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Twilight of the Gods: 30. Darkness Prevails
Aragorn's heart was heavy with regret and worry at leaving his men behind, but Tarés' insistence could not have been missed. Like the captain before him his bravery exceeded the king's expectations, and he hoped to return with help in time to save his soldiers. Careful to not loosen stones, he had slipped through the pillars and disappeared around the first corner. He was guided by the waxing moon's light, which made it easier to see the winding path downwards, but, at the same time, it would grant the pursuers light as well. But the clamour behind him told him that the ploy worked the way Tarés had planned it. For the moment his escape would remain secret. Where the terrain allowed he ran down the small trail, and steadied himself on protruding rocks when he almost slipped sideways. Rubble slid down the incline, and he briefly halted, catching his breath, smelling the cool night's air with replenished strength. The noise from the campsite subsided. He looked back. No one was to be heard or seen behind him, and, concentrating on the path, he moved on as fast as possible, feeling lighter suddenly and no longer tired or weary. In the pale light he ducked in time under a ledge, seeking cover when a strange feeling hit him, but the only sound that followed the slight slip of gravel was a low growl he took to be uttered by a beast living in the mountains. A strange impression of danger arose, touching his core with the bitter thought of his men dying on the field. He shed the image immediately. He did not fear hunting animals and left, hurrying to reach the forest's rim waiting for him half a mile below. He did not know what he would face upon entering the enchanted woodland, but he was willing to take that unknown risk if he only could bring help to his people. Shouts echoed from the campsite; they had finally discovered his absence. He did not bother to look back again. The closer he got to the ground, the smaller any chance of his captors gaining on him. Still he feared that the revenge would be executed on the remaining captives. Within the forest no one lived to ask for aid, and on his way south he would need days to reach a Rohan settlement to find a horse to quicken his speed. The dreadful thought of deserting his men for uncounted days until he would be able to return pressed him to run even faster and disregard the scratches he incurred on the sharp edges. He knew the Easterlings needed their captives for work, but he could not count on it keeping his soldiers alive, since they promised to be resistant for the time to come.
Hilberon wiped his temple and when his palm came away bloody he only smirked. If the situation got any stranger he would laugh. Halamin next to him returned a somewhat odd smile, for the pain from a hit against his chest still lingered, but he felt the same relief. They both had noticed that King Elessar's place aside from theirs was empty. And when the Easterlings and the hillmen had become aware of it too, there had been a roaring and shouting that even drowned out the quarrel between the younger male Easterling and the Dunlending leader. Hilberon had watched the urgent search for torches to find the tracks, but he knew that the king would have left none and that he would be gone too far by now to catch up with him. The punishment all captives had received had been worth taking, and Hilberon leant back light-heartedly, not thinking about the consequences of the king's escape for himself. The moment was precious, and he hoped he would be able to tell his father that the Royal Guard had enabled the King of Gondor to flee their captors. They had acted honourably and could return with pride to the White City once the king sent the Rohirrim to free them. Never had a task and the pain, which had followed immediately, been easier to accept. He breathed deeply, and looked to Tarés, who radiated the same satisfaction he felt. The Dunlendings had settled the quarrel with Nisenur; the Easterling woman, who had interfered before both men had turned to fight each other, had retreated to the fire after her search downhill had been in vain. Still some hillmen and a few Easterlings pursued the escapee on different routes, but Tarés was confident they would come too late. The king had said to him that he had walked Fangorn Forest before and did not fear passing through, but that other races shied away from it. Tarés closed his eyes for a moment and prayed that King Elessar was right and his passage safe.
Darkness lay once again over the host of men and horses, and tonight, it was complete. A thick layer of clouds shielded both moon- and starlight from them, and the only light illuminating the scene was coming from the few flickering fires they had dared to build. A heavy rain had set in, and the men sat miserable under the provisionally covers they had erected, still determined to spare the time for raising their tents. Talking with low voices, their faces wearing deep frowns, and partly drenched, the Rohirrim were a wretched looking mess, and it did not take long for those men who weren't detailed for the first guard to resort to their bedrolls to seek a few hours of rest on the hard ground.
"My lords, forgive me for interrupting, but that Dunlending is waiting outside. He said he wanted to talk to you, sire." The guard looked questioningly at his ruler, who had been in conversation with their healer and the injured scout. Éomer furrowed his brow.
"Woldro? What does he want?"
"He would not tell me, my lord."
