5. The Meaning of Mercy
As the first light of day illuminated the waters of the Anduin, showering them with a bright golden hue, Sador came out of his cabin and barked at Ramandur to come and receive his orders. All signs of slumber vanished from the first mate's eyes as he rushed to his captain and stood before him, ready to obey any command.
"I think it's high time to break a Dwarf," said the grey-bearded Man, his eyes glistening in satisfaction with what he had in store for his captive. "Bring him here and, while at it, tell one of the men to bring also a bucket and a brush."
"Aye, captain," Ramandur answered quickly and then hurried to his errand. In a matter of moments, Ramandur brought with him a cursing and struggling Dwarf and placed him in a kneeling position in front of Sador. As soon as Gimli touched the floor, he kicked Ramandur hard on his shin, making the latter cry out in pain and surprise. The captain, however, only laughed at this.
"Still trying to prove your worth, Dwarf?" he asked mockingly. "Well, rest assured that I'll show you your place quickly enough." It was then that a crewmember brought the bucket and the brush Sador requested. "Untie his hands, Ramandur… and do mind those legs of his!"
Being cautious in case the Dwarf tried to hit him again, Ramandur cut Gimli's bonds and then held the creature's hands fast behind its back. Not being daunted in the least as Gimli watched him through eyes full of anger, Sador pushed a bucket close with his foot and dropped the brush on the wooden boards.
"The planks are dirty, Dwarf. They need cleaning," said Sador, full of meaning. "Start scrubbing."
Even though his hands were quickly released, Gimli made no motion in compliance. He merely glared at his captor proudly and with a barely hidden loathing.
"I said… Start scrubbing!!!" shouted Sador, the menace in his voice so intimidating that it made everyone on the ship jump.
Gimli hardly flinched. He gazed at the captain for a few more moments and then, his eyes never leaving the form of the crook, grabbed the bucket and the brush. Sador stroked his beaded beard with a smile, for he assumed that his captive was going to kneel before him like the worm he felt he was and comply without further objection, thus defeating the Dwarf's spirit. The last thing he expected was for Gimli to throw the contents of the bucket at him, making him dripping wet. And before he had time to register what happened, Sador had even received a well-weighted hit on his head with the brush.
"It's your ship, you scrub it!" declared Gimli, laughter shining in his eyes.
Gimli was not the only one amused by such a sight however; several of the nearby crewmembers saw what had happened and gaped in surprise at the boldness of the short creature. And some of them, as soon as they saw the state their captain was in and before they were able to control themselves, actually burst into laughing fits.
That didn't last long though. For at that very moment, Sador grabbed a club and hit the Dwarf squarely on the head, knocking him out cold. Then he glared at each and every one with such wrath that the sailors' mirth vanished from their faces at once, to be replaced by fear of the punishment that would certainly follow.
"Back to your posts," commanded the captain, his voice trembling with suppressed rage that was soon to be released with a very loud: "NOW!!!"
At that scream, the men snapped out of their confusion and rushed to their work. But Sador was far from finished, for he quickly turned to his second-in-command.
"Take the Dwarf to the lower decks. You will give him no food and water and you'll bring him before me again at dusk."
"Aye, Captain," answered the first mate. He had already picked up the unconscious Dwarf and was on his way down when Sador stopped him.
"Did you see all the men who laughed?"
Ramandur nodded on the affirmative, not really understanding what was on his superior's mind.
"Gather all those insolent fools and make sure they get twenty lashes each. I'm sure they'll find that just as amusing."
"Aye, sir," replied Ramandur simply, and then went to see the captain's orders were carried out. As for Sador, he walked up to the rail of the ship and leaned against it with clenched fists, soon to be lost in thought.
It was true that he was angry with his men. But, in fact, he was angrier with himself, for he made the inexcusable mistake of underestimating his captive. He wasn't handling any frightened child now, taken away from its home, but a proud and accomplished warrior. Well, that was a mistake he wasn't willing to repeat. He meant to break the Dwarf, and he would see to it that he succeeded. If he had learnt anything throughout the years it was that everyone, no matter how brave or strong-willed they claimed to be, had a weak point that made them vulnerable.
