To say that Ulfang had been furious with Rothinzil's death could be equated with saying that apples were red. It wasn't very descriptive, despite its evident factuality. Now, to say that he was angry to the point of mutilating Derufin's corpse after a brutal execution, well, that would be a bit more accurate.
He didn't care in the least about the Elf's well being. He had planned to kill him anyway, one way or another. However, he still had needed the creature alive –or well, alive as possible.
Derufin was a moron like all his underlings, Ulfang consoled himself, that was all there was to it. He couldn't help it if he was one of about five brain trusts in the entire castle –most of which were imprisoned (people of intelligence shouldn't be free, except for him, of course).
Slouching slightly in his throne since no one was around to see and he really didn't feel like acting presentable regardless, the man silently fumed. Elves were a lot more fail than tails gave them credit for, or at least, this one was.
Now the question was: what did he do now? He needed that information, badly. He may be the king in his own land and be feared by most outside it as well, but he wasn't so stupid as to overlook the fact that there was one who had the power to utterly crush him into a dingy powder.
The Necromancer wouldn't mind sending a tenth of his force down this way to obliterate his little strong hold.
He needed that Elf, or rather, what the Elf knew. The ranger may know some information, but he couldn't possible know the intricacies of it. The knowledge the scrawny Elf-lover would possess would be enough to whet Sauron's appetite, and maybe make bargaining with the Necromancer easier, but it wouldn't be enough to get the leverage he so desired.
There was only one option left. The Elf had to be resurrected.
Of course this was supposing that he was genuinely dead. Who could tell with an Elf? They had the weirdest luck and abilities when it came to life and death. He wasn't new to the way they were sometimes capable of snatching themselves from the brink of death. It was possible, was it not, that this creature was simply in suspended animation?
Never mind, he concluded sourly, no need to create false hopes and ambitions. The warrior was deader than a gutted fish, and probably just as cold.
Hmm, gutted fish… A small, slow, diabolical smile split his face. Crooked teeth gleamed an off white behind angrily gnawed lips. Well, he knew what punishment suited Derufin. Despair and desperation often brought about his best ideas, or so he thought. It had been debated before.
But, he chided himself, first things came first. He had to prioritize.
The Elf was going to have to breathe again. All else could follow.
While he often scoffed the gods, and was by no means a praying individual, he wasn't afraid to admit that this needed a miracle. While he had never heard of miracles happening to 'bad people', he figured that he had nothing to lose by asking.
With a prayer on his lips, Ulfang beseeched the gods. But, his knees never touched the ground.
Rothinzil was somewhere betwixt waking, and sleeping and…something else. When he blinked and the soft, fuzzy feeling of cushioning warmth didn't change he decided he was far too tired to combat it. Well, no, he changed his mind, not tired. He just wasn't motivated. Earlier he had been in so much pain that breathing and blinking provided a constant stab of pain.
Is this death? A wrinkled creased his pale, formerly smooth brow as he vainly tried to trace his memories to this point. Ultimately, he decided that if this wasn't death, he didn't know what was. However, it was painless, so he wasn't really complaining.
Painless…That word had been out of his vocabulary for so long he had almost forgotten its existence.
He reveled in the comforting silence, the hazy feeling of peace, and the warmth of the cushioning…whatever, that was supporting him. Clouds? He had no idea. But the suspension was consoling and stole all motivation for escape.
Finally, blinking and starting to feel very alone, sat up and looked blearily around. Strider? Where was he? Should he be happy that he didn't see his friend here? Or was that a bad thing? "Estel…?" His voice was soft –too soft, and the misty air quickly absorbed it. He might as well have held his silence.
Suddenly the warmth was gone and a cold feeling clutched at his stomach, crushing him with the weight of reality. He had chosen mortality as opposed to Elven eternity….what came next if his time was really, well, up? Where did mortals go when they …expired? Was choosing mortality and spurning the freely given immortality a damning sin? Would he see any of his friends again?
It was most likely that he wouldn't see Legolas ever again. He was sure the paths of Elven dead and human dead didn't cross paths –and that was supposing that Elves actually died. Thranduil, Legolas, Elrond –the twins….He had not ever supposed that the last time he saw them would literally be the last.
The thought of being alone for eternity ripped at his insides like a feral animal, shredding.