Excusing himself with a curt nod, Éomer followed the guard outside. In the flickering orange light of the fires, the square, solid shape of their guide was unmistakable even in the heavy rain and swirling mist. Upon seeing him emerge, the man stepped over from the distance where the guard had made him wait.
"Éomer-king, it is late, and I must go."
"Go?" Éomer furrowed his brow in puzzlement, his thoughts over the day having been preoccupied with either their search or the concern for his wounded kinsman. "Go where? It is too dark to see."
"I find my way, Éomer-king. This is my home. But it is the border of my home, the place my influence ends. You promised to release me here. It could be my death if I walk back through unknown territory. I keep my end of the bargain, you should do the same."
"You should know by now that I am a man of my word." Éomer's gaze went pensively in the direction they had been riding for the whole day. "What awaits us there? What do you know about this territory? More traps? Are there many more of your people?"
"Not many, no. You see the land. It is not good to keep people alive." An all-encompassing gesture, then Woldro lowered his voice to a confidential whisper. "But it is a dangerous land. A land with nameless creatures in these mountains, creatures you want not to meet unarmed. I also heard of trolls, and wolves. So beware. I want not Dunland's chance end in the stomachs of a pack of wolves." His words brought a grim smile to the Rohirrim's face.
"Wolves? I doubt they would wage battle against our éored. But thank you for your concern." A short, scrutinising glance at his opposite. He came to a decision. "Do you need anything for the way? Provisions? Torches?"
"Both would be helpful indeed," Woldro nodded, not evading the Rohirrim's pensive gaze. While Éomer indicated for the guard to bring the needed items, the Dunlending suddenly broke into a wide grin.
"I do not believe that after all that happened, I am offered food and free leave by a strawhead. Perhaps we will conclude peace after all, horse-lord. After you found your friend, perhaps we will see the end of our battle. What you say?"
"That is why we are here, Woldro." Éomer lifted his chin, his eyes and voice bespeaking the sincerity of his statement. "It is good to see that you finally seem to believe me."
"Aye. I do. And while you are gone, I will spread the word. When you return, we speak, and all will end good. This winter will not cost my people's lives. You help us, right?"
"If we find the King of Gondor alive and unharmed, then yes, Woldro. We will."
Once again, the two very different men stared at each other, and the Rohirrim saw in the other's gaze that his threat had been understood, as Woldro accepted the small pouch and an already lighted torch from the hands of the guard with an indicated bow.
"I wish you success with your quest, horse-lord. May we meet again in better days." He turned and disappeared into the swirling darkness.
Running through a narrow path he heard the rolling and cracking of small stones again. Panting he slowed down to turn his gaze uphill, alert and vigilant, but was unable to see more than dark grey formations of rocks and in between patches of sturdy plants clinging to the rough grounds. From somewhere a hiss resounded, followed by shouts from far above, too low to represent a threat. Aragorn swallowed. He strained to hear more, but the sound did not recur, and the only ones remaining belonged to his fast-beating heart and his breathing. He pushed himself off the rock he had been standing at and took the next curve with long strides. The violent impact on his back drove the air from his lungs and catapulted him forward, smashing him to the hard, cold surface. He hit his chin, chest, and thighs slipping over rubble, squinting his eyes tightly shut against the sudden pain exploding in his back as if he had been stabbed. He could not breathe, and no terrified scream ever passed his lips when the slide ended. The king's body was weighed down heavily, immobilising him more effectively than any rope. Aragorn fought to stay awake while the pain increased and made him dizzy. He pressed his palms to the ground, trying to push himself up, to fill his lungs with air and cast off his enemy, not willing to give in without a struggle. A growl reached his ears, warm breath brushed his neck, and though he turned his head his vision was blurred. He could not even make out a shadow, and due to the lack of air and the pain his body succumbed. Unconsciously the king collapsed.
Tarés' prayer faded away unheard.
Halamin pressed the sleeve of his jerkin against Hilberon's temple until the bleeding stopped, grimacing at the wound, one among the many the soldiers of the Royal Guard proudly counted for the freedom of their ruler. Hilberon dismissed the older man's effort with a grunt when a noise from beyond the campsite caught his attention. He frowned. It was the sound of something heavy being dragged – like a thick bundle of leather pulled over the pavement of the City. The sound drew nearer accompanied by heavy breathing, and the chatter of the Gondorians subsided. Involuntarily, they held their breaths in anticipation, praying and hoping that their fears would not confirmed.
