With Hope and Without Hope: 2. Taking Winnings

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2. Taking Winnings


The defeat of the three spies was never in doubt. The uruk-hai Norgry only wondered whether they would give up or fight to the death. They had lasted longer than he'd expected, but after the man's leg had caught the arrow, the dwarf had soon followed. Maybe he was distracted by the wounding of his comrade. These mortals tended to stick together. Worry about each other. That usually ended badly for them. Orcs and Uruk-hai were not bothered with such worries. Survival and little else mattered to this rabble. Norgry nearly laughed when the elf attempted to defend all three of them when he alone was left standing. It wasn't long before the fool realized his efforts were in vain and held up his hands in defeat. Norgry was a bit disappointed, for it would have been a pleasurable kill. But now that Uglúk had given orders to keep the three creatures alive if they surrendered, Norgry hoped to savor their deaths at his own pace. Especially that disgusting elf - he would enjoy killing him.

Norgry hadn't kept the back-row fracas from Uglúk's notice as he'd hoped. The uruk leader had halted the march to stick his nose into what was supposed to be under Norgry's control. When the battle raging on the far side of the eastern hill caught his attention, a strange gleam had grown in Uglúk's eyes. Norgry didn't know what Uglúk was up to, changing their orders from 'kill all but the halflings' to this talk of keeping prisoners, but he was not of a mind to argue with the hulking uruk. So he had watched the battle, silhouetted against a pale predawn sky, making sure Uglúk's new command was obeyed.

Norgry pointed to a group ogling their catch and five Orcs approached the three as they stood in defeat, their weapons at their feet. The man panted and leaned on his good leg. The dwarf's leg bled, but he seemed not to notice. The elf stared at them all with steely eyes. "Step back from your weapons!" shouted one of his soldiers.

The dwarf grumbled. "This is madness. Better to battle until they have slain us!" The dwarf was smarter than he looked, to Norgry's surprise.

"Aye, Gimli, it would be better for us," the elf answered quietly. "But we can help no one if we are dead."

The dwarf gave him no reply but stepped back stiffly from his weapon, as the others did when the Orc repeated his command more forcefully.

A small goblin that had climbed the hill to watch the spectacle grabbed at the gleaming sword the man had cast down in the end, but after a moment, he cried out and threw the weapon away as if it burned him. With a snarl, he glared at the man then back at his fellow soldiers. "Elvish make that one must be! It burns like fire!"

At that moment, another small Orc cried out. From the North, both of them, Norgry remembered. "Ai! This one too!" He flung the bow into the field, and Norgry noticed the elf's eyes follow its path through the brightening sky.

Norgry laughed. "You northern lads must have rat dung for brains! Of course it's elvish, bûb-bag! It belongs to an elf. Now stop this nonsense and bind them!"

"Norgry, this axe ain't elvish. It's strong. Can I keep it?"

Norgry narrowed his eyes at this rat. Always he was asking for the go ahead for what he meant to do anyway. If he didn't get permission, he'd find another way to get what he wanted. Norgry looked at the Dwarvish axe. Hefting it, he swung it about, causing many to step back, uncertain they weren't about to be cut down. "It's strong, but heavier than I like my weapons. Keep it if you want." With a shrug, he thrust it back to him. "But you best search them for other weapons if you don't want your throat cut of a sudden. And take their packs. Might have something of use. Now hurry up!"

An Orc quickly began retrieving their belongings. The man hesitated, holding onto his pack, his hand inside, rummaging as if trying to salvage something from it. The Orc tried to wrench it from him, then suddenly the man surrendered it, hands empty, yielding the pack and all its contents. Norgry narrowed his eyes at the strange behavior, but he didn't have time to figure out the man's actions.

As all five got to work binding their captives, the rest of the Orcs sat about, taking the chance to rest from their march. "You lazy pack of dogs! Get ready to move on. We got no time to waste!" Norgry made his way through the milling rabble to report to Uglúk on their new catch.

He hadn't gotten a dozen steps when he heard Fagrod calling out to him. "Norgry! If we're gonna kill them, why don't we just do it and be done with it? As you said, we got no time to waste."

Norgry growled. Though only an Orc, Fagrod was one of the smarter ones. Sometimes that was more trouble than aid to him. At least he was of Isengard, and there was no need to question his loyalties. "Are you trying to decide what my orders should be?"

"No! It's just that what we're to do with them decides even how we bind them, uh, sir."

