Their boats, loans from the Lady of the Wood, had long passed the Argonath, when Vin pointed ahead to a small beach on their right. Crys nodded and turned to Naithan who shared his boat, and to Ezra, Jeidy and Buck behind them. "That's Amon Hen, we'll camp there."
The others nodded and followed his lead.
Silently the boats glided onto the shore. Everyone jumped out of them almost as soon as they touched the sand, only Ezra stayed behind for a moment. He shivered and looked around as if looking or listening for something.
"We cross the lake at nightfall, then hide the boats and continue on foot. We approach Mordor from the North," Crys said, putting his bag and shield down.
"That's your plan?" Buck looked disbelievingly at the man from Gondor. "So it's just a simple matter of finding our way through Emyn Muil? An impossible labyrinth of razor sharp rocks!"
"And after that there are the festering, stinking marshlands," Naithan added. "Only Orcs can survive there."
Crystan gazed at them coldly. "That is our road. I suggest you take some rest and recover your strength. You will need it." He turned away and almost ran into Ezra.
"We should leave now," the Elf said quietly, but Crys shook his head.
"No. Orcs patrol the eastern shore. We must wait for the cover of darkness."
"It is not the eastern shore that worries me. A shadow and a threat have been growing in my mind. Something draws near ... I can feel it!"
The captain just shook his head and walked away.
Ezra sighed then turned to Vinterrin and helped him to set up the camp. After a while he realized how quiet it was. Irritated he looked up.
"Where's Jeidy?" he wondered aloud.
"What?" Buck, who had been taking a nap, jumped to his feet.
"Josiah and Naithan are gone, too," Vin added, grabbing his weapons.
Ezra rubbed his forehead. "So is Crystan."
"I hope one of them is with Jeidy," Buck said, shaking his head. "The boy shouldn't be alone, he needs someone to watch over him."
The lovers shared a look; spoken words weren't necessary. Both were wondering if 'being alone' wouldn't be safest for Jeidy right now.
"I guess we should investigate," Ezra suggested, while taking up his bow.
Vin nodded and turned towards the guardian. "You'd best stay here, in case he comes back."
Buck was about to protest, but then complied. After all it was possible that Jeidy was still nearby and would come back soon.
"We'll find him, don't worry." With that the Ranger and the Elf vanished into the woods.
"I wish the Ring had never come to me." Jeidy looked up sadly at Josiah. "Isn't it funny? I spent all my childhood pretending I was off somewhere else, doing great deeds, having lots of adventures. But this adventure turns out to be quite different from all I ever imagined. Now all I want to do is go home."
"So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide." The Wizard touched the young man's shoulder briefly. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Jeidy sighed. "The Lady of the Wood said that as a ringbearer I'm bound to be alone. I think she meant I should leave you and go into Mordor by myself."
"Maude is a very wise woman," Josiah commented, his face losing all expression.
"She also said that the Ring wasn't meant to be in the hand of a Human. That only immortals could deal with it."
"There she had the right of it." Josiah's voice darkened. "Give me the Ring, son, I will take care of it."
"What?" Surprised Jeidy stepped back and watched in horror the change that came over the old man.
He seemed to grow and his hair and clothes fluttered as if the Wizard was standing amidst a strong wind, but there was none. His expression became cold and sinister. His eyes glowed from within.
"Give me the Ring, Jeidy, it is not for you." Josiah held out a hand.
"No!" Jeidy stumbled back. "This is not you, Josiah! Please!" He turned and started down the hill, but soon an invisible force held him in place.
Eyes wide he watched the Wizard approach him.
"Josiah, don't! You must fight it! It is the Ring, it controls you! Please, you must fight it!"
Josiah was barely more than an arm-length away.
Jeidy swallowed, he didn't know what to do. He couldn't run, couldn't move his feet! He felt a tug at his finger. Surprised he looked down, he hadn't realized that he held the Ring in his hands.
Maybe if I wear it, I can escape? It was a desperate plan, a desperate hope. But it was a chance. He slipped the Ring on.
In the blink of an eye the world changed. Colours faded away, but smell and sound seemed so much clearer. And it was cold. Still he couldn't move his legs.
