Disclaimer-don't own,(makes me sad) get no money, HAD no money to begin with, so please don't sue.:)
Hello again! Hey, I'm back and I'm on time. I know, it's a miracle.:) Anyhoo, here is the completion of my To series. I hope that you all enjoy the story as much as I've enjoyed writing it! For anyone who happens to be just starting in, while it is possible to read both To Be a Man and To Kill a Captain on their own, this story will make absolutely NO sense unless you have read at least one of those. Sorry! This is the only time I've ever had my story be a continuing one, and probably the only time I ever will write one like this. I hope everyone enjoys! On with the fic!!
An old man strode through the dense mist that swirled near the banks of the Anduin. He was a curious figure, being hale and hearty though he seemed past three-score years. His clothing was torn and carried with it the look that suggested he had been soaked, then allowed his garments to dry on his body. Mangled though it was, it was obviously the costume of a corsair. A mane of thick white hair was wildly disarrayed, framing a fearsome face. Neither fearsome for the lines and wrinkles that nature left through the passage of time, nor even in whole because of the single dark eye with a cruel look to its sharp glance. Rather, the frightening aspect of his countenance stemmed from the condition of his other eye. Or, lack thereof. A scar traveled from the man's forehead down through the place where his right eye had been and across his cheek.
One gnarled hand clutched his left shoulder tightly. Every now and then he would stumble, unable to see his footing in the thick fog and a look of pain would crease his weathered face. Obviously, the old hand covered a wound, for there was blood on the thick fingers. However, the blood had dried, and it would seem that the hurt was not serious enough to be life threatening.
The ghostly forms of thatched huts started to appear through the Anduin's fog. The old man brightened briefly upon seeing them, the dark eyebrow above his one eye uncreasing slightly. However, within a few moments, he had drawn near enough to see the truth and the eyebrow returned to its scowl.
Anduin's mist was very kind to the corsair village. From a long distance the white cloud covered all and left nothing to be seen. Nearer, the huts appeared whole and nothing amiss. Quite near, however, and the old man could see that the few huts that remained standing were fire-gutted and there were not many even of those, for most of the dwellings had disintegrated into ash and blown away on the wind.
A vile curse rolled from his lips. It seemed very lonely by itself, so many more joined it in short order. For a moment, the white mist was very likely to turn blue with the oaths that poured forth from the old pirate. It was quite awhile before he had finished.
Running out of invective, he kicked one of the huts viciously. The frail structure collapsed, sending up a cloud of ash. Choking and hacking he quickly retreated.
A crunching sound suddenly broke through the silence of the fog. The old man started, he head jerking round to stare in the direction from which it had come.
The single eye narrowed as the pirate straightened his shoulders, as though determined to meet whatever came through the mist with a bold front.
They came slowly into his sight. Squat, ugly creatures. Brutish faces and long arms. Orcs. Jeering unpleasantly they surrounded the pirate, but did not touch him. Far from setting the old man at ease, this seemed to increase his tension. He did not let anything show to the orcs, but if they had cared to look into his single eye, they would have seen there a deep fear for what he knew must be coming next…
The voice that flowed through the dense fog was evil and insidious, tainting all it touched. Even the orcs, accustomed to evil, cringe and fell silent. By comparison, the pirate seemed to stand taller, his mouth grim and face set.
He appeared suddenly out of the mist. A tall figure wearing a black cloak that trailed along the ground. His face was one out of a nightmare. Bloodstained lips parted in a ghastly smile over rotten, yellowing teeth. The Mouth of Sauron stopped in front of the elderly pirate and in the depths of his cold glare, the corsair saw his death written.
"Thou failed," the gravelly voice rolled into the fog, accompanied by evil breath. "I warned thee, corsair. Riches would be thine if thou were able to locate the heir, and no sooner had I delivered my master's message, then thy ships were lost and thy home destroyed. Obviously, I made a mistake. Thou cannot be an asset if this is how easily a Gondorian can take victory from thy hands. Therefore, the Eye has no need for thee."
However much fear he might have felt, the pirate allowed none to show on his face. "I need orcs and men." The request was blunt, and almost a command.
A full minute's worth of terrible silence followed this bold statement. Then the Mouth threw back his head and laughed. It was terrible laughter, like the shrieking of a crow, devoid of any real mirth. The orcs gabbled in fear and cringed, their brutish faces showing dismay and terror.
The pirate, however, stood firm. His weathered face grew paler as the evil laughter filled the air, but he did not back down or avert his gaze.
The Mouth calmed himself gradually. The cruel eyes narrowed as they surveyed the old man's impassive face. "Thou art as bold as ever. Tell my why I should grant thee what thou asks…instead of slitting thy throat."
The pirate's single eye fixed upon the face of the Mouth. He allowed his mouth to curl into a grim smile. "I believe I have found the heir."
Silence again, but not laughter followed this quiet.
"Who?" The gravelly voice was quiet, not carrying to the surrounding orcs.
The pirate could not contain a snort of derision, despite his extremely precarious position. "Oh yes. I tell you what I know, and then you allow me to leave…correct?" His mouth twisted from a grim smile to a sneer. "I think not. Give me what I ask."
The Mouth's lips formed a ferocious snarl. Sauron's lieutenant was not happy to be refused. For a moment, it seemed his anger was so great that he would forget himself and strike down the man before him. Indeed, his armored fist was clenched and already rising…with an effort, he controlled himself. "Are you sure?" he hissed evilly. "Are you so sure that he is the man the Eye desires?"
