author’s note: Here are the links if you want to read chapters 1 and 2:
chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/18654.html
chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/18734.html
“…If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?…If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.” –Merchant of Venice
It was Ladril’s tenth night in the Ithilien regiment. It was cold and raining, when he was summoned to a tent and received the message from a scout.
When the message was recited to him, Ladril’s ears felt deaf at first to its meaning. But slowly the words of the message sank deep into his mind, into the dark corners where his gravest fears lurked. The words played out until they echoed through every dreaded thought, then slowly they squeezed at his throat, numbed his body, and at last pierced straight through his heart.
Ladril stumbled out of the tent, heedless of the rain, of the cold, of the entire world.
The boy collapsed into the mud and buried his head in his hands. This could not be happening, not to him. But the bleak fact bore into his soul: Ladril was now truly alone.
“Oh Belegorn!” Ladril cried helplessly at the unfeeling sky. “BELEGORN!!”
Ladril woke with a start to a wild bird’s cackle. The sun was now starting its descent to the West, casting small shadows in the thick woods. Ladril raised his head, and found that he had been lying on a smooth, flat stone. Of course he had no idea where he was, but he could have sworn that, some hours ago, he was pinned under a log next to a Southron…
But the ranger dismissed that scenario as a bad dream caused by those meat cakes he had a couple nights ago. He would need to find the troops now or at least reach Henneth Annun. Ladril eased himself up to stretch, but suddenly gasped.
On his wrists were tight, bronze shackles.
The ranger stared at the cuffs blankly, and then with a jolt he touched the back of his head and realized it was extremely sore.
As if to confirm Ladril’s mounting fears, a figure lumbered into the clearing carrying firewood. It was the Southron: still wearing that same impish grin.
“What…what have you done?!” Ladril cried bewildered, but the Southron simply unloaded the wood and started gathering twigs and dry leaves.
Ladril grew red in the face. “You fiend!” He spat, “I save your life, then you knock me out and chain me with shackles, is that it? Have you no feelings? No thought of gratitude for my help? Why I suppose it’d be a wonder if you contained any thoughts in that empty head of yours, wretched heathen!”
The Southron paused in his collecting of twigs at Ladril’s violent words.
“Ah, very good!” Ladril laughed with contempt. “At least you can tell when you are insulted. Well I have got far more for you, southern boar! You are the infestation of some merciless desert! A plague which seeks to eat up all that is good in the world! You have killed my kin without a thought and you ought to pay, barbarian!”
Ladril would have continued, but he worked up so much slather in his ranting that he started to choke on his own spit, and the ranger coughed violently until tears jerked out of his eyes. When he finally caught his breath and calmed down, he saw a dark hand holding a leather flask inches from his face. Ladril stared at it, and warily his cuffed hands took the flask from the Southron and realized it was brimming with water.
“–For me?” Ladril asked a bit startled. “…..well, thank you,”
“My pleasure,” The Southron muttered.
Ladril nodded approvingly at the Southron’s manners, then it suddenly hit him. The ranger nearly fell off his seat on the rock. “You…..you know my tongue?!” he cried.
“No,” The Southron said flatly. “I know the tongue of Gondor well enough, but I do not know your tongue: which seems to me only to consist of violent curses,” Here the Southron paused reflectively. “However I really must commend you; never before has a man insulted me so creatively.”
Completely speechless, Ladril now studied his adversary for the first time. The Southron was quite young: not much older than Ladril himself, and his skin was light for a man of the South. On his jerkin were sewn rows of bronze plates, the rest of his raiment was black with the occasional band of crimson red. His dark hair was cropped short, but various strands had been left long and were laced with a number of precious stones and odd trinkets.
On the Southron’s brow was a beaded headband, which looked more like a home-spun craft than treasure, and strung to the side were coins and bits of jewelry bearing symbols of Gondor, which enabled Ladril to give an estimated guess as to how many soldiers this man has killed and looted.
“Tell me how you know the Common Speech,” Ladril finally demanded.
“Interesting that you call it ‘Common Speech’ when it is common only to you,” The Southron mused. “But now is not the right time to answer questions. Now, however, is the perfect time for introductions. I am Shastan of Western Kisha’rut. What is your name?”
Ladril glared at his captor.