Hilberon leant forward, craning his neck to watch the cleft where the sound had emitted from, and upon seeing Asentis, clad only in trousers, but without tunic or boots, he gasped in astonishment turning to a shocked cry. The Easterling dragged a half conscious man behind him, who ineffectively tried to get a hold of his captor's wrist, but was too weak to pull himself free. Asentis moved on to the centre of the camp with an expression of grim satisfaction, baring his teeth, and nodding to Harishdane on the other side of the fire, where she appeared out of nowhere. Ignoring the angered shouts turning to uproar he forcefully pulled the captive one last time to let go of him in front of his fellows. Asentis' eyes narrowed looking to the shocked and finally numbed faces of the soldiers.
"No," Tarés muttered in disbelief, slowly shaking his head upon the sight of the battered face of his king. "It can't be…"
The king swallowed and turned on his back to reduce the pain in his thighs and ribcage, and opened his eyes to look up to Asentis' impressive form still towering above him to celebrate his victory while the prisoners, awaking from the state of shock, cursed him viciously, in an outraged moment about to jump up and fight the Easterling. The Dunlending guards kept their hands on their clubs willing to move in. Asentis' eyes gleamed as he collected the praise from Harishdane and Nisenur and the growled acknowledgement of the hillmen. Then the Easterling's glare fell upon Ridasha, who had hidden in the shadow.
"This was your fault," he accused her in Westron with his deep voice loud enough to let everyone hear. "Your task was to watch him! You failed!" He turned to her, making one step in her direction as she withdrew wide-eyed.
It was the moment the king gathered up his strength to throw himself forward, clutching to Asentis' legs in a desperate attempt to keep him from retaliating against the woman. Asentis stumbled and landed on his hands grunting. Quickly he tore his right foot out of Aragorn's grasp and thrust it backwards, breaking the enemy's grip by a kick to his face and neck. Aragorn let go, unable to withstand the vicious force, and fell back, broken by the pain, which seemed to shatter his whole body. At once Asentis was on his feet again, swivelling around, ready to strike again with all strength.
"Leave him alone!" Hilberon had never been so agile, so vigorous, and so reckless. He leapt forward to intercept Asentis' brutal attack at the already beaten king.
"No, Hilberon, no!" Aragorn cried out, shedding blood on the ground, but it was too late.
Hilberon rammed himself against Asentis' midsection, throwing him off-balance, but the Easterling took the provocation with gruesome determination and punched the young soldier twice in the stomach, enjoying the grunts and strangled cries, driving the soldiers deeper into shock. Hilberon doubled over, and broke down on the spot, coughing and grimacing with pain. He collapsed to a writhing bundle on the ground, trying to catch his breath. His face turned red at the strain as if he was choked. Halamin screamed, but was not heard. Asentis' nostrils flared and his hands were tight fists when he approached again, eager to wash away the disgrace of being attacked by that ignorant youth.
"It is enough," Harishdane decided from the opposite side. "There will be no further resistance." In her dark red tunic but barefooted she stalked across the campsite, a glare of appreciation in her dark eyes, and her heart beat fast upon watching her favourite fighter win again. "Leave them where they are as a reminder to all of them." Gently she touched his bare, sweaty shoulder, glancing at the scratches on his chest before she dismissed him with an indicated nod to face the captives. "If anyone moves toward them he will be killed," she uttered, and all, who heard and saw her, felt the cold of her viciousness creep into their bodies. Involuntarily they shivered, but it only added up to the despair they already experienced. Harishdane caught a glimpse of Ridasha, who stood six feet away, trembling. "Your punishment will be set by the gods," the leader announced. "Be aware that there will be no mercy."
Ridasha cast down her eyes, hardly able to swallow for her heart beat high in her throat, but she nodded obediently. Her decision had been wrong, and now her leader would make her suffer. But had it not been Úshemor who let the slave escape? He was under her guidance – or not?
Harishdane looked from the captives down to their two miserable companions, satisfied with the outcome. It would be true – there would be no further resistance once her orders would be fulfilled. She turned to Nisenur, and he eagerly jumped to attention. Though it was always granted she appreciated his obedience without ever uttering questions and let him know by the slightest smile, which he feebly returned.
"Bind them, and make it tight." She turned and left while the young man ran for a coil of rope.