"What we're to do with them, that's for Uglúk to decide. Now unless you want him to find out what's happened from the chatter and claver instead of my report, you won't harry me with questions. And right now, I'm of a mind that I like to look at our prisoners and know that they will die. So I say keep them for a bit. Which means, bind them so they'll keep!"

"Well, Norgry, there's, eh, one more thing I was thinking..."

"What now!"

"It's just that, after all this, I was thinking we earned a bit of sport for ourselves. Plus, the lads are starting to grumble, especially that whining Mordor lot. If we gave them all some toys to play with, it might keep them quiet and marching longer in the end. Besides, we've trekked for days on end through this empty place, and do you expect Saruman to thank you for it? There ain't no reward waiting for us at Isengard, and if there was, Uglúk would take it straight away. So why not take some when we can?

Norgry's eyes narrowed. So this was his point, finally. "So we take a bit of sport, eh?"

"I was thinking so. You should get the elf yourself, sir. He'll last, no matter what you do to him. You could have fun with that one for a while yet. I don't know what Uglúk's got planned for them, but I'm thinking he don't care what we do with them, long as we leave the killing to him." Norgry let himself smile at the thought of the elf as his own prisoner, but he wasn't as sure as Fagrod of Uglúk's disregard for the captives. He remembered the shine in the uruk's eyes. Perhaps his thoughts had been similar to Fagrod's. And he might not be of a mind to share.

"The man won't last long, I figure," Fagrod continued, "with the way he's bleeding, but that doesn't mean he can't provide some distraction for a few of this lot. And the dwarf, who knows? I've never had a dwarf to play with. Might be interesting to find out how long he lasts." He stopped there, waiting for Norgry's decision.

"Hmph. Always thinking, you are, Fagrod. Knew there was some reason I had you around. You're right about no rewards from no one. Only thing is, we have to be careful about Uglúk." Norgry looked pointedly at Fagrod. "We might have to do a bit more sharing than we'd like. That's all right, though. We'll take what falls in our hands! Don't mention it to nobody till I tell Uglúk, see what's on his mind for them. And I'm not asking for an extra break for this, so there's no time for it now. At the next break in our march, we'll have ourselves some games. When the time comes, I will take the elf. And you can have the dwarf if you're so interested. You decide who gets the man. But make sure enough of them get a piece of him. This is supposed to shut them up, after all. I don't wanna hear no grumbling after this. Make sure they know that!"

"Will do!" Fagrod went off with a toothy grin.

Norgry turned to continue on to Uglúk when Fagrod's original question regarding the binding of the prisoners sunk in. With a curse, he returned to where the prisoners were now trussed and sitting silently on the ground, hands bound in their laps and connected to each other with a length of thick rope. Norgry was mildly irked he neither saw nor smelled fear in them yet. There would be time for that, though, and he smiled at the thought. He lost the smile when he realized he needed yet again to teach this rabble common sense. "Machlhug! What'd you use to bind the prisoners?"

The Mordor Orc frowned. "Rope. What'd you expect me to use?"

Norgry narrowed his eyes at the insolence and took a step towards him. "On all of them?"

"Yeh, all of them, tied up good and tight."

Norgry suddenly whacked the Orc on the side of the head. "Haven't you ever had an elf prisoner afore? If you did, you didn't keep him long. You can't keep Elves with simple rope, bûb-bag! They're not as weak as Men! Here! Put these on him," he ordered, detaching a pair of iron cuffs from his belt.

Machlhug glared but turned to the elf, who watched Norgry intently. The uruk repressed a shiver at the glance. He hated when they did that! He swung his fist good and hard into the elf's face. That made him feel much better, though the elf had managed to see it coming somehow and dodged it, so he barely caught the side of his head. There was a red spot growing on his cheekbone, though, and that was enough for Norgry right now. Soon enough, he'd make it so those eyes would never look at him again.

Norgry shook himself. No time for those thoughts now. Business first. He watched as Machlhug carefully undid the ropes binding the elf, while two other Orcs held their blades at his neck. Finally, Machlhug clamped the iron shackles forcefully onto the wrists of the elf, who gave no resistance. This one was waiting for death, Norgry supposed, and had no fight left in him. That would prove disappointing, not to mention boring. Maybe he just knew when he was outnumbered. Elves weren't stupid; Norgry knew that and had the scars to prove it. Machlhug shook the cuffs, assuring that they held.