It was then that his eyes lit up. He had heard of the Dwarves' treasures, but at that moment he remembered something else that concerned the particular race: something that served like a soothing balm to his hurt pride and made him smile inwardly. Yes, Sador would surely make the Dwarf pay for the humiliation that he, the terror of Anduin, had suffered. And he knew now just how to do that.
Always tied and mounted on Arod, Erthang's gaze was locked stubbornly on the Elf, who was walking ahead. Even though he suspected that the Firstborn was aware of his persistent stare, he didn't care. What mattered to him now was that he had to find a means of escape. Staying captive was simply not an option, although he had to admit that he had been treated more than quite fairly. After all, he knew that bonds remain bonds, even if they are made out of the purest gold or the softest silk.
On the other hand, Erthang had also made up his mind not to return to the Corsairs, because he felt that he wouldn't be able to stand being under the command of such a man as Sador was again. As a matter of fact, another hope had formed in his mind and he intended now to see it through. Erthang believed that, if with any luck he managed to get away from his captor, he would be able to arrive in an inhabited area, be it village or town, where he would see what he could do. He'd probably find some kind of work near ships, since he spent a large part of his life on one. It seemed strange to him that he would have to make an honest living, but it was still much better than having to watch his back the whole time, haunted by enemies… or guilt.
Erthang shook his head immediately, not daring to remind himself of things he hadn't thought of since childhood, and focused again on figuring a means of escape. It was then that an idea formed in his mind.
"Elf," he cried to Legolas, "it's been too long a ride for me. I need to stretch my legs."
Legolas turned his head, surprised to be addressed. He faced the Man, raising an eyebrow.
"You had all night to stretch them."
"Hey, I'm a seaman; I'm not accustomed to riding horses," answered the Corsair innocently. "Besides, I can hardly call last night a stretch since you didn't untie my legs for me to walk!"
"Your ankle was in too bad a state for that kind of thing."
"It's not now. Come on, I want to walk for a while. Your horse will certainly like to have me off his back!"
Legolas finally stopped and eyed the Corsair intently. All his instincts cried out that this sudden interest of his captive to stretch his legs couldn't be good, yet the last thing he wanted now was hearing the Man's continuous lamenting and requesting. So he went up to Arod's side, helped the Corsair down on the ground and stooped to loosen the bonds. He was almost done, when his captive quickly grabbed the bow on Legolas's back and run off.
"Let's see how you plan on shooting me now!" cried the Corsair triumphantly and he disappeared through some thick bushes.
Legolas, strangely enough, didn't try to catch the Man. He only watched him go, shaking his head and his face hardly betraying any emotion. Arod witnessed how his master merely stood with his arms crossed over his chest and that clearly struck him as quite odd, for he nuzzled against his master, snorting softly.
"Why am I not going after him?" said Legolas in answer to the horse's question, a small, sly smile appearing on his lips. "Because I know something that our 'friend' has forgotten: a seaman may know his way on a ship, but on dry land, he's as hopeless as a fish out of the water. You do not know where we are, do you, my friend?"
Arod remained silent, his eyes showing the Elf the clear answer.
"We are in a vast area that most people wish to avoid; not because there are not parts of it that are truly beautiful, mind you, but mostly because it's infested with unexplored swamps that claim the lives of many people who dare travel through them. In fact, the only thing that prospers here are the insects, which are always happy to feast on the blood of anyone unfortunate enough to come to such an ill-favoured place. And now the Corsair is heading exactly to one of the most dangerous parts of the whole area."
At this Arod whinnied loudly.
"Yes, I know that I should go find him exactly for that reason, but, truth be told, I am quite annoyed at his stubbornness and mistrust in me and I want to teach him a lesson. Once he realises that it takes two to face the threats of the land and that he needs my help, whether he likes it or not, then – and only then – I will go after him."
It was then that a wail of help, which both Legolas and Arod knew belonged to the Corsair, echoed in the air.
"Now I can go," stated the prince in a matter-of-factly manner. "Dartho sí, Arod,"* he commanded the horse with a reassuring pat on its neck, then rushed to the Corsair's aid.