Anxiously he stared at Josiah, who had halted in his tracks. The face of the Wizard smoothed out and the glow left his eyes, he seemed shocked and angered.
"Oh, son, what have I done? What is happening to me?" His gaze turned inward, and Jeidy realized that a battle was taking place inside the Wizard's mind.
"Who are you? You have no right to be here! Leave my body! Leave my mind!" Josiah shouted, then sank to the ground, his body shaking as if in pain. He looked up to where Jeidy was still standing - invisible. "Forgive me, son!" He waved his staff and freed Jeidy's feet from their magical hold. "Run now, find the others! This battle is mine! Flee!"
With a last look at the Wizard Jeidy did as he was told.
As he raced down the hill he remembered the water mirror and Maudriel's warning. One of his companions would try to take the Ring, she had said. It had happened. Would everything else come to pass, too?
Buck! He had to get to his friend and protect him. He just had to. He wouldn't let him die!
He wasn't really watching his steps when he literally ran into someone. Instinctively Jeidy grasped at the larger body to find his balance, this overset the other person. Together they rolled down the hill until they hit a tree.
Gasping for breath Jeidy looked up at Naithan, who stared down at him with wide eyes.
"What ...? Jeidy! Is this you?"
He nodded, his mind still reeling from the impact, his invisible status totally forgotten.
"Answer me! Is that you? Why are you wearing the Ring? What has gotten into you?" A feral gleam appeared in Naithan's eyes. "The Ring controls you, doesn't it? You're under its influence."
"Naithan, no ... I ..." Jeidy began, but the healer wasn't listening.
"You're using it. You're betraying our cause. I will not let that happen. Give it to me!"
The Wose grabbed for Jeidy's hands to get the Ring off his finger. A task difficult enough when your opponent was squirming and bucking under you, trying to throw you off, but made even harder when you couldn't see said opponent.
Jeidy fought with all his strength against the larger and heavier man. Remembering everything his guardian had ever taught him about wrestling, he finally managed to knee Naithan in the side. The healer cried out and loosened his hold. With the agility of youth Jeidy slipped free of him, rolled away and then jumped to his feet. Without a backward glance he flew again.
Behind him he could hear Naithan shout: "I can see your mind. You will take the Ring to Sauron. You will betray us!"
Tears welled up in his eyes. That had been the second one of his friends trying to take the Ring from him. Was everyone going mad? He heard the Elven-Queen's voice again: 'One by one it will destroy them all.'
He reached some ruins and stopped to catch his breath. The next moment he was grabbed and pressed against an armour-clad body. A dagger was held close before his eyes.
"Tell me that it is you, Jeidy, or your life will end right now," a familiar voice growled in his ear.
"It's me, it's me!" He dared not to struggle against his captor.
"Then take off that Ring! Do it now!"
Slowly Jeidy moved his hands and slipped the Ring off. Instantly the world was full of colours again, and warmer, much warmer.
Crys let him go and sheathed his dagger, his expression one of anger.
"What were you thinking, boy? Running around here alone and using that thing. You know that using it calls Sauron's attention towards us. Have you lost your mind?"
The furious tone let Jeidy step back in fear.
"Why do you recoil?" Crys reached for him.
"Stay away!" Holding the Ring to his chest, Jeidy retreated slowly.
"What are you doing?" The Captain of Gondor stared at the young man backing away from him. "I swore to protect you!"
"Can you protect me from yourself? Naithan and Josiah have already tried to take it from me. Will you be next?"
Crys didn't answer.
Pausing, Jeidy showed the Ring on his palm. "Do you want it?"
For a moment nothing happened, then Crystan walked the distance between them and laid his hand over the Ring.
"I was told that I couldn't use it, and I believe that," he said quietly, closing the young man's fingers over the Ring. "I don't want it."
Jeidy let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. "I'm sorry, but with Josiah and Naithan ... I ..."
"I understand." The warrior nodded. "But I will not betray you. I will go with you to the end, into the very fires of Mordor, if necessary."
Smiling gratefully, Jeidy was about to thank him, when an angered cry interrupted the peaceful moment.
"So it's Gondor that bought you! Or have all of you sold your souls to the Elves? I will not let it happen! The Ring will not go to our enemies!" With a knife in his hand Naithan attacked them.