"Now that's how you bind an elf! Remember that! When we're ready to move, get them moving and place two on guard ahead and behind them, then one on each side. We keep marching!"

As he stepped away, Norgry noticed the shiver Machlhug failed to suppress when the elf glowered at him. Machlhug kicked at the elf, who quickly ducked. The Orc tried again, aiming this time for the dirt in front of him. The elf was too fast, though, and rather than spraying the elf's face, Machlhug had to be satisfied with an elf in dusty clothes. Norgry chuckled as Machlhug growled in frustration. "I can't wait to watch you die," the Mordor Orc hissed, turning quickly, likely to avoid the sting of another glare, and commanded the Orcs next to him to keep watch. "When I give the call, you get them on their feet."

Norgry added as he turned to leave, "Remember, no killing just yet! You lot hear that? They stay alive." Norgry smiled as he added, "At least for now."

******

Aragorn gave up trying to push his mind from the present, as they plodded over swelling hills in the darkness and the pain in his leg prevented his mental escape. He was fortunate that the arrowhead was still imbedded in the wound, as it had prevented more serious blood loss. But his leg burned, likely with infection, and Aragorn was uncertain how much farther he could march.

He dwelled instead on his growing list of missteps that had brought them to this point. Always he went back to the decision to run through the night rather than rest. He had had sound reasons behind his choice. They might not otherwise have caught up with the Orc army - that much was likely. But what he had failed to properly reckon was their strength, even his own, after three days of running with scant rest, which had left them unfit for battle. Had he not faltered and been injured, Gimli might not have been distracted and then wounded as well. Legolas would not have had to fight for them all, an impossible task. At least Legolas remained wise enough to remember their quarry and accept defeat.

He had chosen poorly once more, a possibly fatal error, and now the worst had come to pass. How many of his friends would he lose to his poor judgment? How was he to rule a kingdom when he could not rescue two friends from Orcs? They did not yet know the fate of Merry and Pippin; in fact, they had not seen them since they had begun their attack on the Orcs. He could only pray for the hobbits' safety. For their own, he thought perhaps even prayer was in vain. In all his time as a Ranger wandering the wild, he had never been so unfortunate or unwise as to be captured by Orcs. He did not need first-hand experience, however, to know that Gimli spoke truly - their end would have gone easier for them had they battled to their last breath. But Legolas was also correct. They were not on a mission for themselves but to save the hobbits, and most especially to keep them from Isengard. For Saruman had clearly gone after hobbits and would know precisely what questions to ask. And Saruman had ways of ensuring he received his answers.

Consequently, they traveled in fetters over the plains of Rohan, the babble of the Entwash enticingly near. Night had fallen long ago, and occasional torches shed an eerie glow upon their dark captors. With little expectation of their own survival, Aragorn held onto the hope that they might yet manage to free their friends. He would die more at peace knowing Merry and Pippin did not suffer the same fate.

He stumbled again and failed to hide it this time. Gimli, trudging in front of him, slowed so that Aragorn could lean on him. The man allowed himself a moment of relief to see that the dwarf's stride was barely slowed by his own wound. Aragorn then felt Legolas grasp his elbow to steady him. Their efforts helped, but he knew that at some point they would not be enough.

Too soon, the world pitched sideways and Aragorn found himself on the ground, pulling his companions with him. Legolas and Gimli scrambled to get him up before the whips came, but he was as a dead man already, and they could not lift him with their bonds.

"Aragorn!" He heard Legolas cry harshly. The use of his true name roused Aragorn from his daze, and he looked about to see if the word held meaning for any others. That one word could prove more dangerous to him than any sword. For the same reason, he had made the desperate decision upon their capture to remove his Ring of Barahir and deposit it in his pack. Orcs would ransack the bags and then hopefully discard them. The chances of the ring reaching Saruman were, if not remote, certainly not as likely as they would have been had it remained on his finger. He could not be recognized for who he truly was. And he would not have the heirloom of the House of Isildur in the hands of Saruman.

Legolas seemed confused by the concern on his face, then noticed where Aragorn looked - at his bare finger. The elf's eyes widened, but clearly he understood. "You must get up! A Ranger does not give up so easily, or have they become so lax? You cannot give up! Now on your feet!" He yanked the Ranger to his feet, only to have both of them greeted by a whip.

"Get moving, you rats! I don't remember anyone mentioning a rest!"