Erthang let out another scream. Only a short while ago he was knee-deep in the sandy death trap that he'd stepped into his haste and he now saw, to his horror, that he had sunk up to his waist. He frantically tried to swim to the edge of the quicksand and pull himself out, but it was of no use. It seemed that a great weight was tied to his legs and was drawing him closer to his slow, choking death by the minute. He didn't know what to do anymore. He had expected all kinds of deaths: to be slain in a skirmish, to take an arrow through his heart, even to drown in the water; but certainly not here and like this! He cursed the moment that he had decided to take this direction after running away from his captor and he wished he had never left the Firstborn's side. If anything, he would at least be alive and safe.
"Help!" he shouted again amid his sobs of frustration, even though he believed in his heart that it was in vain. The Elf had every reason to let him drown, especially now that the young rogue had tricked him. And yet he couldn't bring himself to wait quietly for his death either. No sane man would do such a thing.
He shuddered violently and his eyes opened wide in terror when he felt the sand reaching up to his chin like a blanket that was ready to offer not the comfort of warmth, but the coldness of eternal darkness. Realising that in a few moments he would face his death, he let out one last cry that it seemed to reach up into the sky.
It was in that moment that he heard a calm voice near him.
"Reach out for the branch."
Erthang turned, feeling utterly relieved to see the Elf, who stretched out a long branch in his direction, his eyes full of assurance. Without realising it, he opened his mouth to utter his gratitude to his captor, but the Elf silenced him.
"No time for that," he said. "Grab the branch and hold on to it tightly."
Erthang didn't have to be told twice. Pulling his hands out from the bog, he knitted his fingers around the only thing that stood between his death and his life while the Elf started pulling hard, until finally Erthang was once again safely out. Relieved, Erthang let go of the branch.
But he had let of the branch too suddenly. And so he watched in surprise the Elf plummeting violently backwards, his eyes widening as he sensed how strangely soft the ground where he fell was.
It was more quicksand.
Legolas stopped struggling at once, knowing that this would only make him sink more quickly. Instead, he tried to remain completely still, stretched on his back. However, he knew that he was merely postponing the inevitable. If he wanted to escape this certain death, he had to be pulled out of the bog. At first he thought of whistling to Arod and so use the horse's reins to aid him in his predicament, but he didn't want to risk the loyal steed's life. In the end, he had to resort to the last idea that had formed in his mind - and the one he wished most to avoid.
"Corsair," he said simply in a stiff manner. It had been always difficult for him to ask the help even of a friend, wishing to face everything on his own. But now that he had to ask it of an enemy it was just impossible.
Even though he was still in a daze, the Corsair quickly pricked up his ears the minute he heard Legolas calling to him. Not daring to rise to his feet yet, for fear that the ground would still sink underneath him, he went on his hands and knees towards Legolas; and their eyes, dark brown and bright cerulean, instantly met, reflecting the thoughts of both Corsair and Elf: the one in shocked indecision, the other in stoic patience.
At that moment, Legolas sank a little more. Forgetting momentarily his upbringing as a warrior and a prince, he breathed in sharply and his eyes shone with fright.
The Corsair shook himself out of his numbing confusion. Glancing one last time at the Elf, he quickly jumped to his feet and ran off. All Legolas could do was shut his eyes and clench his jaw, seeing that the Corsair had taken advantage of the situation to get away.
He was wrong. After a few moments, he heard the Corsair's voice again.
Legolas opened his eyes; and he was more than glad to see his bow extended in his direction.
"Luckily, I remembered where I threw it," said the rogue with a small smile. "Grab it."
Smiling a bit as well, Legolas reached out and let the Corsair drag him out of the treacherous bog. Though Legolas was light, as all Elves should be, the grip of the quicksand was powerful, and so the Corsair had some difficulty finally getting him out. So, as soon as Legolas was safe, they both collapsed on the ground, breathing heavily.
Neither of them spoke for a long time. Finally, it was Legolas who broke the silence.
"Thank you… Corsair," he said softly and with some hesitation.
To his surprise, the Corsair answered back.
"What?" questioned Legolas, not really understanding.
"That's my name. Why call me simply 'Corsair?'" answered the young Man, smiling.
Legolas actually raised an eyebrow at this, but, in the end, a small smile tugged on the corners of his lips.