Crys pushed the boy out of the way before the Wose descended on him. "Go!" he ordered. "Go, find Vin!" Then Crys had no breath to spare as he was fighting for his very life against the enraged healer.
Once more Jeidy raced down the hill.
He had lost all sense of direction, and was just becoming aware of that fact when a soft Elven voice brought him to a halt. "Jeidy?"
Praying that the Elf wouldn't turn against him, Jeidy slowly walked towards him.
"What happened?" Ezra inquired. "You look as if Sauron himself is after you."
"That couldn't be worse," Jeidy almost cried. "Something evil took over Josiah and Naithan. Josiah could fight it long enough to let me escape, but Naithan ... he's fighting with Crys right now. He has a knife and ... and I think Crys can't reach his weapons."
"Naithan 'and' Josiah? That's worse than we feared," Vin said, stepping out of the shadow of a tree.
"We must do something!" Jeidy stared at the others impatiently.
Vin shared a look with his lover. "You get the boy to the beach, I'll go and help Crys."
Ezra nodded, then grabbed the Ranger's arm. "Be careful. I feel a danger closing in, a shadow that frightens me."
"Orcs?" Vinterrin asked, knowing that every Elf feared to fall alive into the hands of Orcs who worked for a master. For if someone like Saruman or Sauron could get their hands on a living Elf he could be turned into a powerful Orc by torture unimaginable.
"I'm not certain." Ezra shrugged. "I'm usually not scared by mere Orcs."
Vin smiled and squeezed his mate's shoulder gently. "I'll be careful."
A brief kiss, then the Ranger was gone.
Ezra looked at Jeidy. "Let us return to your guardian, he's very worried on your behalf."
Aware that Buck really had had reason to worry, Jeidy nodded and followed meekly.
Backtracking on the trail Jeidy had left, Vin could soon hear the sound of men fighting. Then he found Naithan and Crys still entangled in a deadly clinch.
The healer must have lost his knife somehow, for he was trying to strangle the other man with his bare hands. Beneath him Crystan's struggles became weaker and less and less controlled.
"Naithan, stop it!" Vin raised his bow. "Don't force me to kill you."
The Wose didn't react. Under his hands Crys' movements stilled.
"Naithan!" The Ranger let loose of an arrow. It hit the earth only a hair's breadth away from the healer's fingers where they wrung the captain's neck.
Naithan looked at the arrow, then at Vin and finally at the man beneath him. He let go as if burned, and stared at the motionless body. He rose, only to fall to the ground after a few steps, burying his face in his hands. "What have I done?" he cried. "What have I done?"
Vin hurried towards Crys and touched the man's neck. He sighed in relief. "He's alive." He went to the healer and shook him. "Crys is alive. Just unconscious. Are you yourself now?"
Naithan looked up, grateful for the Ranger's matter-of-fact reaction. "I guess I am. I don't know what came over me. So much rage, and I couldn't stop myself."
"I'd say we all know what came over you. After all, that's why we're on this quest, right?"
Naithan nodded then crawled towards Crystan, who was slowly reviving.
The blond jerked back when he saw the Wose, but then the remorse on the dark face registered and Crys managed a weak: "The next time we take swords."
"I truly hope there won't be a next time," Naithan replied. "I'm sorry, Crys."
The captain nodded, and grinned as the Ranger crouched beside him.
"Welcome back, brother," Vin said, one hand on his shoulder.
"I guess I owe you my life, my King." Crystan's voice was harsh and low.
Vinterrin rolled his eyes. "Don't call me that, Captain!" he growled, and grabbed his friend's arm to help him to his feet.
"Jeidy?" Crys asked then.
"He's all right. He and Ez should be with Bucklin right now."
"He used the Ring," Naithan told them.
"Because Josiah attacked him," Crys explained, rubbing his neck. "Seems you weren't the only one to lose control."
Naithan sighed and retrieved his knife from the ground. "I never thought I would fall under the Ring's influence. I expected it to be Ezra, or you." He looked at Vin ashamed.
Vin shrugged. "We suspected everyone."
"We should see to Josiah," Crys reminded them. "Can you find him?"