"He is injured!" Legolas said. "If you wish him to keep moving, you must allow me tend to his wound."

"I don't gotta do nothing. You, on the other hand, better get moving! Now!" There was a swish Aragorn recognized as the whip in motion, and as he heard it land on flesh, he was dragged until he was once again able to stumble on his own.

It was not long before Aragorn fell yet again. "Come now, Ara- Strider! You were not named such without cause! Live up to your name!"

"Aye, Strider," Gimli added, "Stride now! You must not falter!" Struggling as he was with his own injuries, he fairly dragged the man behind him.

But it was no use. Aragorn shook his head, panting with his efforts. "Forgive me, my friends. But I am beyond even my endurance." He paused to catch his breath. "I have erred, and gravely. Forgive me." His final words trailed off as Aragorn collapsed into a heap on the ground. No prodding from the two could get him to rise.

Aragorn vaguely heard shouts above him, but they meant little. Even the whip failed to prod his body into movement. He sensed his friends still near him, urging him onward. In the darkness beyond them were the Orcs and their rough speech. "I think that one's dead already. Get Norgry - but not Uglúk! Now!" And another one, "You'd better hope he's not dead. Norgry says Uglúk wants them alive. For what, I'd like to know. But I'm not taking the blame for it if he is."

"What's this?" A loud deep voice barked as an Orc pushed through the cluster of soldiers.

"It's the man, Norgry. He won't get up. I think he's dead."

"You think he's dead? Did you check to see if he was dead?" Heavy boots stomped over, his friends were shoved away, and a hand clamped onto his chest. "His heart's still beating. What's all the fuss?"

"He won't walk no more. The other two can't even get him up. Whips and kicks ain't stirring him neither."

The uruk pulled Aragorn up and shook him. His head flopped and rolled with his body. "Blasted men. So weak. I don't know what your lot will get out of this one, Fagrod. But no changing now."

The footsteps of another Orc neared. "Well, then, if he's gonna die, lemme take him now, so they can get something out of him. What say you?"

After a pause, the uruk grunted. "I suppose we could take a breather - a short one, mind you! We're almost to the forest anyways. You're responsible for him, including after. If he or the dwarf's in a dead-sleep when we're ready to move again, you'll be carrying them."

Aragorn's ears perked up and he focused his concentration. His attention may have faded somewhat in his daze, but he realized if he wanted them to treat him as alive he had better start acting alive. He breathed deeply and attempted to move. The one who still held him noticed and shoved him into the arms of another Orc, who apparently did not expect the sudden burden. Aragorn fell to the ground with a thud and a groan.

"See? He ain't dead. Enjoy your sport with him!"

Aragorn cracked his eyes open to see outlines of Legolas and Gimli sitting nearby in the dim light of far-off torches. Legolas's eyes glinted, wide with concern. "Ara- Strider!" cried Gimli. "It does not sound good for you, my friend. And I can do nothing..." Aragorn realized Gimli was also losing his grip on his faculties. They had both pushed themselves beyond their endurance. And now he had been put in the hands of an Orc given counsel to 'enjoy' him. He was sure all enjoyment was to be had by the Orc.

Instead of leaving, however, the uruk walked over to Legolas, pulled him up by the hair, and disconnected him from their tether. "And this one, I'm gonna enjoy this one, all right! Fagrod, I'm gonna have to keep you around. You have some good ideas. Listen up, lads. This one's mine unless I say so." Legolas was buffeted back and forth as the uruk gestured with the large hand that held him. "Fagrod will decide who gets the man. He's gonna share the dwarf among some of you. Said something about wanting to see how long a dwarf will last. They might be dying, being mortal and all, so pay attention! No killing till I say so. This one," he looked greedily at Legolas, "this one will last a nice long time." The large uruk laughed as he dragged Legolas off with him.

Aragorn held Legolas's eyes, and the determination he found there sparked a seed of hope he had not dared to nurture. Legolas would survive, at least. And if he were the only one, he would see the hobbits freed or die trying. Aragorn looked for comfort in that thought, but found little.

Gimli, on the other hand, stumbled as he was dragged away by a small group of Orcs. He had not the presence of mind to look back, and Aragorn silently prayed for him to find strength. As another group of Orcs dragged Aragorn to his feet, laughing and joking gleefully for the sport to come, he knew he had best pray for strength of his own.