Knees hugged protectively against his chest, he swallowed down bile. It still tasted bitterly of venom, he noted disgustedly.
The hazy, thick atmosphere around him increased to almost suffocating level of intensity. He could barely see his hand if he waved it in front of his face, let alone see anything for any amount of real distance. It was like being under a pile of sun-warmed blankets. Even sound was cushioned.
Resting his chin atop his knees, the young Elf closed his eyes, partially to block out his surroundings and partially because he didn't have the energy to keep them open. His sleeping habits had been worse than poor during his captivity and this place seemed to have a seductive way of lulling one into a comatose state.
His eyes soon fluttered open again and he blinked. How long had he been asleep, if sleep that was? He had lost all concepts of time and space. For all he knew, months could have passed, or merely minutes.
Raising his chin, he looked around, trying to pinpoint his cause for waking. Nothing had changed, and Valar knew he was tired enough to sleep for a decade.
"Roth, come back…please come back..." Aragorn's voice drifted towards him, muffled and distant.
"Curse you Elf, you weak bastard! You just had to die, didn't you? We'll you're going to come back if it's the last thing I do." The vow was harsh, cutting. Ulfang wasn't pleased, Roth mused worriedly. That and the man's words were not exactly enticing. Rothinzil felt a strong urge just to remain dead, and not give this impetuous human any reasons to celebrate.
Even if he was scared of being alone, he wasn't so scared of being alone that he wanted to willingly walk back into the world of the living, a cell, darkness, pain, and an angry madman.
Besides, who said he had the option anyway? Didn't dead people stay dead? Of course, he reminded himself, he was sure that dead people also didn't hear disembodied voices. And all of those thoughts aside, he didn't feel crossed over any. Maybe he was in another dimension, but whatever this dimension was, it wasn't heaven and it wasn't hell.
"Roth, please! We need you –I need you …"
He wasn't going to go back, not and have to feel all the agony afresh. And besides, how would he get back? Search me, I have no clue, he grumbled nervously.
Of course, stubborn human that he wasn't, Aragorn had hardly given up. He couldn't hear Rothinzil's musings, all he knew was that he missed someone that he had accepted as a brother and that he wanted that someone back to the point where the agony of Rothinzil's vacant body was harsher than all his other wounds multiplied by a couple hundred. Physical pain he could teach himself to block out, but psychological pain would even haunt his dreams. "Roth, please! Legolas won't be the same without you…" There was a choking sound. Aragorn was stubbornly swallowing back tears. "And then…he'll die too."
Swallowing hard, Roth tasted the bitter venom that had sent him here. It was tart, purely disgusting stuff. And although all that lingered in his mouth was a frothy aftertaste, it was enough to bait his gag reflexes. Blood tasted better. Undoubtedly better.
"How will I be able to tell him that you're gone?" Aragorn's voice continued to muse with unbridled pain…. "How will I tell myself?"
Rothinzil shivered, feeling suddenly cold, despite the comforting haze. The atmosphere hadn't changed, but his mood had. He couldn't find peace here, not anymore. It felt like he wasn't meant to be here.
Multiple whispers mingled, forming a haunting sort of choir….a dreary chorus of prayers. Aragorn's voice was no longer singular along side Ulfang's harsh demand.
"I still need you Roth, so wherever you are, be safe…" Legolas' voice came, soft and discreet.
"I hope our paths cross again someday, Captain Rothinzil…." Thranduil's silent thought verbalized as it rose.
But the last voice he heard made him flinch.
"Don't leave me here alone, Roth! I love you! I can't live without you! Stay alive! I'm coming for you!" Helluin's prayer. It was urgent, demanding, and almost harsh in its adamancy.
It was all the encouragement Rothinzil needed.
There was a strategy to surviving captivity. Hrethel knew this.
By the same token, he also knew that the strategy, however well it might work with others, never worked while you were under Unferth's thumb. The man was impossibly unpredictable. About the only thing you could predict was that he was unpredictable, and that wasn't helpful no matter how you looked at it.
After thinking all this through logically, Hrethel decided he had nothing to lose by making himself nothing less than obnoxious to be with.
"Where do you think your brother and skulking friends are?" Unferth's snarl revealed his complete contempt and impatience. Nothing delicate about his personality.