"Of course. Jeidy left a trail even a blind man could follow." The Ranger pointed uphill, taking the lead.
Ezra and Jeidy hadn't reached the camp yet, when they were greeted by Bucklin who hadn't been able to stay behind any longer.
It took only one look at the young man's face and the guardian knew that something had happened, so instead of lecturing his charge, he just pulled him into his arms, gently holding him.
"What happened?" he asked Ezra over the boy's head.
"It seems that some of our merry group decided that some specific piece of jewelry would be safer with them than with our young master here," Ezra explained, then shivered suddenly. Alerted he surveyed their surroundings, his expression one of fierce concentration.
"Ezra?" Buck looked around as well. "What ..."
The Elf motioned him to be silent. "Orcs," he whispered. "Many of them. Powerful ones." He took the bow from his shoulder. "They are closing in. Let us try to reach the boats and hope that Orcs cannot swim."
Jeidy left his guardian's embrace and put the Ring in his pocket. "They're after me, aren't they?"
"Very likely, if they know that you are the ringbearer." Ezra patted the pocket briefly, then began walking quickly towards the beach, his eyes on the woods. "It would give you an advantage though, because I doubt very much that they know what Sauron is after. They probably were told to capture the youngest of our group and bring him to Sauron, or to whoever commands those filthy things."
"I don't want to be captured," Jeidy said quietly, unsheathing his sword.
"My sentiments exactly," Ezra agreed, he lifted his bow and took a shot. The grunt of an Orc could be heard.
"They are here," Buck stated unnecessarily, wielding his axe.
Ezra let another arrow fly. "We must hurry!" he said, but waited to give the Humans a head start before he, too, took flight.
The rest of the fellowship found Josiah on a clearing not far from a gigantic, tipped-over head of stone. He kneeled on the ground, surrounded by a dark shadow that seemed to cling to his very being.
Watching for a moment, uncertain of what they should do, the men realized that Josiah was literally pushing the shadow out of his body. It tried to hold on to the Wizard, but with every breath he took, the black form was forced further away from him. Finally it hovered over him like a wavering dark cloud, high enough for Josiah to stand up and face it without touching it.
"Be gone, Souleater, for I will not succumb to you! My will is stronger than your promises. Leave and be gone forever!" He raised his hand and a beam of white light hit the shadow. With a high wail the shadow dissolved into nothingness.
Obviously exhausted the Wizard leaned on his staff.
"Are you all right?" The healer walked over and led his friend to a log where he could sit down.
"I'm unharmed, though this battle cost me a lot of strength." Josiah shook his head and looked ruefully at his companions. "I was afraid that Saruman had tainted me somehow, but I didn't expect him to go as far as planting a Souleater into my mind." He sighed. "I should have expected it. I should have felt it, should have watched myself more closely."
"It's too late now." Crys met the Wizard's gaze calmly. "What is done is done. You slew the beast, that is all that matters."
Beside him the Ranger nodded. "No harm done."
Josiah sighed again, grateful this time. "Thank you, my friends," he began, but didn't continue as Naithan suddenly reached for his hair and plucked a strand out of it.
"Ouch!" Bewildered the old man looked at the healer.
"Your hair isn't grey anymore, it has turned white," Naithan explained his action, holding the curl in front of his eyes. "As white as snow."
A wistful look crossed Josiah's face as he took the strand from the healer's hand. "This truly was a battle of some significance," he murmured, but didn't go into details.
"Speaking of battle," Vin put in. "I think we should return to the others, I've got a bad feeling about this place."
Crystan nodded and extended a hand to the Wizard, who graciously accepted the help to get to his feet.
Just as he was about to head down the hill, the Ranger froze, listening to the voice in his head.
"Vin?" Crys asked, seeing the stricken look on his friend's face. "Is something wrong?"
<We are surrounded! We need you! Hurry!>
"It's Ezra," Vin said, his blue eyes blazing with fear. "They're under attack!" And off he took. Not sparing a second thought for the men behind him he all but flew down the hill to get to his lover.
The Captain of Gondor looked at Josiah. "Follow us as fast as you can!" he ordered, then ran after the Ranger.