Tarés watched his leader's wrists and ankles being bound, and the helplessness made him clench his teeth. Had they not done everything to secure his escape? How could it be that the Easterling had found and overwhelmed him? He had not even been at the campsite at the moment of the king's disappearance! With a heavy sigh he averted his eyes, but still heard the low moans of the young soldier. It was a fact – they were beaten. Finally there would be no other way then to obey their captors, wherever they were led to in the end. He hated the thought alone, but what else could they do?
Aragorn endured the binding and the menacing curses the Easterling uttered. His only answer was to spit blood at his enemy's feet, expecting another retaliation, which did not come. Sneering about the victory the man bound his ankles tightly and left him. His body was battered and hurt bad enough to seek oblivion in unconsciousness. On the ground a dark puddle of blood showed that his lips and nose were still bleeding, and the leaden taste made him heave. Shifting his weight only slightly he got closer to Hilberon to find out how he was faring since no other would be allowed to come. The young man had drawn up his knees to his chest and covered his face with his hands. Aragorn stretched out his hands to touch his arm.
Hilberon swallowed, trying to force himself to be the hard and courageous Gondorian soldier he wanted to be, but he could not. He knew they all had lost. Again the king had not escaped. Their captors would do horrible things with them, punishing them until all resistance and hope would have been crushed. Finally he cried out of pain, out of misery and hopelessness. With his face behind his hands he was no longer able to pretend he had hope and stamina. He had nothing left to give.
"Hilberon, look at me," Aragorn softly requested and sighed. His own situation was endurable compared to the deep despair the young soldier had been driven into. The king saw his shoulders twitch and flinched with compassion. His regret to take the young man on the excursion came too late, and he feared Hilberon would give up.
Hilberon stifled the sobs and blinked the tears away, slowly lowering his hands, too ashamed to look into his ruler's eyes.
"I'm sorry," he whispered drawing up his nose.
"Don't be. Greater men than you have wept." He gave Hilberon's arm a short squeeze of reassurance, but he knew too well that there could be no comfort. He could see the expression of loss and fear on the young man's features. In these days of captivity Hilberon's face had lost its innocence. He had grown into a man, only to experience defeat. Aragorn inhaled, searching for words to relieve the man's burden, but his voice was hoarse. "If you find water in the barren lands you still are in the barren lands, but for some time it is endurable. It lightens my heart to see how courageous you are."
Hilberon swallowed and opened his mouth, but needed time until the words passed his lips, and he still fought the pain when he finally whispered,
"There is no hope, right?"
Aragorn was caught by the desperate stare of his soldier, who wanted to hear that there was always hope and that somehow they would be saved. The king found himself unwilling to lie into his face when at the same time their enemies were armed and – as it seemed – equipped with insurmountable abilities and strength.
"I do not know, Hilberon. I do not dare say what lies ahead of us. But I will not forsake you or me until the last breath is spent."
The young man wanted to believe. He needed something to cling to even if it was false hope, but seeing his ruler's bloodied and tired face, his beaten body, bound to immobility, he was not sure if his words were enough to nourish what little hope now sparked.
Late after midnight Ridasha sat in the darkness, her left leg drawn up to support her head while her arms were wound around the shin. She had denied herself the tears of regret and anxious anticipation what kind of punishment awaited her as soon as she would meet Gishvané. The high priestess of her own tribe would get the report of Ridasha's failure and would be asked to judge about her. She let out a nervous breath. She was too agitated and too frightened to sleep, and while the men and women lay down to rest she stared at the healer and his comrade – Hilberon as he had called him. They both had not moved for some time, but she doubted they would sleep. Strider, laying on his side with his face directed to the young soldier, looked awful, as if Asentis had dragged him up the whole trail. His tunic and trousers were torn at several spots, and beneath it many red scratches could be seen. Some gashes on his arms were deeper and had drenched the cloth. She had wished to tend his wounds, but Harishdane had made it very clear that the captives should not be taken care of. Ridasha's remark about the responsibility toward the slave had been dismissed, and she doubted even more that Harishdane still obeyed the ritual's consequences after her insolence. Now the leader and Asentis were gone and only Dunlendings remained as guards, standing or sitting near the fire, casting an occasional glance at the beaten Gondorians. Their short wave of happiness had turned to numbed terror, and still none of them uttered a word. Their hollow stares were directed to the men in the centre, as if they could not believe their eyes. The older soldier with the long brown beard wiped his face with his dirty hands and lowered his gaze. He would not sleep either.
