- Text Size +
Story Notes:
A fanfic based on the fan film, "Born of Hope" by Kate Madison and Paula DiSante.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Arathorn's second-in-command ventures too close to Dol Guldur and is captured. The Rangers make a plan to get him back.
- Day 1 -

The Ranger
Southern Mirkwood, 2921 Ten years before the birth of Aragorn son of Arathorn

Ten years before the birth of Aragorn, son of Arathorn.

Arathorn led his band of Rangers to the edge of the forest where the shelter of trees and underbrush gave way to bare rock.

On a pinnacle of granite just ahead, the profile of Dol Guldur, the Fortress of Sauron[1], was silhouetted against the grey dawn.

Arathorn came here to learn if the infestation of Orcs that plagued Arnor[2] had come from Dol Guldur, the Hill of Sorcery. When Arathorn's father was a boy, Orcs had been all but extinct. Then Sauron had been unmasked in Dol Guldur and no longer bothered to conceal his identity. In the years that followed, Orcs spread across Arnor, growing bolder and more dangerous every year. Arathorn suspected they originated in Dol Guldur, and he had come here today to find out.

Arathorn motioned the others to stay back, then dropped to the ground and crawled through the bracken. When he reached the last of the underbrush, he was close enough to see figures on the walls of the Enemy's stronghold, but he couldn't tell whether they were Men or Orcs.

He motioned for Halbaron to join him. Halbaron dropped to his belly and crept through the brambles until he was at Arathorn's elbow.

"I see movement on the battlements, but I can't tell what it is. You have good eyes. What do you make of it?" Arathorn asked his second-in-command.

"I can't tell from here. I'll go in closer to get a better look," Halbaron said. Arathorn nodded permission, and Halbaron moved out onto the bare rock. He took shelter behind a boulder and peered around it towards the fortress.

Arathorn's eye moved from the soldiers on the wall to Halbaron and back again. There was no new activity on the wall. The gate stayed closed, and the road to the fortress was empty.

The forest creatures had fallen silent. Arathorn looked up and down the tree line on either side of them. He turned his head, listening. A twig snapped, then another, and something was crashing through the underbrush. Arathorn signaled to the others to fan out behind him, and notched an arrow in his bow.

A large band of Orcs burst from the woods and marched towards the fortress. Arathorn counted at least thirty of them. Their path took them between Halbaron and the other Rangers. Halbaron stayed crouched in the shadow of the boulder, not moving.

When the column had almost passed the spot where Halbaron was hiding, one of the Orcs looked in Halbaron's direction. The Orc stopped and pointed, and others looked in the same direction. They moved towards Halbaron with their weapons drawn.

Arathorn watched in helpless frustration as the Orcs surrounded Halbaron. The Rangers were heavily outnumbered; there was nothing he could do to save him.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Halbaron kept his head down and remained still as the Orcs marched past, seeming not to notice him. When he could no longer hear their footsteps, he lifted his head and saw boots, the hem of cloaks, and the tips of scabbards no more than two feet away.

Halbaron jumped to his feet and drew his two-handed sword. He swung again and again, inflicting heavy damage, but fresh Orcs stepped in to replace the ones he'd felled.

Halbaron fought until he could no longer lift his arms.

A scimitar came in low. He was slow to block it, and suffered a slash across the thigh. His leg gave way beneath him and he fell to his knees. The Orc swung again, and sliced a stinging cut on his cheekbone.

He expected the next blow to kill him, but a clout to the back of his head knocked him to the ground instead. They held him down and stripped him of his weapons, then bound his hands behind his back and tied a filthy rag over his eyes.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Arathorn led his Rangers back to camp in silence, his head down. Mallor threw his quiver and bow on the ground and sank down onto a rock near the fire pit, his head in his hands.

Arathorn assembled the Rangers who hadn't been part of the scouting mission to Dol Guldur.

"Halbaron was captured. There were so many of them, we couldn't help him. He was taken alive," he said.

Arathorn owed it to Halbaron to bring him back safely. Arathorn had sent him out on the rock where the Orcs caught him, but was more than that, they'd grown up together, and Halbaron was one of his closest friends.

Arathorn wanted to storm the fortress and break Halbaron by force, but Sauron's fortress, perched high on a steep outcropping of rock, was almost unassailable. There was another problem. The local people believed the place was cursed. The men-at-arms under his command wouldn't go anywhere near it.

"There's more than one way to free him. If we can't attack the place where he's being held, perhaps we could buy his freedom with a ransom," said Dírhaborn.