Naithan watched Crys vanish between the trees before he reached for the Wizard's arm to support him, but Josiah shrugged him off. "I can walk by myself, Naithan. Go and help them. Jeidy's safety must be first on our mind."
"You are right." Reluctantly, the healer left the Wizard who followed slowly, quietly praying that they were not too late.
Using his last arrow to stab the Orc in front of him, Ezra ducked under another one's onslaught and unsheathed his knives. The time for long-distance weapons had passed - unfortunately. A sword missed him, but barely. Ezra whirled around, kicking the Orc hard before he sliced his throat.
These Orcs were taller and stronger than any Orc Ezra had ever encountered. Almost as if something else, maybe Men, had been bred into them.
The first Orcs must have been like this, strong with magic if not with muscles, since they were mis-created from tortured Elves, he thought.
He dodged another swing, his knives ripping into his enemy's chest. Despite the fact that he was fiercely under attack he sensed a kind of reluctance in his opponents to go for a deadly strike, almost as if they wanted him alive. It increased his chances, yet it scared him, for it proved that these Orcs worked for someone. Very likely Sauron. Which meant that the Dark Lord was closer to reaching his goal than ever. The Ring was almost his.
Ezra looked around. Not far from him Jeidy was holding his own, and what Ezra had only guessed concerning himself became a very obvious notion as he watched the young man's battle. For although at least two Orcs were in position for a lethal strike, none took it. They had orders to capture the boy, there was no doubt about it.
Ezra killed another Orc, then made his way towards Buck, who was not faring as well. The guardian's chain-mail had been slit open and blood was running down his chest. Sheer stubbornness held him on his feet as he hacked down his enemies. Here the Orcs showed no reluctance to kill and only the warrior's superior skills were holding them at bay.
The moment the Elf reached him an arrow broke through Buck's defences, hitting his leg.
Looking over his shoulder, Ezra saw that the Orc archer was taking aim again. Not giving himself time to think, Ezra jumped in front of the guardian, catching the arrow in the side. The impact threw them both to the ground.
"Ezra?" Buck looked up at him suprised. "What...?"
Stupid! Ezra chided himself and prepared himself for the blows that would come.
But instead of blades slicing into him, a triumphant roar could be heard.
Slowly rolling away from Buck, the Elf looked at the Orcs who had surrounded them before, but now seemed to have forgotten that there were enemies at their feet. The Orcs walked away, leaving Buck and him untouched.
Reluctantly Ezra gazed to where the Orcs were heading. It was as he had feared. Jeidy's opponents had finally succeeded and now had the young man in their midst. Holding him high above their heads they began to march away.
"Jeidy!" Buck whispered in agony, trying to get up.
Not even looking at the guardian, Ezra held him down. "We cannot do anything. We are outnumbered, we would only get ourselves killed, which wouldn't help Jeidy in the slightest," he hissed, while pulling at the arrow in his side. "Aargh."
"We can't leave him on his own!" This time Buck sat up, grabbing the Elf's shoulder. "We can't leave him on his own!" he repeated, trying to make eye-contact.
"What are you suggesting?" Ezra asked, afraid he knew the answer.
"They wanted you alive," the warrior said, confirming the Elf's fear. "I could see it in the way they fought you. You could let yourself be captured."
Ezra looked away.
"Ez, please! He needs someone! He's just a boy!" Buck was openly pleading now.
Staring at the troop of Orcs which got further and further away, Ezra sighed. "You have no idea what you're asking," he whispered.
"Probably not," the guardian agreed, "but we are talking about Jeidy here. I failed him, I can't help him. But you might. Ezra, I beg you!"
Ezra swallowed, then nodded. "Promise me that you will look after Vin," he demanded, green eyes full of emotions Buck couldn't even begin to fathom.
"I promise," he said, then gave the Elf a hand as he struggled to his feet.
Holding onto the larger man until he found his balance, Ezra looked longingly at his knives lying on the ground, but didn't take them up. Instead he grabbed one of the crude Orc swords and wielded it, trying it out. It would do.
He breathed deeply, mustering his courage. Saluting Buck briefly, he summoned strength from the wood around them, then headed after the Orcs.
Much too fast for his liking he reached them.