Slowly Ridasha rose, astonished again how much the wound over her knee had healed and that it only caused little discomfort when moved. She took a full water-skin and bridged the distance with determined steps, not letting the hillmen see that she acted against Harishdane's order. They would not care, anyway. The relations between the primitives and her race were difficult to say the least, and since Woldro and other tribal leaders had been treated condescendingly and unfairly by their allies most of the Dunlendings would prefer the Easterlings to leave a good number of weapons behind and return to Rhûn. Ridasha had heard the Dunlendings talk about their allies who treated them with scorn, but they would endure this treatment as long as the Easterlings were useful to their own purpose. As far as Ridasha knew the time to leave Dunland had not yet come. For the moment she did not care, but thought about all the details Gishvané had once told her about the rituals. The wise high priestess of the Mushéni-Rhûneshan had sat in her tent lecturing about slaves and their treatment, and that at no time it was allowed to let them suffer needlessly. The tribe owning the slaves had to take care of their well-being and that even their wounds were treated. Crouching between the healer and the young soldier she opened the water-skin.
"Strider?" she whispered and looked around, insecure if Harishdane or Asentis would watch her from afar. Her heartbeat sped up; she was about to make another mistake, to ignore a direct order – though it was wrong –, and still she remained where she was, kept by something she would not even admit to herself. "Strider, open your eyes." She waited a few seconds more, then poured some water in her cupped hand and applied it to his lips, hoping he would wake for she could not stay long. The healer swallowed and slowly opened his mouth, tasting the liquid. His breathing sped up, and he forced his eyes to open. Ridasha felt the pain in his look like a stinging rod, and she flinched. "Drink some water if you can," she said avoiding the hurt expression, but unable to miss all the injuries Asentis' fury had caused. The healer barely lifted his head from the ground but drank while she held the flagon.
"Thank you," he then croaked and coughed. Pressing his lips tight he shut his eyes against the pain flooding him immediately. Ridasha waited, recalling the way he had thrown himself at Asentis. She frowned and found herself saying lowly,
"What a strange behaviour, man from Gondor, to attack Asentis. Why did you do that?"
His vision seemed to clarify, and in his grey eyes a sudden intensity shone.
"Are you unharmed?" he uttered and raised his head a little more. "I thought he would kill you."
Ridasha held the water-skin on her lap, frowning, and surprised at the assumption.
"Kill? We do not hurt or kill one of our own. And even if he wanted to – your intervention would only have delayed it."
The healer let his head rest on the hard ground, obviously calmed by the news. He looked at Hilberon for a moment, but the young soldier was unresponsive. Rising his gaze again he whispered,
"You let me go."
Ridasha was taken aback by the sudden revelation, and in the healer's eyes she supposed to see Úshemor staring at her, questioning her behaviour. The goddess had observed Ridasha's indecisiveness and let the captive take advantage of it. But why? Her anxiety rose, and she feared the consequences of her doing even more. She prayed silently, until she found the courage to say,
"It would not have been in my power, and it is not wise to name a goddess' weakness." Her heart raced suddenly, and again she looked around if her stay was still secret. The Dunlending guard added some twigs to the fire, but did not bother to speak to her. Grimacing at the sight of the two captives laying like bundles of misery in itself on the ground, she added, "It won't happen again." There was a long silence between them. Ridasha thought of Harishdane's cruelty and shivered in sudden distress. The healer wet his chapped lips. His worried expression was directed to the young soldier, who had tried to help him, a fact, which added to Ridasha's confusion. There had been no chance to win against Asentis' incessant fury, but still he had tried to save the healer from further punishment. She could not explain why. "Did Úshemor make you escape?" she then said though the words came not willingly over her lips. She did not know what she would do if he nodded.
The young soldier stirred and moaned, and Strider's attention turned to him.
"Give him water, please."
Ridasha stooped and held the water-skin at Hilberon's lips when she saw him open his eyes. He drank and coughed severely as soon as the liquid reached his aching stomach. Weakly he let his head rest again on the hard ground and closed his eyes. The painful expression remained.
"I need some of the herbs from my pouch," the healer pleaded. "I cannot reach them."
The same moment Nisenur stirred on the other side of the campfire. Ridasha swallowed hard. She had already stayed too long! And she was afraid that Harishdane would punish her once she found out that she had exceeded her help for the captives by applying herbs to the wounds. She shook her head, letting the healer know that she would help if she could, and at the same time unfastened her own pouch from her belt and opened it. Exhaling Strider gave in. He had no breath left for an argument and thought her to be gone when she whispered,
"Do your herbs do magic?" She quickly took two mishénian leaves and held one to the healer's lips.