******

Waking to the feel of rough grass beneath his face, Gimli found himself under guard of one lethargic Orc in the early morning light. He tested moving a leg. Still hurt. The Orcs' beating had not eased the pain from his initial wound. Less painful was his other leg, uninjured in their desperate battle that had ended in capture. Gimli bit down the shame he felt each time he thought of their failure. Guilt and blame would not help them. What would, he could not imagine.

At least he was able to stand on two legs, if not steadily on both. Able to walk, his captors were less likely to find him too much trouble to keep alive. He knew not for what reason they had been kept as prisoners. Perhaps the sport the Orcs had just enjoyed had been reason enough for them. To be kept alive for torture was a dismal prospect.

He was not overly concerned with his own wound. It was only a graze by one of the Orcs' decrepit blades, not nearly as serious as Aragorn's wounding at the point of an arrow yet imbedded in the Ranger's thigh. It was no doubt causing him great pain, as Aragorn had been unable to avoid limping and stumbling as they marched the previous day. Now his injuries would be compounded by the beating the Orcs had visited upon him. In the coming dawn, Gimli could see Aragorn lying on the ground beside him; they must have returned the man at some point before Gimli had awakened, but Aragorn had yet to regain consciousness.

At the sound of nearby shuffling, Gimli opened his eyes a crack to watch a large uruk dump Legolas nearby with a chuckle. The elf flopped heedlessly beside Gimli. Oblivious to the jeers and grumbling of Orcs around them, he watched Legolas and Aragorn intently until the rise and fall of their chests assured him they lived. It was the only sign of their health, however, as they lay still as the dead. Aragorn's clothes were torn, revealing dark blotches of which Gimli could not discern bruises from blood. Legolas's jerkin had been all but destroyed, and cuts and bruises were clear through tears in his tunic and breeches. Both were muddy and disheveled. As with Gimli, their Elven cloaks were missing, likely ripped from them while the Orcs beat on them.

But they drew breath and so lived. Forced to be satisfied with that, he closed his eyes once more. Gimli was fortunate, he knew. The beasts had thought that he, too, might be near death, and so did not abuse him as greatly as they might have had they considered him healthy. He wondered how close he - or any of them - were to death in truth, but his head began to pound and he gave up his train of thought, instead listening to the sounds about him.

The Orcs surrounding Gimli argued ceaselessly. Nothing was agreed upon without quarrel, even when assignments such as guard duty were clear. Gimli hoped their masters held enough sway over them that they would not disregard entirely their orders to keep them alive.

"Come, Grishnákh! Isengard don't rule us. I say we return to Lugbúrz. What have two halflings got to do with the Great Eye? If he wanted them, he would have them."

"He does want them. Maybe Saruman thinks to get them for himself, but the Great Eye will have them - and whatever they have - in the end."

"The halflings are a nuisance! I say we kill them and take off. We'd move much faster without them."

"You've got some good sport with those new prisoners. And I say they'll live a while yet. So quit your griping. Remember who you serve! We serve the Great Eye and no other!"

"Grishnákh is right, lads. I'm thinking, if we got to trek across horse country, at least we got some toys to fill the time. What we got waiting for us back in Lugbúrz? I'm for enjoying this bit of fun while we got it." There was a chorus of cheers, and the Orcs seemed to settle down. Then, in a quieter, guarded tone, as if spoken to one only, the same Orc continued. "So, you do think the halflings got something the Great Eye wants."

The answering Orc hesitated. "I'd wager it. It must be." It was the one they had called Grishnákh.

"You think they got a weapon or something?"

"Could be. Or perhaps it's them. Maybe halflings have some magic about them. Can't say I know much about them. But I'm planning to keep an eye on those two. I don't care what this Saruman has to say."

A muffled groan beside Gimli drew his attention from the conversation as Legolas finally stirred. That Legolas had been unconscious at all alarmed Gimli, but he hoped the elf's recovery would be swifter than theirs. Legolas was the likeliest of them to live through this. Without him, the hobbits had no chance.

Although a groan from Aragorn soon followed, the approach of a large lumbering Orc cut off any question he might have asked of how elf or man fared. They all tensed warily as the uruk cajoled them for lying about and tried to kick them to their feet. The three struggled clumsily to stand, and though Gimli offered what support he could, each leaned heavily on another. "Remember what he told you - if they can't walk, you carry them!" the uruk told another. There were several moans and snickers from the goggling group around them.