Sending a last farewell to his lover, he threw himself at the Orcs.
<I love you, Vin!>
Something hit his head and he plunged into darkness.
Watching guiltily as Ezra and the Orcs left his sight, Buck nearly jumped out of his skin as he heard a grunt and then saw one of the 'dead' Orcs get up again.
Grabbing his axe Buck tried to stand up, but his leg failed him. He looked at the arrow sticking out of it, he had all but forgotten that he had been hit. "Come and get me!" he growled, tightening his grip. He would not make it easy for his foe.
The Orc looked around and met his eyes, and then to Buck's frustration, the Orc picked up a bow and two arrows. Coming closer he levelled an arrow at the guardian.
Very impressive. 'I' would be able to score with an arrow at this distance, Buck thought sarcastically, then jerked back, as the first arrow pierced through his already wounded leg.
"Bastard!" he groaned out.
The Orc took aim again, this time the arrowhead pointed at Buck's chest.
Buck swallowed and closed his eyes. Forgive me, Jeidy.
Something came trampling through the bushes.
As one the Man and the Orc looked to the side. The Orc tried to rearrange the bow, but it was too late.
Vinterrin descended on him like a falcon attacked a mouse. The Ranger pushed the Orc to the ground, then in one fluid motion rolled away and onto his feet again. With his sword ready Vin gave the Orc just enough time to stand up before he beheaded him with one mighty stroke.
As the Orc crumbled to the earth, Vin looked around and then at Buck. "Where's Ezra?" he wanted to know.
Buck sighed, falling back. "He and Jeidy are captives of the Orcs. But he's alive."
"He is with the Orcs? Alive?" Disbelief coloured the Ranger's words. "How did that happen?"
"I asked him to ..."
"You asked him?!" Sapphire eyes flashed dangerously as Vin took a step closer to the guardian. "You ..."
"Vin!" Crystan's voice stopped the Ranger in his tracks. "Let it go."
His expression murderous, Vin nevertheless withdrew from Buck. He didn't even look up as Naithan and finally Josiah joined them. Instead he stood apart; his eyes fixed on the trail the Orcs had left.
If we just hadn't split up. Vin sighed. If he had just been faster. But the way back to their camp had been crowded with Orcs and if it had not been for Crys and Naithan, he wouldn't have made it back at all. Unconsciously he rubbed at his arm where an Orc had wounded him.
Ezra. His heart squeezed in pain as he remembered the last touch of his lover's mind. Ezra? Ez, please, answer me! But there was only silence.
A lone tear ran down his cheek, he didn't feel it.
Suddenly a hand grabbed his shoulder, and two long knives were held before him. Ezra's knives. He took them, uncertainly looking at Crys.
"We will find him, Vin. We will go after them. Sauron won't get the Ring, he won't get Jeidy and he won't get Ezra. My word on it," the captain promised, his gaze solemn.
Vin nodded, believing in the man from Gondor.
They returned to the others, where Naithan was tending to Buck's wounds.
"We will follow the Orcs, watch them, find their weaknesses. And when they will least expect it, we go in and free our friends," Crys told the others matter-of-factly. "We'll go within the hour."
"Buck won't make it." The healer didn't even look up from his task as he said it.
"Of course I can ..." Buck started, trying to get up, but Naithan pushed him down effortlessly.
"You could give me some of your potion, the one you gave Ezra," Buck suggested, not ready to give in.
"And what good will it do?" Shaking his head the healer continued: "You might be able to walk for one day, and then? You will collapse and be of no good to anybody. This is a totally different situation from Moria. It was do or die for Ezra, but your life isn't threatened. You will even be able to walk in a few days, just not for long or fast."
"We cannot wait a few days," Josiah pointed out. "We don't know where they will be taken."
"Then you have to go without me. Leave me here. I'll follow as fast as I can." There was no other option, Buck knew. He didn't like it, but Jeidy's life was far more important than his own pride.
"I'll stay with him." Naithan looked from one to the other. "He needs help. Besides, I know the area, so I know how to find you."
"I don't think we have any other choice." Crys nodded towards the guardian and the healer, then turned away, heading for their camp to get his bag and shield. Vin was already gone.