“…This is the part where you reply,” Shastan coaxed the ranger.
Being shackled and at the enemy’s disposal, Ladril at last felt left with little choice but to comply.
“My name is Ladril,” The ranger muttered.
“Laa-ril?” Shastan tried in his thick accent.
“Lad-ril. It’s not that difficult.”
“Just give me a minute. Laader-“
“Stop putting so many vowels in it!”
“It has too many consonants anyway!”
“This is ridiculous!” Ladril cried out.
Birds scattered from the trees at Ladril’s outburst and the whole forest fell to complete silence. As the sun began to die in the West, the two men stared at each other in frustration.
“Ld-reel?” Shastan offered.
“Forget it,” Ladril muttered. Then he got up and began walking away.
“Where are you going?” Shastan asked incredulously. “I am not finished with our conversation.”
“Well I am,” Ladril answered. “In fact, I am quite finished with this whole nightmare! Right when I think things could not get stranger, here I am in the middle of a forest teaching a Southron pronunciation!”
“Teaching a what?” Shastan asked.
“A Southron,” Ladril repeated.
“What is a Southron?”
The ranger stared at the man blankly. “…You are a Southron!”
“‘South—ron?'” Shastan rolled out the word with disdain. “Sounds barbaric.”
Ladril threw his hands up in the air, and as he marched away again he grumbled “Well it suits you.”
Shastan quickly jumped in front of Ladril, barring the way. His pleasant expression dissipated to a solemn glare.
“That is twice you have called me barbaric.”
“Live with it,” Ladril snapped, and tried to move around him.
But Shastan pressed a hand hard into Ladril’s chest.
“Not until you properly explain why I deserve that title, Laaderil.”
“Very well!” The ranger knocked Shastan’s hand away and shoved the shackles in his face. “THIS is why you are barbaric!”
“Oh those?” Shastan stepped back stared at the shackles blankly. “Why those are customary. How else would one procure a slave?”
Ladril paused as those words seeped in and took full effect. “….You think….I am your slave?!”
“Yes, and you think so too,” Shastan stated. “After all, you yielded to me.”
“I never yielded to you!”
“Yes you did. Back there, when we escaped our…predicament under the log,” Shastan smirked at the humorous episode. “You crossed your arms over your chest. That signals you yield.”
“Did it cross your mind that I was in pain at the time?” Ladril asked coldly.
Shastan was about to rebuke him, but paused. He thought for a moment, tilted his head reflectively, and said “…….Oh.”
Ladril gave an aggravated sigh. The situation was absolutely ridiculous, but at least some clarity had been given now. “All right, it was just a big misunderstanding then,” The ranger reasoned. “This changes everything.”
Shastan looked at his captive. “This changes nothing.”
“Surely you don’t mean I am still your slave!” Ladril scoffed, but no jest could be found in his captor’s face.
“It was indeed a big misunderstanding, but the fact of the matter is that you are in the shackles and I am holding the knife. Therefore, unless fortunes change, you are still my slave.” Shastan bent down and went back to gathering twigs for the firewood. “And if you try to escape, I will either track you down or you will be eaten by some beast since you cannot defend yourself. So I suggest you do the smart thing and stick with me.”
“This…this is ridiculous!” Ladril sputtered. “Of all the inhumane, spineless, barbaric swine! When my regiment comes to save me, we’ll see who wears the smug face then! I’ll grab that little decorated head of yours and stuff these shackles right through your ears! What do you think of that, you lazy straw-headed thick skinned slit-eyed son of a mumak!”
The ranger continued ranting like this until Shastan had built up a fairly decent fire. The sky became darker and the air colder, when Ladril finally ran out of curses to rattle off. Shastan spread out a bedroll for himself and horded together all the supplies he had salvaged from the battlefield.
“Now if you are done cursing,” Shastan said to Ladril, “I suggest you get some sleep. We will be traveling at dawn.”
Ladril indignantly laid down on the rock with a huff. He could not tolerate this humiliation; he was not Shastan’s slave. He was no one’s slave. He would have to escape.
But you are in no condition to flee, Ladril’s voice of reason stated plainly. Maybe the safest thing for you to do, in the middle of this dark forest, is remain with this Southron who has supplies.
Well, a common fact about Ladril is that he never listened to his voice of reason.