Hrethel shrugged in his bonds. "Well if you lost them to begin with, what makes you think I am going to find them now? I am a little tied up at the moment."
His captor made an unintelligible growl. "You're still awfully cocky for someone between a rock and a hard place," he snapped, hand creeping down to his large hunting knife, which weighed on his heavy leather belt.
"I prefer "optimistic"."
Unferth came to the sudden conclusion that he was finished with patience, and finished with orders. He was the highest ranking general. No one else scared him –except for maybe Derufin, but that idiot was already neck deep in hot water (probably literally). Unless Ulfang came for him himself, which was doubtful, he had free reign.
Hrethel had been wondering when Unferth would come to this sort of conclusion. He had figured that it would happen soon, but he had not betted on it happening this soon. "I bet that hurts."
"What?" Unferth muttered, annoyed.
Hrethel looked mockingly sympathetic. "Thinking."
"It's no wonder your brat of a brother hasn't come for you yet!"
"Am I really that bad?"
Unferth didn't deign a direct answer. "If they won't come for you –I'll make them come for you."
Curious, Hrethel wondered just how exactly Unferth planned to do that. He didn't imagine that he would like the method very much at all.
He blinked, but when he opened his eyes he found his world had gone from crystal clear (with the occasional disruption of red), to a sea of blurry movements. His vision was failing. His whole body suddenly felt cold and his heart palpitated, as though fighting for life. Sounds started to sound distant and fade altogether. Helplessness….loneliness…fear…No! NO! Not again! Not in front of that oaf….. Unferth was going to have a field day with this…again.
He was having another attack –another tremor. How had his brother managed to hide these successfully for years? Shuddering with the force of the attack on his weakening body, he came to the realization that maybe he had not been watching Hugin as well as he had originally thought. He couldn't have hidden something like this –not if someone had been watching carefully enough.
"Damn.." he murmured weakly.
He felt hands grabbing his clothing, shaking him, trying to preserve their captive. Coughing, he allowed his consciousness to slide. He wasn't going to stay awake to accept the abuse and taunts and anyway, he felt so very unnaturally tired.
Legolas had not tracked anything easier than Unferth, his men, and their unruly captive –and he had tracked some real blundering creatures. It was almost too easy. Who was he kidding? This was all way too easy –at least the tracking party. It wasn't natural and his Elven intuition –or maybe just common sense, didn't trust it. And besides, they weren't really going anywhere. He could still see Lake-Town without his Elven eyesight.
It was as though they were being waited on, hand and foot. "They are wanting us-"
"To track them?" Hugin finished, his face pasty, waning. "Yes, I believe that."
Helluin hugged herself, but if she was close to tears she was doing an excellent job of concealing it. Her face was flushed, and it was clear that all this trekking across country while having the extra weight of a baby was taking it's toll. Although, Legolas had to admit, she had not used her pregnancy as an excuse –legitimate as it would have been. Now, however, he felt he must put his foot down. "Helluin, you can go no further with us."
She glared at him, with that "I-am-pregnant-and-hormonally-unstable" look that usually sent sane people ducking for cover.
Legolas hurried to try and cushion his verdict. "No," he waved his hands placating. "I simply mean that in your –ah, condition, you are …well you are hurting more than you are helping."
Her glare intensified, along with the strength put into her clenched fists. "He gets to continue," she pointed accusingly at Hugin, who resembled death in so many ways that it was sort of disheartening to look at him. His illness was reaching its most debilitating point, and if Legolas was guessing correctly, he was going to die soon, ready or not.
Not sure what to say, but feeling something had to be said, Legolas pressed, "he's not pregnant. You are looking out for more than yourself –think of your baby. We can work fine without you, you needn't worry."
"Where do you expect me to go?" Exasperation had given her voice quite a cutting edge.
"Somewhere away from here –away from Lake town, away from the Lake itself really." In all fairness, Legolas wasn't sure himself what should be done. His people were too far away to help…much too far away. Elladan and Elrohir were probably no where near this region, at least not right now. And supposing that there were friends nearby that weren't captured or worse, he had no way of contacting them.
Helluin's lips set into a colorless, thin line of contempt.
