<strong>Author’s note:</strong> This is a story in which an Ithilien Ranger and a Southron (or ‘swerting’, due to Shastan’s preference) must learn how to get along. Ladril has been left defenseless in the city of Poros while Shastan faces execution.
Ladril had to think. He had to think he had to think. He was alone in the midst of enemies and Shastan was going to die. …But there had to be a way he could change this. There had to be a way he could fix things.
Ladril looked down the length of the street. If he could take out a Cosair and grab his sword, at least he would be armed. Then he could follow the way Shastan and his captors have gone. So all Ladril had to do now was-
…Blink rapidly, totter dangerously forward, and slump weakly against the wall.
His world was spinning again, his hands throbbed in pain and he was damp under sweat. This was futile. Even if he could come up with a plan he had barely the strength to walk, let alone fight.
There was nothing he could do. He was helpless.
He couldn’t fix it….
His defiance at last breaking, the ranger looked weakly at the sky. “All right, I give up. There’s nothing I can do, now.” He swallowed and continued looking up at the pale morning air, which was still riddled with smoke. “…So what are you going to do about it?”
The sky gave him no answer, as he knew it wouldn’t. He slid down until he folded onto the hard street. Everything was growing dark and cold. He was useless. He was useless as Fate was nonexistent. If Shastan truly wasn’t supposed to die, Fate would do something about it right now.
The voice came from right above him. It did not belong to Shastan, nor to any Cosair. Ladril cracked open an eye and saw a worried face that seemed familiar. “…Peladrim…?”
“Master Ladril, I’ve been looking all over for you!” Then the young lad’s nose wrinkled. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Ladril muttered. He tried to stand, but he had to accept the boy’s help as he struggled to his feet. “…You were looking for me?”
“I want you to come with me,” Peladrim said. “But we have to hurry now or else they’ll leave without us.”
“Who will…?” But that was all Ladril could say before Peladrim grabbed his arm and started leading the way. The boy ran briskly and Ladril in his state could only let himself be dragged along. They weaved through slim streets and alleyways. The sensation Ladril felt as he was lead blindly along was that he was being dragged through dark clouds, or that he was sleep walking. The latter was most likely the case because when they stopped Ladril jolted awake in a panic. Where were they?
…They were on a dock, or something like a dock. It was made of stone with little steps going into the river. Daylight was more clear here, untainted by the smoke of pillage and conquest, and all of the buildings were still intact. It was the Northernmost tip of Poros, Ladril later learned. By now it had been abandoned but it had yet to be swarmed with Cosairs.
Peladrim let go of Ladril’s arm and ran to a boat that was bobbing at the jetty. Three men were in it, two of them old and the third a built soldier, loading the last supplies from the stone ledge onto the vessel.
“Malbar! Malbar!” The young boy called.
The soldier looked up and saw Peladrim running to him. With a cry he jumped onto the jetty and embraced the lad.
“Where have you been?” Malbar demanded. “We are ready to sail and I’ve been calling for you! I feared you were taken by the enemy!”
“I was,” Peladrim said with the excitement only a twelve year old boy could conjure. “The Cosairs got me and they were going to sell me as a slave and everything!” Then Peladrim turned to Ladril. “But this man cut my ropes and set me free!”
“By the Valar,” Was all Malbar could say as his eyes ran from Peladrim to Ladril.
“I was hoping he could come with us,” The boy looked up at the soldier pleadingly. “Please, Malbar? Can he come?”
As Malbar took all this in he turned to the pale ranger, who had now wandered onto the jetty. The soldier offered his hand. “The rescuer of my little cousin most certainly has a space on this vessel.”
As Ladril couldn’t focus on the hand in front of him, Malbar took his hand and placed it in his own. “Welcome aboard. I am Malbar, Lieutenant of the Ninth Regiment of Belfalas.”
“…Ladril, son of Morlin,” The ranger mumbled as he was helped onto the boat. It was a good and sturdy vessel, boasting a sail and two oars on either side. It was a swift, not to mention resourceful, means of escape from fallen Poros.
