his wrists.

"If he does not awaken," Elegost began.

"He will!" Legolas cut across him fiercely.

Elegost said nothing for a while knowing that Legolas was distressed. It was already evening and in three hours the sun's light would be gone.

"It is best we stay here, night will be upon us soon and here is better than the open plains."

Legolas nodded, "Forgive me my anger." he said quietly looking up at Elegost.

Nodding Elegost said, "Get some rest, I will keep watch till night. It is unlikely that anything moves upon the plains in this heat."

Though he did not think he would Legolas slept deeply. Worry and tiredness felled him like a mighty hammer.

As it always did, night came swiftly to the plains, bringing with it cold winds that blew inward from the sea. Elegost sat down finally and pulled his cloak tighter around him. The sound woke Legolas who sat up, his eyes immediately going to Aragorn.

"He has not moved." Elegost said putting a consoling hand upon the elf's shoulder.

Legolas bowed his head.

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