He swallowed and through the pain she saw the shadow of a smile tug at the corner of his mouth.
"Your wound was not too deep." He let her put the leaf on his tongue and Hilberon took it the same way when Strider nodded his approval.
"That is a…", but she interrupted herself when Nisenur turned on his side where he would spot her immediately. Hastily she closed the water-skin, grabbed the pouch, and withdrew to the shadows to find some rest.
Aragorn woke to the movement at his feet. His legs were untied, and when he wearily opened his eyes to yet another day in the hands of their captors he saw a cloudless sky above him, pale blue, close to sunrise. It seemed to mock him with its beauty. Lowering his gaze he saw the younger male Easterling take away the rope, only to kick him against his thigh, enjoying the hardly suppressible spasm of his captive.
"Get up!" He moved on to Hilberon, took away the bonds around the ankles and shook the young soldier to make him move. Without getting an immediate reaction he grabbed the man's arm to lift him to his feet. Hilberon's eyelids fluttered, but he was not awake.
"Leave him!" Aragorn wanted to shout, but could utter no more than a cracked whisper. Chin and jawbone, hit in the assault, hurt badly. As did every move. The Easterling stared at him, growled some words in his tongue and let go of Hilberon. The young soldier curled up again, but judged by his heavy breathing he was awake now. For a moment the king's eyes adjusted to the waking dawn and he looked around. The fire was extinguished, the guards had gathered their packs and were ready to leave. His men already stood, watching him with worried faces. Aragorn swallowed and carefully touched his chin and swollen lips before he forced himself to sit up. It took him more time to get on his feet, pretending the fight the evening before had neither quenched his strength nor his stamina. He failed, and Tarés grabbed his arm in time to stop him from falling.
"My lord, you are too weak to walk," he uttered in a hushed whisper for Asentis closed in, inspecting the procedure.
"I can go on," Aragorn replied and straightened carefully. Every muscle seemed tense and hurt, and without the pressing necessity to remain on his feet he would have given in to the pain. On his ruler's demanding look Tarés took his hand away. "Take care of Hilberon."
Tarés and Halamin quickly helped Hilberon to his feet. He stood bent like a tree in a storm and needed time to straighten. Harishdane appeared and called Ridasha to her while the second-in-command concentrated on the king, teasing and challenging him with a mocking glance. Aragorn stood fast, holding the enemy's stare captive in an unspoken threat to avenge every evil deed delivered to his people. Deliberately Asentis turned the polearm in his right hand, showing off his abilities with the unique weapon of the Easterlings until he held the blade straight to the king's throat. His mouth twitched, his eyes narrowed in the attempt to frighten his opponent, but still the king held him, unflinching, unperturbed. Exhaling noisily Asentis withdrew the weapon, cursing in shék, and left to head the group with Harishdane.
"You better be careful, Strider," Halamin said lowly in his back, "He's in a foul mood." A moment later the soldier gasped. "Your jerkin and shirt… they are torn! And you got scratches all over your back! By the Valar, how could that have happened?"
Aragorn was about to answer when Ridasha approached, taking out her scarf. Her expression told him that she had just been reprimanded, and he did not speak to her while her leader watched.
"Stretch out your hands," she ordered avoiding his glance.
Harishdane welcomed Asentis with a friendly smile and a gentle touch, and turned her attention to the rest of the Easterlings, who expected her commands.
"What have you been told to do?" He frowned when she started winding the scarf around his already bound hands. Her voice was low and mingled with regret, but he could not decide to whom it was directed.
"She does not want you to escape anymore."
"She made that very clear, yes." He locked eyes with her. "And you?" Ridasha did not answer but finished binding him, and her glance found Nisenur coming up from behind with a rope. He bound the captive's arms above the elbows on his back and pulled tight. The healer quickly looked over his shoulder. "Why…?" The pain of his shoulder blades being abruptly drawn together caught him off-guard. Nisenur finished the knots and moved on. "How far will your leader's revenge go?" he asked trying to move his arms in vain; they were pressed against his sides, and with the scarf around his hands he would not even be able to shore himself up when he stumbled.
"I cannot tell." Ridasha swallowed. She knew far too much to tell him voluntarily; she had seen it in Harishdane's eyes, and still asked herself why her leader had such an explicit interest in a Gondorian healer to go further with her punishment than the goddess allowed. Without another word Ridasha turned to take up her place along the row of captives. Asentis' shout echoed, and the group slowly began the day's march.
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