"I'm Legolas… And I thank you, Erthang; though I must admit that I actually thought you would abandon me."
"Believe me, the thought crossed my mind," confessed Erthang. "But when I saw you in that pit, I realised what you meant about not wishing for one to face a certain fate, even if he's an enemy. You didn't show it, but I knew you were terrified, just like I was. Strangely enough, I didn't want you to go through that terror the way I did."
"And now you know what mercy is about," commented Legolas.
Erthang looked at the Elf, confused.
"Not to take advantage of an unfair situation, simply because you can."
As soon as these words were uttered, Legolas's smile disappeared from his lips and he looked hard at Erthang.
"And now, I am sorry to say, I have to take you with me… without any more breaks for stretching."
Erthang didn't protest at all, even though Legolas had thought he would. "I know," he simply said, "and I promise I won't try to run away again. It's just…" yet the sentence was never finished. Erthang just sighed and bowed his head.
"What?" asked Legolas, intrigued.
"You're going after Sador. He's the captain of Agannâlô,"** answered Erthang. "And I don't want you to go to him with me along. You showed me a much different way of treatment than the captain would ever care to show anyone and I thank you for it; for now I know I shouldn't return to the Corsairs ever again. But I can't betray the people with which I was raised either."
Legolas didn't say anything, waiting for his captive to explain matters better.
"I was taken from my parents long ago, that much I found out. I don't approve of what Sador did, and I admit there are times that I long for my kin. And yet it was because of him that I learnt how to fight and look after myself, how to be strong and unafraid of everything, to survive in this world."
"But what was the price for that?" asked Legolas again, his bitterness easily discerned. "You killed people that never harmed you in any way other than standing between you and their treasures. And do not say that they had enough to spare, for no treasure is worth being stained with an innocent man's blood. And what about the children that your people took away from their families? You said that you learnt to survive, but you should also remember the pain you suffered when you were separated from the ones you loved. I will not mention the grief that the parents had to go through after the loss of their offspring as well, a part of their own self torn from them. Quite a reward indeed for the loyalty you offer to such men."
"They were the only family I had," said Erthang lamely, feeling the merciless yet true words whipping his very soul.
"A family that teaches cruelty is not a family," retorted Legolas softly, rising.
Erthang's eyes widened when he heard that phrase, but the prince spoke again, not letting him respond.
"We should go. We have lingered here too long and we need to wash ourselves too."
Erthang nodded slightly in acknowledgement and then rose slowly. Soon enough they had found Arod, who had been stomping his feet in worry and impatience till his master came back. Legolas patted the steed's neck in reassurance and then dug out from his pack some extra clothes to wear after he had cleaned himself up. Erthang also washed in the nearby pond that Legolas had quickly located, but the Firstborn couldn't help noticing how thoughtful and quiet his captive – that word seemed somehow quite inappropriate now – had become. Nevertheless he didn't worry himself about that for long, knowing that the Corsair could be merely pondering their discussion.
Once both Man and Elf were ready, they set off again. And this time Legolas didn't have to tie Erthang, for he held on to Arod and followed obediently.
The sun had set once more. While Legolas was making arrangements for the night, Sador was getting restless aboard Agannâlô. He called Ramandur and ordered him to bring the Dwarf to the upper decks immediately, knowing quite well that he was conscious again; possibly with a splitting headache after the way he'd hit him. And yet he didn't regret his treatment at all. As a matter of fact, now he was ready to make his prisoner suffer much more than a mere lump on that thick head of his. Turning to his crew, he called to two of his men.
"Prepare some rope and tie one end to the rail of the ship. When you are done, bring the richest food we have on board and set the table right where I am! And then bring the others here too!"
Both the seamen rushed to obey their captain's command, even though their backs were still throbbing from the punishment Sador had arranged for them after laughing at him.
The table had already been set and all the rogues had gathered round, when Ramandur appeared with Gimli, who was again tied tightly. The first mate had a face that would curdle milk as he was dragging his task by the collar, but Gimli's eyes shone with immense satisfaction. All who were able to see the second-in-command's bleeding hand understood what probably happened. Even though they had taken away his hatchets, the Dwarf could still prove quite dangerous to anyone who dared approach him.