"He fits the description you provided me," the corsair ground between clenched teeth. "A leader. Dark-haired and speaking the grey tongue. He is a ranger, or at least he traveled with them at one time."
The Mouth seemed to consider the words carefully. "Had he a ring?"
Halith looked upon the Mouth with confusion. He had no idea what the creature was speaking of. A ring? Of what consequence could that be?
The Mouth saw the momentary confusion that crossed Halith's weathered face and interpreted it correctly. "A ring. It is called the ring of Barahir. Silver, with two serpents…"
The Mouth's voice continued, but Halith was not listening anymore. His single eye closed and he was calling to mind images of his encounters with Strider. Halith had a remarkable ability. Whatever he saw, whatever he heard, he would always remember with absolute clarity. His mind did not forget details as others did. No matter how long ago something had occurred, he would always be able to remember exactly what transpired, and all the surrounding details.
He remembered the last time he had come face to face with Strider. The flames of his burning ship rose in the background. He could see the man's face, close to his own, the expression in the silver eyes as he whispered a command in elvish…and there, on the finger of his left hand, the glitter of flames caught in a green gem and dancing on a ring of silver, fashioned in the likeness of two serpents.
Halith opened his eye to see the Mouth regarding him suspiciously. The old corsair felt his mouth twist into a grin of triumph. "He had the ring you have described." Cunning glittered in the single, dark eye. "Give me what I ask, and I will kill him."
The Mouth considered briefly. "If thou kills him," he finally said. "I must see the ring. If not the ring, then I must see him, alive. Without the ring, I cannot know his identity without…questioning…him. However, if thou find him, and bring me the ring, he must die."
Halith nodded. He understood. Either the ring or the man must be brought before the Mouth and there was no question in his mind as to his preference for delivery. Strider was too dangerous to be allowed to live. Once he was caught, Halith would simply take the ring and kill the man. The corsair's mouth tightened almost imperceptibly. Every time this man was kept alive, disaster ensued. Well did Halith remember the fiasco of Rivendell. He, Halith, was the only man to escape from that campaign, and he had not come away without injury. Then of course, there was the most recent interaction. Again, he was the only one left to walk away, but this time his continued life and health were owed more to blind luck than any skill on his part. Had the mast not come down at exactly that moment…
"Thou will take these." The Mouth's voice cut through Halith's musings and brought him swiftly back to the present. Sauron's lieutenant waved a gloved hand, indicating the orcs that surrounded them. "And thou will remain here until I can send thee men."
The corsair captain opened his mouth to protest. If he wished to capture Strider quickly he had to move. Intelligence and self-preservation intervened before any words could issue from his lips. His jaw closed tightly. After his dismal failure, it was best not to push his luck. He would follow orders for now. Waiting was irksome, but his resources would be improved with the wait. The old man nodded in understanding.
The Mouth took a step closer, allowing Halith a very close look at rotting teeth and the blood that stained black lips. Foul breath flowed between those lips as the Mouth whispered for Halith's ears only. "Be warned. This is thy last chance. And do not try to hide thyself if thou should fail yet again. The men I send thee will have their orders."
Halith nodded again, trying not to breath in, or take a step back. Abruptly, the Mouth turned and gestured sharply with one hand. An orc swiftly darted away, only to return with a black steed. Halith could only hope that his enormous relief was not completely evident as the Mouth stepped away from him and mounted the horse, his black cloak fluttering like a raven's wings. Mist swirled around the horse's slender legs as it stamped and pranced, eager to be off. The Mouth stayed it, plying the reigns skillfully. His cruel eyes sought Halith's gaze one final time. "Remember," he hissed. "The man, or the body and the ring."
The horse reared, then galloped away, quickly swallowed by the fog.
Halith allowed himself a deep breath. It would take a few days at the very least to march a group of men from the black land to here. He would have time to rest, to recuperate, and to plan the demise of the man called 'Strider'.
Two years later
Every bone in his body cried out for rest. Harsh breathing rasped in his ears as he struggled to place one foot in front of the other. It had taken him a long while to recognize that breathing as his own. He did not know how long he had been walking. At this point it did not seem to matter. All he could think of was how much he wanted to lie down and just slip into sleep…but he couldn't. He knew that if he lay down, he might not get up again.
Help. He needed…needed help. His mind screamed the words that his cracked, bleeding lips could not form. Slowly, painfully, he forced his hurting body onward. The cool shadow of golden trees finally fell on his head and the man gasped in relief. He had made it…soon help would…
As if from thin air, a dozen elves materialized around him. The injured man's gaze tried to focus beyond the arrows aimed at his heart; tried to see the fair features but he couldn't. Too much effort. Too much pain. It was overwhelming him now.
"You have crossed into the woods of Lothlorien" the leader spoke, his voice strong and his accent thick. "We do not invite humans into our home. You must turn back."
The man shook his head. He couldn't go back. He was injured. He would die before he reached home. "Saes…" he whispered.
The elves started, their arrows dropping in surprise. "Man?" The leaders stepped forward, slipping into the grey tongue. "Man pennich le?"
"Saes," The man repeated. "U-kel hae…" He was already slipping away, darkness gathering at the edges of his sight.
The elf caught him as he slumped forward. As Aragorn succumbed to unconsciousness he heard, as though from a very far distance the elf's voice. "Man enneth le, Adan?"
"Estel," he sighed softly. "Estel Elrondion."
U-kel hae…--- I cannot go…
Man pennich le?---What did you say?
Man enneth le, Adan?---Who are you, human?
Well, there you are! I hope that you all enjoy the story, and remember…I looooooooove reviews.:) The next chapter should be up by next week barring any unforeseen complications.