Arathorn knew how hopeless that was. "I don't think the Enemy would agree to release Halbaron, no matter how much we offered for him." Arathorn thought carefully before he spoke. "I will offer to take his place."

"Don't be stupid, then they'd have two prisoners instead of one," Dírhaborn said.

"There are other ways to get someone back, like a hostage exchange," said Mallor.

"Except we don't have a hostage to exchange," said Dírhaborn.

-o-o-o-o-o-

When the Orcs marched him up the stone slope, Halbaron tripped and fell hard. With his hands tied behind his back, he wasn't able to catch himself, and skinned his knee on the rocky slope. He landed on his face and split his lip as well; his mouth filled with blood.

They came to a halt, and he heard a clicking sound followed by the squeak of iron. They started marching again. The sun no longer warmed his face, and the air turned cold and damp. The Orcs pushed him forward. He took a step into empty space, and would have fallen had the Orcs not been hanging onto him.

He was led him down a long flight of stairs, twenty steps, then a landing, then twenty more steps. The smell of mildew grew stronger the further down they went.

He was pushed into what felt like a confined space. The blindfold was yanked off, and he found himself in a stone cell barely large enough to lie down in. Orange torchlight lit the space, flickering and dim. When his eyes adjusted, he saw irons hanging from chains anchored in the walls.

The Orcs searched him again, more thoroughly this time. One of them untied his hands, and he was made to surrender his clothing. He was forced to stand against the stone wall at spear point while they turned out the pockets of each garment and upended his boots. When they finished, they returned his clothes, but kept his boots as well as his purse, then fastened irons around his wrists and ankles.

A huge Orc knocked him to the ground and stood on Halbaron's chest. He yanked on the chains until Halbaron thought his arms would be pulled from his shoulder sockets. The irons were forced part way up his hands and left bruises, but they didn't come off.

"He won't be getting out of these, then," said the Orc.

"Right, we're done here," said another.

They left the cell and snapped the lock shut behind them, lifted the torch from its iron bracket, and retreated down the passageway. The wall at his back was slick with algae. The orange light dissapeared with them, leaving him alone in darkness.

Hours went by. Halbaron heard the squeak of hinges, dripping water, and a snatch of some Orcish song, ghoulish and cruel.

… shall be hang-ed, from the gallows oh so high … [3]

He hurt all over. The scimitar wound on his thigh was the worst of his injuries, but he'd received half a dozen lesser cuts on his hands, arms, and face as well. One of his front teeth was loose, and the blood from the cut on his cheekbone itched as it dried.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Torchlight approached far down the passage, and Orc jailors removed the irons from his wrists and ankles. They took him from the cell and led him though a large space filled with apparatus made of wood and iron, apparently designed to loosen the tongues of the unwilling. He recognized the rack, but the other pieces were unfamiliar. Most of them had leather straps to secure wrists and ankles, or in some cases, necks. The hair on his arms stood up.

At the far end of the chamber, there was a small room dominated by a heavy table. Two Orcs sat on the far side in tall chairs. They looked more like Orc Captains than the foot soldiers he normally encountered in the woods. One was writing on a slate with a stylus, and both wore rings and other piercings in their scarred faces. They looked up when Halbaron was brought in.

"Please sit down," said the first one. The corner of his mouth lifted in a mocking way.

Halbaron sat down on a low stool. He had to look up to see the two interrogators on the other side of the table. The bloody scrape on his knee showed through the tear in his leggings.

"You were caught trespassing. We'd like to ask you a few questions, just to clear things up, and then you can go home. Does that sound fair?" asked the interrogator.

Halbaron was silent.

"What is your name?" said the interrogator.

Halbaron was silent.

"Whom do you serve?"

Halbaron was silent.

"What brought you so close to Dol Guldur?"

Halbaron was silent.

"I expected you to say you were a woodsman from a nearby village. You were hunting deer, and you lost your way and strayed too close to this place by mistake."

Halbaron was silent.

"But no matter. Your sword gives you away. No simple woodsman carries the weapons of a warrior. We know you're a Ranger," said the interrogator. "I'd just like to hear you say it."

The interrogator came around the table and lifted Halbaron's chin. He leaned so close, Halbaron could smell stale wine and onions on his breath. Halbaron spit in his face. The man slapped him so hard, it opened the gash on his cheek. Blood trickled down his neck.

The questioning went on for hours. One of the faceless creatures stood in the doorway, listening. Black robes concealed its body and reached to the floor. Its claw-like hand rested on the door frame, but it made no sound. After it left, the first interrogator said to the other, "Which one was that?"