"Will you be all right, Josiah?" Naithan asked, remembering how exhausted the Wizard had been earlier.
Josiah smiled. "I will be all right, brother. As I said, I wasn't hurt, only my ... energy was depleted. But that is something I or rather you can change easily enough." He patted the healer's shoulder. "All I need is a little bit of one of your potions."
For a moment it seemed as if the healer was preparing for a discussion, but then he gave in. "I hope, you know what you are doing."
The Wizard nodded. "Don't worry, my friend," he said. "Only a swallow will do and I will be able to run with the young ones."
Shaking hands with Buck, Josiah looked deeply into his eyes. "We will take care of Jeidy, brother. He will be all right."
The guardian nodded thankfully.
As the Wizard and Naithan walked away to their campsite, Buck felt a cold breeze blowing over the land. Shivering he grabbed for his clothes, which the healer had carelessly discarded next to him. Slipping into his coat, he saw something falling out of one of its pockets. Curiously Buck grasped for the thing and looked at it.
He couldn't believe his eyes. "How ...?" he muttered, then grinned. "Ezra."
"You know what this is for?" Naithan inquired, as he gave Vin a small bottle.
"I know." The Ranger put the medicine away.
"We will be all right, Naithan," Crys said, strapping his shield on. "Just take care of yourself and Buck."
"I will." The healer sighed. "So the fellowship has failed, hasn't it?" he asked quietly.
"No, it hasn't," Josiah disagreed. "Not as long as we are alive and hold true to each other. We will not abandon Jeidy and Ezra to torment and death. The battle is not yet lost."
"Josiah is right." Vin gazed at Crys. "The battle is far from over."
The Captain of Gondor nodded, grinning dangerously. "Let's hunt some Orcs!"
A familiar voice penetrated through the mists which clouded his mind.
"Ezra? Are you awake? Please, answer."
Slowly he opened his eyes. His head was pounding as if a horde of Dwarves hammered in it.
Brown eyes alight with worry looked at him.
"Ezra, you're awake!" Jeidy smiled relieved.
"I guess I am." Carefully he sat up and surveyed their surroundings. Not that there was much to see. Night, trees, some fires and Orcs, a lot of Orcs. And his hands and legs were tightly bound. Their escape would have to wait.
"Are you unharmed, my friend?" he inquired, looking the boy over.
"Just some scratches." Jeidy shrugged carelessly, then, staring at his bound hands, he said quietly: "It's over, isn't it? Because I was too weak to protect the Ring, because I ..."
"Shsh." Ezra interrupted. "Don't speak of ... that thing. Forget you ever heard about it. But if you wish, let us speak about whose fault it is that we find ourselves in this ... very uncomfortable situation." The Elf paused until his companion would meet his gaze. "I doubt very much that you invited these filthy creatures to our quest, neither did you create them in the first place, so this is hardly your fault. And as to being weak ... If I recall correctly, it was not you who succumbed to temptation, but rather one very powerful Wizard and a grown-up know-it-all healer. So again I would say that the fault lies not with you."
Jeidy looked at him as if gauging the truth of his words, finally he smiled. "Thank you, Ezra."
The Elf returned the smile. "You are welcome." Closing his eyes, Ezra tried to contact Vin, but since his head hurt so much that he could barely think straight, he wasn't surprised when it didn't work. Besides, his lover was probably out of reach by now.
"Buck is dead, isn't he?" Jeidy asked suddenly.
"He was very much alive the last time I saw him and I see no reason why he shouldn't still be that way," Ezra told him, not opening his eyes. "And I'm certain that Vin is alive also, I would know if he wasn't. So very likely every one of our friends is still alive and worrying about us."
"Good." The young man sighed. "But I don't suppose we'll ever see them again?"
"Oh, I believe we may yet." The Elf squinted at his companion then rolled over a little so that they were touching. "They will come and get us out, Jeidy. All we have to do is wait and bide our time. Rest now, there's nothing else we can do."
"Okay, Ez." Jeidy nodded, lying down.
Ezra was almost asleep, when Jeidy spoke up again. "Ez. I'm glad you're with me."
Ezra smiled. "So am I," he replied, meaning it. "So am I."
© 21.09.02 by C.J. Ueberall
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