Hugin finally plopped into the grass, unable to help himself –his leg muscles were reaching their limit. He wasn't going to allow himself to die yet, but he was willing to swallow enough pride to admit he needed rest. "Helluin…would Rothinzil or whoever he is, want you anywhere near all of this? Would he want the baby near all of this? If I were your husband I would pray for your common sense to stay out of danger, not run headlong into it."
Legolas shot him a meaningful glare, and Hugin looked off into the distance, as though searching for his brother. He looked heart broken.
Legolas knew the feeling.
"We're gaining on them," he murmured quietly. He decided he would have to talk Helluin out of danger later, she clearly was not in a listening mood.
Hugin nodded. "They want us to." He sighed, shaking his head. "Unferth doesn't have all the pieces he needs at this moment. He's likely to try something drastic. The man is as unpredictable, and unstable as a cat in snow. Emotions, they are all he needs to do something stupid."
"So do you think he wants us for himself, or for your king?"
"Doubtless, for himself, at least ultimately.," Hugin guessed. "He is the kind of man that always wants more…you know that hole inside, the one that seems insatiable? His is bigger than most…It has a vacuum of hate. I think that he truly believes that he will be happy once my brother and I are dead."
"You don't talk philosophically very often."
Hugin arched a dark brow challengingly. "Don't get used to it."
"So, hypothetically speaking, would he want to kill you himself…or just want the pleasure of watching you die?" Legolas asked softly, almost fearing the bluntness of his inquiry.
"I believe he would have to kill us himself –that is his desire. He would love for us to be executed, of course, but he will want a hand in it, that is certain." Hugin's voice had acquired a calm, detachedness too it. It was eerie, and almost soothing at the same time. "I want to die the way Hrethel dies, Legolas. That is why I am still here."
Waiting for death was his reason for living. Helluin and Legolas exchanged sympathetic glances.
Distancing himself from everyone, trying to encourage lucid thought, Legolas thought wryly that he felt like a fish being reeled in by some sadistic fisherman that enjoyed torturing the worms, or bait.
And that was when it occurred to him: that was exactly what was happening. Hrethel was the bait, and figuratively speaking, Unferth definitely counted as one sadistic, sociopath of a fisherman.
A wry voice behind him caused him to wince inwardly. "I think that maybe now you understand our situation a bit more clearly." Hugin's voice was grim and held no hope for himself, or his brother –or for anyone for that matter.
"I'm not resigning myself or my friends to anyone or anything –including a situation, just yet."
Hrethel blinked. He didn't know how long he had been out, all he knew was that it was long enough to find himself in a lot more trouble than he had been originally. Wonderful.
They were in a clearing, but it figured that Unferth had stumbled upon the one and only sturdy looking old tree for a mile or two. It also figured that Hrethel found himself bound precariously from one stout limb, dangling by his wrists. A worm on a hook, and he meant that comparison literally. He knew what Unferth was up to.
"You think my brother will come for me?" He hissed around the pain of his stretched, aching muscles and weakened body.
Unferth's smirk was filled with angry amusement. "I know he will come for you."
"We're assassins, emotionless killers. Surely I think he can shrug this off." Hrethel looked up at his bonds and then into the dense, expressive green summer foliage swaying with the balmy breeze above him.
His captor tossed him a knowing look. "You haven't shut off emotion your whole life. You never mourned for those you killed, you never knew them, and you never cared. If you knew them, you would have mourned. You mourned for your family, didn't you? Your poor mother and foolish father? Hm? Yes, you did. It's what drove you to work for our dear king."
Hrehtel's face was unreadable.
Unferth continued his sneering tirade. "Oh yes, I know how you hate orcs, and how you hate Sauron worshipers. Yes, you hate them very much –just like our foolish king. And you worked for him. He raised you that way…took you in when you had no where else to go, trusted you, and you betrayed him. And why? Because of fear."
"I think you have me mistaken for my brother, actually-"
"I read his journal!"
"Yes, that!" Unferth snapped, reminding Hrethel of some sort of rabid animal. "How he became sick, but he didn't want you to know. He didn't want anyone to know. He knew he would be thrown away, like a worthless tool –because that is all you guys ever were. You knew that."
Hrethel raised a brow. "I am failing to see your point here."