Among the general rustling of the gang readying themselves for more marching, three Orcs nearest them discussed whether they would indeed need to carry their prisoners. "They're standing. They can march as well!" He shoved at Aragorn, who nearly toppled over.

The Orc next to him laughed. "And that's the one you'll be carrying for sure! Wretched creature!"

"If I'm carrying one, you'll be doing the same! So take your pick, but get ready for hauling!"

The third Orc grumbled. "I ain't carrying no elf! You can take your elf to Norgry, or Uglúk, or Saruman himself. I don't care! I ain't doing it!"

The first Orc turned and punched the whining Orc in the head. "Shut your trap and pick up one of these creatures. Or I'll teach you a thing about Isengard."

The third Orc narrowed his eyes. "Isengard, eh? Just wait. The Great Eye will teach you all you need to learn. Just wait till those Nazgûl come for you!"

"Enough you two! I'm sick of Isengard this and Mordor that! We got toys now, and I care a lot less which way we go. But look, there's nothing for it. We're carrying these mangy creatures. Nothing gonna change that. Although," he cackled, "I am glad I don't have to carry the elf!" The Orc who apparently had been given that duty snarled as he grabbed his charge. The other chuckled, turned to Gimli, and hoisted him over his back. Gimli groaned at the strain on his arms as the Orc pulled them over his head. Just as he watched Aragorn undergo the same indignity, he was led away by his carrier, setting off in a bouncy trot.

***

After his arms had numbed to the painful position, Gimli had fallen blissfully asleep. Hours later, he moaned as a return to consciousness brought back to him the many hurts of his body, aggravated by the constant bouncing of the jogging Orc. For a few moments, he held onto enough sleep to deny what had befallen them. He cracked open his eyes to find the sun shining brightly, high and warm, in sharp contrast to their plight. As his wits returned fully, his thoughts turned to escape. All plans that came to mind were desperate at best. He could not see a way out. Forlorn, he laid his head down against the back of the Orc and drifted away again.

The world came back to him suddenly as he hit the ground solidly on his back. Stunned for a moment, he simply stared up at the clear sky, where the sun was sliding behind the mountains to the west. With a groan, he attempted to roll to his side and stand. It was some time before he made it to his knees and he decided to be satisfied with that. After Aragorn's disengagement from his carrier, he called to him, "Ara-Strider," remembering the man's distressed look when Legolas had used his given name. "How do you fare?"

Attempting to wait patiently for a response, Gimli looked about him. The trees of Fangorn were decidedly nearer than when he had last seen them. Orcs milled about scattered fires or huddled together in various levels of conflict, but none yet stood guard over them.

His restraint suddenly reached its limit, and Gimli was about to ask his question again when Aragorn rolled over and gave something of an answer. "I live yet," he said in a hoarse voice. "Though I do not look forward to feeling my arms again."

Gimli nodded. He did not feel up to even that much speech yet. His throat was parched, as was Aragorn's, from the rasp in his voice. He turned his attention to the elf, who had just been dumped alongside them by a grumbling Orc. Staggering over to Legolas, Gimli watched the crowd for a moment. He kept an ear tuned to their grumblings, to be better prepared for a sudden change in their mood or for a moment when opportunity might show herself.

"Water," Aragorn whispered, his cracked lips barely moving.

"What was that?"

"We need water. And soon. It has been long since we had any." Aragorn struggled to sit up, favoring his injured leg. With a heaving sigh, he asked, "And how fare you, Gimli?"

Gimli shrugged. "I am likely no worse than either of you. I ache and I am weary, but I shall live. I believe those dreadful creatures were unsure of my health, for I expected poorer treatment."

"Legolas? How do you fare?" Aragorn asked quietly.

Legolas was quiet for a time. He breathed deeply and finally sat up without support before speaking. "I live yet." Aragorn looked at him expectantly, clearly wanting more. "You are correct, Strider. We are in great need of water. I am aware that mortals can scarcely go a day without it and not suffer. This will be the second day, and we went with little the two days before our capture."

"Yes, it concerns me. Without it, our bodies will weaken, including yours. But for now, we can do nothing for it. And aside from your thirst?" the Ranger looked pointedly at Legolas.

"As well as can be expected," Legolas finally said.

Aragorn sighed. "Seeing as I can do little for you regardless of your health, I suppose we must be satisfied with that."