Malbar introduced Ladril to the two other men on the boat. He gestured to a stout little man first. “This is Wadil, the city’s great Agriculturalist.” Then Malbar turned to the other man who was lean and tall by comparison. “And this is Iauros, the local healer.”
Master Iauros looked at the pale, ragged figure with great disdain….but his expression slowly changed the longer he studied the ranger. “Ladril? Son of Morlin? …From Minas Tirith?”
“…Yes…” Ladril said, wondering how the man knew so much. Then he gaped as he met a face out of history. The stoic disposition, the sculpted brow, the protruding nose were all the same…
“Ladril! It is you!”
The old man laughed and embraced Ladril without hesitation. “My boy, it’s been ages! You have not changed a bit!”
“Er…I’ve gotten older…” Ladril said, dealing with some mental confusion.
“Quite true. So have I, eh?” The scholar said with a chuckle.
Iauros had not always been a healer in Poros. Many years ago he was a schoolmaster in the White City, and many years ago a little boy would oft stay after class because of his disabilities in speech. It took countless hours of patience and learning with Master Iauros before the boy could finally say a sentence properly.
Iauros looked on his former pupil with admiration. “You have gotten taller, dear boy. You’ve grown as quick as an arrow’s shot-” Here Iauros noted Ladril’s pale skin and frowned. “-But I must say you look like an awful warning.”
“…I’m afraid I feel as terrible as I look,” Ladril admitted.
“Fortunately, I have my medicine bag on board. Just make yourself comfortable; as soon as we set sail and rid ourselves of these relentless Cosairs I’ll have a look at you.”
Ladril gratefully sat down in the vessel as Iauros finished loading the last of the supplies. Peladrim hustled about with rope as Wadil and Malbar brought down the sail and prepared to get underway. Ladril’s fever and pain hadn’t ceased, in fact they flared under all the stress and activity, but Ladril had little care at this point. When he was alone and helpless, when he thought all was lost, Peladrim had found him and brought him to a boat. Ladril was now in good company, had safe means of escape from the city, and was reunited with his former teacher.
What a coincidence.
Ladril’s sleepy eyes snapped open and a terror sprung him onto his feet. “Wait!” He cried. “Wait! We can’t leave yet!”
“We have to, Ladril,” Malbar said. “The wind is picking up and time is against us.”
“…But there’s a man who is about to be executed!”
“What man?” Iauros asked.
“He’s…ah……….it doesn’t matter. He’s in danger because of me. …I have to save him, but I can’t…do it alone…” Ladril stopped. His head was burning, his fingers throbbed again, he was slipping… No. Not now. He ordered himself to shake it off. “Please,Master Iauros,” Ladril implored his teacher. “I need your help now. More than ever.”
Iauros, after a space of silence to piece his choice together, said “…I will go as a teacher for his student.”
“And I’m going!” Peladrim said eagerly. “I owe you anyway, Master Ladril.”
“No sense in sticking your necks out unless you have a chance in keeping them,” Malbar muttered. “I will go, but this man we’re saving had better be worth it. Do you know where he is?”
Ladril tried to think. “They said something about…the West harbor.”
“I know where that is!” Peladrim said. “It’s not too far. This way!” Before any more could be said, the boy was off like a shot, much to Malbar’s alarm.
“Cousin! Get back here right– oh, let’s just go. Not you, Wadil. Stay with the boat. Have we even got a plan? No? We’ll think of one as we go, then. Peladrim! Wait up, lad!”
Grabbing his soldier’s pack, Malbar sprinted after his younger cousin with Iauros and Ladril in close pursuit.
The smoke was beginning to clear, but the ruinous morning only spilled into an afternoon of rubble and waste. They were at the port, Shastan assumed, but with his eyes tightly blindfolded he couldn’t tell. He could only hear the laps of the river and smell the decay of the city.
A Cosair cursed and he was kicked to his knees. Two others jeered at him. Death seemed imminent now, but the Swerting felt strangely calm. He felt that it was not yet time for him to die.
The Cosairs certainly thought otherwise. He heard one step behind him and unsheathe a sword.
For all his spirituality, Shastan was not a praying man. But he began to seriously reconsider that as his executioner prepared for his stroke.
