Two Sides of a Coin - Chapter 4: Of Pits and Pots
author's note: This is a story in which an Ithilien ranger and a Southron must learn how to get along (sorry it's been a while!).
"When you've hit the bottom, the only direction to go is up."
The night was cold and foreboding, but if Ladril did not escape now, most likely he would never get another chance.
Tightly gripping the chain of his shackles to keep them from clinking, the ranger crept over to the sleeping Southron and studied him. Noting the lock on his shackles hours before, he knew his captor was holding onto some sort of key. But now as he watched him lightly twitch in his sleep, Ladril concluded that there was no sense in searching for the key if he was not sure where it was. Instead the ranger turned to Shastan's supplies and softly sorted through them. But even in the dark Ladril could tell he was rummaging through a pile of black bags that all looked alike. By the size and shape, he could tell what bag contained what in a ranger's pack, but all the bags Shastan had salvaged from the battlefield had belonged to Southrons. Brilliant, the ranger thought as he glared at Shastan's motionless form. He plunders Gondor's dead of their gold and trinkets, but he won't touch their rations.
At length Ladril settled on taking the bag that felt heaviest and softly walked to the center of the little camp. Since he was knocked out and shackled on the battlefield, it was obvious that the Southron had to drag him from there to this spot (wherever this spot was) thereby leaving obvious tracks. All Ladril had to do was find the tracks and follow them back to the battlefield. From there (the young ranger hoped) he could get a good idea of the direction to Henneth Annun.
Ladril did not have to look long before he found a trail of pressed grass and broken twigs entering the small clearing. Heaving the bag onto his shoulders, the ranger vigorously plunged into the darkness and pursued the trail.
The moon was full and bright, illuminating the way for Ladril's venture. As the trail clearly guided him through the treacherous woods, he let his mind wander to what a few days' journey would bring: a warm welcome by his fellow rangers, a commendation by his captain for evading the enemy, and the gathering of a party to hunt down the Southron and put him in chains.
Ladril's pace happily quickened at the thought. He expected the Captain would at least send scouts to track the Southron, anyway. He expected the troops would take him seriously after this night, and he expected that he would receive at the very least a promotion.
...What he didn't expect was a rather large pit hidden by the shadows to gape right in front of him.
With a startled cry the ranger found himself toppling downwards. A brief second passed before he landed in very soft mud, buffeting his fall. Ladril lay still for a moment, getting over the shock and counting himself lucky that he was unharmed. But when he rolled over and looked upwards, all thoughts about luck sharply dropped. The pit he had fallen into, most likely caused by a slide during heavy rain, was at least double his own height.
Not caring who or what heard him, Ladril loudly cursed and kicked a side of the pit. How could he let this happen? He spent all those months training in the wild for this? He let his guard down, that's what happened. He was lulled into a false sense of security and overlooked the gaping pit in his way. He should have been concentrating. He should have been more careful. Then things would be different...
Ladril was highly uncomfortable whenever things were beyond his control. While he was resourceful and quick witted, he honestly could not stand being in situations that he had no handle on. Thus being tightly shackled at the bottom of a pit was definitely irritating to him.
The cold air began to bite into Ladril's shivering skin as the minutes passed, reminding him that he only had so much time to get out of there before he would literally freeze to death.
He got up and studied a side of the pit. It looked plausible to climb...had he free hands. The chain between his shackles was so short that climbing would be almost impossible. Still, he concluded, there was no harm in trying. He dug his cold fingers into the muddy wall, found some grip, and hauled himself upwards.
After climbing a foot and a half he fell on his back with a thud.
Still determined, he got on his feet and tried it again, then again; each time gaining a few more feet than before. He was quite impressed with his improvement, but the young ranger's hopes were suddenly dashed when he saw his heavy supply pack glaring at him from the mud. If he took it, climbing out of the pit would be hopeless. If he left it, he would starve to death before reaching Henneth Annun.
The minutes were turning into hours, and as every hour passed Ladril's body felt weaker from the merciless cold. He hugged his arms in and calmed his freezing mind to properly think. By the looks of things, there was only one plausible option left: calling for help.
Ladril hated that option, and considering there was only one particular person in the woods that would hear him, he really hated that option.
Through his chattering teeth Ladril gave an indignant huff. He was not about to stoop so low as to ask that savage for help. He paced about the pit, rubbing his shivering arms and stewing in his thoughts. But suddenly he paused. When he really thought about it...he had acted like a perfect savage himself that entire afternoon: cursing his head off while Shastan quietly made a fire and built the camp. Something is dreadfully wrong when a Gondorrim displays profanity and a Southron displays etiquette.
Ladril quietly admitted to himself that he had been crude. But another thing he could not stand was change, and jumping from an Ithilien ranger to a Southron's slave in one day really set him off. His stubbornness in the face of change had often times triggered his parents' scolding, and perhaps deepened the scar of his recent loss...
He quickly cast the thought away, and after a silent moment to swallow his pride, he cupped his freezing hands and reluctantly said "...Help."
That honestly did not feel too bad. He tried calling louder.
"Shastan! Shastan, help!"
Suddenly something from above hit Ladril's head and bounced into the mud. Wincing, the ranger ordered his frozen legs to bend down as he picked up the round object in puzzlement. From what could be told in the darkness, it was the knotted end of a rope.
Looking up, Ladril found that the rope was dangling from the top of the pit. And there, blocking the faint light of the stars above, was the head of Shastan peering down.
"Had enough, have you?" He said wryly.
Ladril blinked. "...You...were right there?"
"...The whole time?"
"What on earth for?!" Ladril burst through his chattering teeth.
"I was not about to lower my rope down unless you admitted you needed help...particularly my help."
Ladril muttered under his breath and grabbed onto the rope, but Shastan made no motion to pull.
"I want the bag first," He ordered.
"You have a thousand more at the camp," The ranger responded dryly.
"But that's the pot bag."
"The pot bag. It has my best pots in it."
Ladril looked at the bag, then at Shastan in disbelief. This whole time he had been lugging a supply pack that had no supplies in it.
Thoroughly sick of ironies now, Ladril's numb fingers tied the rope to the bag and Shastan hauled it up. After a few moments he threw the rope back down. Ladril made no move to grab it this time.
"I do not want to be your slave," He said firmly.
The Southron shifted forward. "But you also don't want to be in the pit, do you?"
"So make your choice."
Ladril paused decisively. Then, with his entire body nearly frozen now and his strength spent, he wearily clung to the rope. Shastan accordingly readied himself and after much effort pulled the ranger out onto the dry grass. Both men sat in exhaustion as the stars in the sky began to dim into the dawn. After some silence Shastan glanced at Ladril.
"It's about time you gave yourself up."
Before he could blink Ladril had a firm grip on his collar and yanked him forward.
"Let's have one thing understood. I may be in chains, but while there is breath in my body I will never be a slave. I will not break down and I will not give in. And know that the next opportunity I get I will put myself as far away from you as Middle Earth will possibly allow."
He released his grip with a shove and wrapping his cloak tightly about him he staggered back for the camp. Shastan at length stood and looked after Ladril in bafflement. "Looks like we will get along splendidly," He muttered.