Sador looked at the Dwarf intently and then turned to the table, watching the latter's reaction closely.
"Well, well," he commented, grabbing some cold meat with his knife, "Looks to me that you decided to have a taste of Ramandur, since you can't have anything else. I doubt he was any good though." And with that he started munching at the meat slowly and with purpose. "Come, Dwarf. You know what I ask from you. Tell me and you'll have as much to eat as you wish."
Gimli felt his heart still burning with indignation and hate for his captors. But that was the only thing that kept him determined, for his body was slowly failing him, begging for anything to fill his stomach with. He watched the meal slowly disappearing before him and he felt his mouth watering, even though he knew quite well that that was Sador's plan. He couldn't help himself though. Being held here was something that he couldn't bear much longer: his soul ached to be free again. All this water around him and the rocking motion of the vessel was wearying him and he wished nothing more than for his feet to tread on ground once more.
It was then that, to Gimli's surprise, he remembered the last time that he had been aboard a ship, after Aragorn had led him, Legolas and the Rangers of the North against Umbar. He had felt sick back then, and it was with a relief that he accepted the Dúnadan and the Elf's comfort. And to think that he had promised himself that it would be the first and last time aboard a ship! He would have actually smiled at the remembrance if he wasn't aware of where he was. He watched Sador, who was smiling in triumph, obviously seeing that his prisoner was hungry, and let out a small growl. At that moment Gimli's resolution grew strong again: the captain should not lay a finger on the wealth of his people, no matter what. And, more importantly, he would not break him, Glóin's son.
Now it was Sador's turn to let out a growl of dismay as he saw the Dwarf's wavering look grow stern again.
"All right, have it your way," said the captain through his gritting teeth. Turning his back on his captive, he addressed his men. "You know what to do. Be careful though: Dwarves can't swim all that well!"
Gimli's eyes widened, hardly believing his ears. Had the captain just ordered his men to…? By Mahal, anything but that!
Just then several pair of hands grabbed him.
"No!" Gimli shouted at the top of his lungs again and again, but it was of no use. In a matter of moments, while the sailors laughed and sneered, he was tied up by his waist with the rope that was hanging from the rail and thrown overboard.
It was fortunate that the rope held Gimli up near the surface, for his heavy armour could have easily made him sink to the bottom of the river in a heartbeat. And yet, as the ship was still sailing, the water was splashing over his face repeatedly, hardly giving him time to breathe. He writhed about, trying to fight against the element, while the crewmembers only cheered on.
"You were thirsty! Here's all the water that you can get!" shouted a rogue tauntingly.
"Is it cold enough for you, Dwarf?" cried out another.
"Fancy bait, don't you think, lads?" remarked a third.
"I wouldn't count on it! The fish will never be able to find anything edible, what with all that hair!"
The sailors roared with laughter, but Gimli didn't pay any attention to them. He was focusing all his efforts on keeping his head above the water, though he was quickly getting tired. When it seemed that he would finally let himself sink, he heard Sador shouting at the men to pull Gimli up.
As soon as he was brought on board again, Gimli coughed out all the water he had swallowed and collapsed, exhausted by his fighting and his fright. Grabbing the Dwarf by his wet beard, Sador looked into his eyes, almost piercing him through with his merciless stare.
"On this ship, the only king is me! And it's best not to anger a king, since he's in control of your life! Remember that, and don't dare oppose me again!" he declared with a hiss. "I'll give you one more chance! One more chance, mind you, and then, if you refuse, it'll be on your head!"
With that, he let go of Gimli violently and signalled to Ramandur to take him away. Ramandur complied at once, carrying the shivering, drenched Dwarf down to the lower decks. As soon as he placed his burden down, he kicked Gimli hard in the stomach.
"Not so tough now, right?" smirked the seaman before leaving, locking the prisoner in darkness. All Gimli was left to do was curl himself on his side as much as his bonds allowed him, attempting thus to lessen the cold he was feeling, and hope dearly that Legolas was coming for him.
*Dartho sí, Arod: Stay here, Arod. (Sindarin)
**Agannâlô: Shadow of Death (Adunaic)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.