…Basra, to you I give my spirit…
He heard the rush of the blade being raised.
…And the twang of an arrow piercing through the man’s chest.
There was shouting, and clanging of swords. Shastan in his shock had enough presence of mind to duck and roll as the fighting came his direction. There was a moment of struggle, more clanging, more heavy grunting, then the clatter of a sword hitting the wooden dock and a strangled cry.
There was a moment of silence, during which Shastan was completely oblivious to what was happening around him. Then two hands reached around his head and lifted the blindfold.
The Swerting blinked in the daylight and looked into a well-known face.
Blackness was filling the ranger’s sight, but he shook it off and grinned. “You know… I’m starting to think neither of us are going to die today, too.”
Shastan smiled and now looked at the scene before him. Three dead Cosairs littered the harbor, one shot by an arrow and two slain with the sword. A well built Gondorrim stood amidst the mess, wiping blood from his blade. Behind him a young lad approached, followed by an old man carrying a bow.
“I take back my comment on the elderly, Iauros,” Malbar said as he studied the arrow protruding from the Cosair’s chest. “Accuracy is the last thing to go.”
“In my day, I was the finest shot in Ithilien,” Iauros answered as he inspected his shot with pride.
“I am sure we shall hear many a story on that subject once we’ve finally quited Poros,” Malbar said. “But now we must be swift, before more Cosairs arrive.”
“Ladril, have you got your friend?” Peladrim asked as he approached the ranger. Ladril had been untying Shastan and now he helped him up. Everyone jumped back at the sight of the Swerting.
“It’s…it’s a Southron!” Malbar cried.
“We risked our lives for a Southron?” Iauros demanded. “Ladril, what is the meaning of this?”
“He’s….er….” His conscious mind swiftly dwindling, Ladril could only think of one answer. “He’s…….my slave.”
There was silence, then his teacher tilted his head quizzically. “…Is that sort of thing even permitted in Gondor?”
“Slave or no, we cannot take him with us,” Malbar insisted. “He could turn against us once we’re on the river.”
“He won’t do that!” The reply came from Peladrim. “I remember this Southron. I saw him in the Square, helping Ladril set our men free. He won’t be a danger. Ladril’s made him a good slave.”
“He does appear extremely docile,” Iauros said out of the corner of his mouth to Malbar. “His bonds are loosed, yet he shows no hostility.”
“Please, can he come?” Peladrim started hopping up and down. “I saw him saving our men and everything! He’ll be good, I [i]promise.[/i]”
“In this case, it is Ladril who must promise.” Iauros sternly eyed his former pupil. “Well, my boy? Will this Southron be a threat?”
Ladril rapidly blinked, then realized Iauros asked him a question. “…As Peladrim said…he’s a good…slave.”
“I still think this is an unnecessary risk,” Malbar muttered.
“But we have Ladril’s word,” Iauros reasoned. “Besides, we need another man for the oars. You know that.”
“…All right,” Malbar finally gave in. “But if I so much as smell a threat, it’s into the river with him. Now let us quit this place before it’s too late.”
Everyone readily consented and swiftly vacated the harbor. As they ran along, past abandoned buildings and old alleys, Shastan quietly muttered “I’m so glad I had a say in all this,” with as much sarcasm as he could contrive.
When they reached the jetty, Wadil was waving his arms frantically. “It’s about time you lads came back! I could hear Cosair voices from here, it’s a wonder they’re not on us alread- I say, who is that?”
“A Southron,” Was Malbar’s sour reply. “We don’t have time to explain. Make extra room and set the sail.”
Wadil duly obeyed and people piled into the boat. Malbar hastily threw the last of the supplies on board while Peladrim took position by the rudder. Shastan was roughly deposited by an oar and Iauros was ready to cast them off, but his eye caught sight of Ladril.
He was still standing on the jetty.
“…Ladril?” Iauros asked. “Are you getting on?”
Ladril was going to take a step, but then his world went black. He blinked, but he could see nothing in front of him. A searing pain shot through his fingers, lashed his back, and numbed his senses. His head was spinning, his whole body was on fire. Every muscle collapsed, and his mind gave in.
“Grab him! Quick!”
All was silent.