"Ai! Hush you! No talking or I'll show you what I mean!" They turned to the Orc they had not seen approach and stilled themselves. Gimli glared as he stomped away, apparently not intending to enforce his own threat.

"They are testy," Gimli whispered. "And they seem uncertain why we have halted. Naturally, they are quarreling again, though it seemed we had provided enough distraction to quiet some of that. Do you think their plans change?"

Aragorn shook his head, turning away from the troops to avoid notice. "It seems we have marched far. This is not a pause for the daylight. I would expect the coming night to be cause to push farther and faster." He looked at the crowd again. "They are tense." He turned back to them once a pair of Orcs passed them. "I cannot do much for your hurts, yet still I would know what wounds you have suffered. Do you feel any bones broken, nausea, lightheadedness? These are very important." Gimli sat stubbornly mute beside a silent elf. Aragorn's tone became stern. "We must do all we can to survive this. Or have you forgotten why we are here?"

"Ai! Who said you could talk?" a new Orc said and grabbed Aragorn by his worn tunic. "No talking!" Throwing Aragorn down, he stomped over to two Orcs talking nearby and assigned them to guard duty.

"I could not forget!" Gimli muttered, as the Orcs argued among themselves over the new task. "I have tried to spy the hobbits through the crowd with no success."

After some time under watch, the Orcs once more drew themselves into an argument, and Aragorn continued in a whisper as if not interrupted. "If we perish, there will be none to find the hobbits. We must take care and look for the first signs of afflictions that put us in grave danger. So I ask you again, is there aught that you suffer?"

With a sigh, Legolas quietly yielded to Aragorn's questions. "I have no broken limbs. But my head does swim." His voice drifted, as if speaking to himself. "I have never felt such weariness."

Aragorn frowned with one eye on the Orcs. He shuffled closer to Legolas and laid his bound hands on his brow, though Legolas only permitted it for a moment before pulling away. "You do not burn with fever." He then reached over and felt Gimli's brow, who scurried away from his touch with sputterings of consternation. "Peace, Gimli. I only wish to be sure."

"Worry about the elf! I am well enough." Gimli found the elf's lack of focus alarming, and he thought it best that Aragorn do what he could for him while the Orcs' attention wandered.

Aragorn reached for Legolas, but a bark from the Orcs told them their attention had returned. "Ai! What're you doing? No tricks! No talk! No nothing!" He pulled Aragorn away from Legolas roughly, yanked on his bindings, and threw him to the ground, where Aragorn wisely remained.

Gimli tried to look as small and inconsequential as possible and so drew no attention from the Orc, who glared at Legolas, shook him for no apparent reason, then stomped back to his post. Gimli watched as Legolas slowly righted himself, cataloguing the cuts and bruises Aragorn had aimed to check. They were much like the injuries Gimli sported and that he saw on Aragorn, but more numerous. Gimli understood Aragorn's concern, though he wondered what the man could do for them with bound hands, even if not under this half-hearted scrutiny. He could not even clean their wounds. The dwarf felt despair creeping in on him and concentrated on following the location of the Orcs.

When the Orc finally relaxed and began conversation once more with his partner, Gimli looked back to Aragorn, who sighed with frustration. With a wry smile, he said, "There is little I could do even if left alone. I have herbs that would aid us, but most are of no use without water. And before healing any hurts, we must ease our thirst. Water is what we need most of all, and most bereft of such are we."

They were silent for a while, each in their own minds and worlds of worry. Soon, Aragorn turned to Legolas. "I suggest we rest while we are able." Aragorn shut his eyes and lowered his head to his knees. As Legolas moved stiffly to stand, Gimli wondered what would become of them.

"I will not sleep, not amongst these. You sleep, as you must. I do not need it."

Gimli frowned at Legolas, but the elf stopped him before he spoke. "Sleep, Gimli. You have perhaps only minutes before we are put to march again. I will try to wake you before they come."

"If minutes are all we have, I would rather spend it on watch," Gimli said and stood. "You rest, for you were abused the worst. And do not argue!" he added as Legolas opened his mouth. "Or do you seek to prove that Elves are indeed more stubborn than Dwarves after all?" Legolas's mouth remained open at the unexpected challenge, giving Gimli time to take a few steps and assume his watch. Hearing no response from Legolas, Gimli scanned the crowd. He would be alert for any surprise. But surprises are those events one does not expect.

******


This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: docmon

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 03/10/09

Original Post: 06/20/07

Go to With Hope and Without Hope overview

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