Where the Shadows Lie: Chapter Three - Part Four of Many

Aragorn sighed and moved his hand away from his sword hilt. "You always have had a taste for melodrama, Captain," he said, a note of disapproval in his voice.

Ezrie laughed. "I think that you take more offence at my style than my slurs. I had understood that an insult was supposed to sting all the more for being true. Another grand idea lost." He moved closer, causally stroking the flanks of the sleeping horses. His guards followed, ever vigilant.

The ranger stared appraisingly at the hulking forms. He did not like what he saw. "Should you be speaking thus in front of them?" he asked.

The Haradrim glanced back at his followers and shrugged. "What they know already is enough to damn both of us. It should not matter that they learn more. In any case, what difference does it make it they are honest or not? I'm sure you could easily match them all if it came to a fight."

"I might be able to," Aragorn said, after giving the guards another good look. "But not with out waking the whole camp, and perhaps injuring the horses."

Captain Ezrie now stood beside him, he patted the ranger's shoulder like an affectionate father. "Well, we can't have that, can we? I have few enough good horses as it is." He sighed, bad supplies and equipment had always been the plague of military officers. "While we are on that subject: why ARE you stealing my fastest errand horse?"

As quickly as he could, Aragorn filled him in on the situation, including the fact that he'd left a body to be disposed of. "I must make haste, least they reach the pass before me," he concluded.

The Haradrim narrowed his eyes and considered the tale. "What benefit is there to our cause if you leave? You are of much use to me here." He shook his head decisively. "The life or death of one Northerner will have little effect on my people, no matter who his father is. The information you have given me has saved the lives of many, and with the will of the gods will continue to do so. I would not trade those futures for a foreigner."

"I too am a foreigner," snapped the Ranger, "and my co-operation is to be given of my own will or not at all. You cannot force my aid." He drew a claming breath. "Our final goal may be different, but our means are the same. We both desire the fall of the Lord of the Dark Tower. The lose of such a prize would be a grievous one indeed to the power of Mordor. The soldiers would lose much heart, especially if word were to be spread among them quickly."

A smile of comprehension spread across Ezrie's face. "And they would be so much easier to recruit if their faith were to be shaken. Very well, my friend, be on your way. And good luck to you."

Aragorn sighed with relief; the situation could have become very ugly. "This will be our farewell, for I deem that I shall not pass this way again within the span of your lifetime." He pulled the surprised Haradrim into a quick embrace. "You have been a friend in my hour of need, for that I thank you."

The captain clasped his hand warmly. "And you as well, for your help has been beyond measure. Our true goals are not that different, we both desire freedom for our people. The chains that hold the Men of the North are those of fear, not bondage. May someday all bonds be broken." He said, as if offering a toast. And indeed he had said the same words many times over a shared drink.

Aragorn smiled and gave the same response as he always did: "May we both live to enjoy that day." Releasing his friend's hand, he swung up onto Merran's back. "May the Light of the Gods guide you!" he said. Then turned and began to silently pick his way through the sleeping lines of horses.

Just before he left hearing range, he heard the murmured response: "May they speed your journey and protect you from harm."

The ranger looked back. Seeing he friend standing still, a shadow among shadows, he knew it would be the last time. He rode into the darkness without looking back again.

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