"Don't ask me. I can't tell them apart," said the other. That meant there was more than one of them.

At some point, the chief interrogator had some sort of disagreement with his assistant. They stepped into the hall for a word in private, leaving Halbaron alone with the servant who brought in tea for the interrogators.

"I'm so sorry this is happening to you," said the servant. His eyes were kind. "Just give them what they want. They'll get it out of you anyway. There's no shame in avoiding what comes next. Because it's ..."

The interrogators returned, and the servant scurried from the room.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Arathorn lay awake in the darkness. He had no illusions about what his friend must be going through right now. Halbaron was captured almost at the foundation of Dol Guldur. The Enemy would want to know why he was there, and they would have no qualms about the methods they used to find out.

Arathorn wouldn't let himself believe it was impossible to attack Dol Guldur. The fortress was perched on bare rock; the woods surrounding it were filled with spiders and poisonous plants, and inside, he felt sure it was garrisoned by countless Orcs.

There must be a stealthy way to gain entry, either by disguising one's self as a servant, or entering the fortress through some hidden postern gate.[4] Arathorn was Isildur's heir; the ancient blood of the Men of the West ran in his veins. He could rescue Halbaron if anyone could.

There was another threat besides Orcs, the faceless creature that rode through the woods below Dol Guldur, black robed and mounted on a black horse. The first time he crossed paths with it, he was overwhelmed by a mindless terror so intense he wanted to throw himself to the ground. Somehow, he toughed it out, and learned something surprising; the fear was an illusion, unpleasant but harmless.

The next time he encountered it, he was prepared. The fear swept over him, and then it was gone. He drew his sword and lunged at the creature, the creature parried the blow with practiced skill. But in that encounter, he learned something important; however terrifying it was to be near the thing, and however great its skill with weapons, the creature had very little physical strength.

Arathorn knew what they had to do. He woke the others.

"I'd like to capture the black-robed creatures and trade it for Halbaron," Arathorn told his Rangers. His men weren't as enthusiastic as he was.

"We don't know whether it's dangerous, but I'll wager it is. It carries weapons, I expect it knows how to use them," said Dírhaborn.

"We don't even know what it is, but probably something supernatural. It might be cursed, did you think of that?" said Mallor.

Mallor was right. The last time Elladan and Elrohir[5] had passed through Mirkwood, they'd mentioned that the Necromancer of Dol Guldur might actually be the spirit the Elves called Sauron, an ancient evil vanquished at the end of the Second Age. If so, the black-robed creature could be one of his most feared servants, a Ringwraith. But whatever it was, the creature was probably dangerous. Was it worth the risk?

"We don't even know that Halbaron is still alive," said Dírhaborn.

Arathorn listened, but he'd already made up his mind.

"As I see it, the hard part will be to capture the creature alive. Normally I'd track it like an animal and put an arrow through it's heart. But unless we take it alive, we won't have anything to trade," he said.

They discussed how it could be done. They could rig a line across the trail at throat height, drop a net over its head, or release a snake to frighten the horse into bucking the creature off. It would be difficult, but not impossible.

-o-o-o-o-o-

Halbaron had been standing here half the night, facing the wall of the cell with his hands behind his head. The cut on his cheek throbbed in time to his pulse. His eyelids were heavy, but when his chin began to sink forward, he was startled awake by the tip of a spear that poked him in the ribs.

"You, no dozing." said the Orc guard.

The hours dragged on. His feet were so swollen, they didn't look like his own.

Another thing began to bother him. He asked, but was told no. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, but it didn't help. He tried to think of something else, but it was becoming acutely painful.

A metal door slammed nearby, making him jump. He cursed, it was too late, his leggings were soaked. The guard laughed, and Halbaron was forced to stand there for the rest of the night with the wet wool clinging to his thighs.

It must have been near sunrise when Halbaron was allowed to sink into the straw on the floor of the cell. It was a thin layer of straw, no more than one armload, and it smelled rancid, but he didn't care.

Later, the jailor banged on the cell door to wake him, and placed a bowl of porridge between the bars where he could reach it. Halbaron ate using two fingers as a spoon. It tasted moldy, and stung his mouth when he tried to eat. His lip started to bleed. He pushed the bowl aside and fell into an exhausted sleep.
Chapter End Notes:
[1] The Necromancer of Dol Guldur was identified as Sauron 70 years earlier.

[2] Northern Middle Earth including the Shire, Rivendell, and Mirkwood

[3] Long Lankin, Steeleye Span, Commoners Crown

[4] like Gandalf did 70 years earlier

[5] the sons of Elrond
You must login (register) to review.