"You were always driven by emotion. Fear and hate. Those are two very powerful emotions, are they not? Interwoven, one leads to another and vice versa. You feared the orcs, you worked for the person who would keep them away –who promised redemption of your race, who promised freedom. And you hated the orcs, and those who opposed our dear king enough to kill to ensure Ulfang's supremacy. You never cared who you killed, or what you caused…not until you were afraid it would come back to you once you met someone more powerful than our king."
"You killed my brother, and you never knew!" Unferth spat furiously. "You never asked questions! You never cared! Not until you realized you might have to atone for your sins!" He was shaking from the exertion of his emotions and veins stood out from his neck in a sickening way.
Hrethel remained cool, collected, but inwardly he was wondering just how many enemies they had made this way. "I was wondering if this was your revenge. Your way of getting even…I just was wondering what it was for. Well at least now I know."
Unferth's rage continued to course through his body in untamed tremors.
"But you know," Hrethel continued, keeping his voice calculatingly even. "Your brother would have killed you. It doesn't matter. He was a traitor. He worshiped Sauron, who never did anything good for us. Hide behind your brother's death all you want: it's not the real reason. You're jealous, that's the real reason."
"No, that's only half. You want the real reason? I hated the fact that the people I was the most jealous of, and hated the most did the most unforgivable thing to me that anyone could do and snatched the one person I had left out from under my nose! That, is what brought this down on your heads!!!" His voice had become venomous and he reminded the older twin of a cobra taking position to strike. His fangs were bared. He was insane.
"You hated Sauron as well," Hrethel inserted, seeing if maybe he couldn't pull the voice of reason back into this conversation.
His efforts were in vain.
"I hated Ulfang more –for choosing you and your brother over me! What made my brother and me any different? We were orphans! We were skilled fighters at our age!"
"You're head general-"
"I wanted more! My brother deserved more!"
"Well I can't help that. You aren't any better than me," Hrethel growled, becoming defensive. "You follow orders heedlessly all the time! How many lives have you wrecked? How much blood is on your hands? Don't get all righteous with me!"
"I'm not following orders now. Ulfang wanted you and your brother brought back alive –he wanted to disbelieve the journal. He wants to believe you are still on his side, because he is nothing without you two! The rebellion is failing. Sauron is regaining control!"
"So this is your round-about way of saying that you are going to kill me? Fine, have done."
"Oh not yet. When your brother and that pesky Elf come for you –then I will kill you. I will kill you, your brother and him both."
"You can never return to our people if you do that," Hrethel pointed out.
"I don't plan to return."
"So this will have a happy ending…" The twin said almost gleefully, purposefully yanking on Unferth's chain.
The crazed Easterling just chuckled, derisive and cold. Gesturing encouragingly to his surrounding men, he grinned like a feral, hungry predator. "Come on boys," he jeered. "Let's have some sport with our dear assassin. We'll teach him to be humble. After all, what's in his blood that's not in ours?"
Sador was not a superstitious man, generally. He was a learned man of science, logic and reason. However, now that he had come to terms with the fact that his wife was completely and utterly possessed by a vengeful spirit of some sort, he was ready believe in a lot more –oracles included. Which is why he was here, standing on a cottage stoop.
The woman of the cottage was a known witch, and she wasn't trusted with good reason. She was disreputable, and had delivered more than her share of still babies –which may or may not have been her fault, but the fact remained. However, it was said that as a soothsayer, you couldn't ask for better. Right now. Sador desperately wanted to know what lay ahead. And maybe, there was an off chance that she would know a cure for his wife.
Rapping on the fragile looking wooden door with his ringed hand, he was surprised when it seemed to open of its own accord.
"I've been waiting for you, Master Sador."
Alright, first of all, we just wanted to apologize for the length of our hiatus. We know it has been unbearably long, and completely unfair. Thanks for being suck loyal readers and sticking with us through thick and thin! We love you guys and hope we haven't lost any of you yet! We realize that the delay has made it difficult to keep the story in focus and we are terribly sorry and hope you can still follow the general plot.
And lastly, please review! They are what encourage us to finish this story, when our current post graduation life begs for the conservation of energy and a rearranging of priorities. So please, let us know what you think. We appreciate it, we truly do!
Thanks! See you in a few weeks!
Celeb and Tin