The ranger watched as the dark clouds rolled in. Thunder could be heard in the distance and lightning cracked the air, while briefly illuminating the night sky. Orthonn sighed as he stood outside of his hidden cave. He could see the warm glow of Esteldin far off in the distance. It wouldn’t be long before the rain arrived… looks like a nasty storm, at that. The ranger felt old.. he wasn’t young, by any means, but he could keep up with the newcomers. No, he felt old… events surrounding him seemed to take a chunk of years off of him at a time.
His hand reached down to rest on the pack that contained his daughters blouse… one he was given by the White Hand. He shuddered, despite himself, as he thought about it. He really didn’t know if it was hers or not, but it looked like the one he had sent her a long time ago. He thought about her then, about her mom… it brought a small, heart-felt smile to his face. Ah the memories of being younger… a fresh recruit to the rangers of Esteldin. Going out with the others on patrol and then coming back to relax and unwind… and then he met her… a sweet, young woman with auburn hair. He bumped into her as he was selling hides and she had finished polishing some gems she had gotten. He hadn’t seen her and collided with her. He didn’t care about the hides at the time… only that she didn’t come to harm and was alright. She smiled at him and that was when his heart melted. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He offered his hand, which she took, and helped her to her feet. She apologized profusely, but he would hear non of it and took the blame himself. If he had been watching where he was going, the collision would have been avoided… but then he wouldn’t have met her.
Lightning flashed, snapping the ranger out of his trance. He sighed again as the first droplets of rain began to pelt him as well as the area around him. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sky… but the rain felt neither cool nor refreshing… it was simply wet. He went to pick up the remainder of his belongings and head back into his cave. He didn’t notice the figure standing in the shadows… nor the flashing steel of the figure’s daggers. As he stood up and started to head into the cave, he stopped as a dagger was held against his throat.
“You will die, tonight, ranger… but after I get some answers, first.”
The first waves of panic began to hit the ranger. Who is this figure and why didn’t I sense anyone was there? He gulped and tried to calm himself down… he thought suddenly of his daughter. Even if she were alive, would she even remember who I am… who I was? Does it really even matter, anymore? He resigned himself to the fate at hand… maybe it’s better this way… to go out without a whisper…
The figure moved his mouth close to the ranger’s ear. “For starters, why did you send the White Hand after us?”
Orthonn suddenly had hope, as he realized the one holding the knife was one of the group. He knew it wasn’t Winterwulf.. the voice was different. They survived the White Hand patrol! His hope quickly evaporated as as he realized he had given the White Hand the information to find them. “I’m a coward,” he thought, “I deserve to die.”
“I asked you a question.” said the figure as the dagger was pressed tighter against Orthonn’s throat. The ranger was quiet for a minute, before he replied in a resigned voice, “I’ll tell you why, but promise me, after all is said and done, you will make my death quick and painless.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.” the figure said.
“It began when I went on a patrol near the outskirts of Dol Dinen,” the ranger began, “I saw a cave that I must’ve missed in previous patrols, so I went to investigate. As I approached the mouth, I heard voices… it was a guttural language, but I heard them all the same. I turned to report my findings, right into a few orc archers, swords pointed at me. I didn’t have any escape route, so I turned and was ushered into the cave. I’m not sure how many White Hand were there, but there were a lot.” The ranger paused and glanced down to what he could see of the dagger. The dagger hasn’t move at all… Impressed, but not at all surprised, Orthonn continued, “The leader of the patrol, I’m assuming, stopped talking and looked at me as I was brought in. A sneer quickly covered the leader’s face as he stood in front of me. “What have we here?” the leader asked in a broken form of Westron. When another orc whispered in his ear, a look of surprise, then delight spread across the White Hand leader’s face. “Are you the one called Orthonn?” he asked. I looked around to try to estimate the numbers, but there were too many. I told him I was. He laughed and then turned menacing towards me. “We are looking for a group that was seen in the human town… they are led by a hunter and have two wargs with them. Do you know of them?” I didn’t answer, which enraged him. He took a swing at the nearest orc and killed him instantly, caving in his skull. “The next will be you… I will not ask again.” the leader warned. At that moment, I’m sure my face turned white, knowing what happened to the orc. But I didn’t say a word. They could have killed me if they wanted… I planned on taking any information to the grave. The leader looked at me and seethed… then an evil smile developed. “Maybe you need ‘extra’ help…” The leader went to the back of the cave and knelt down. When he came back, he threw the blouse at me. The leader motioned the two orcs holding me to let me go. I bent down to pick up the blouse.”
There was a pause as Orthonn’s eyes welled up. “I picked up the blouse and looked at it. It was the same one I sent to my daughter… at least, it looked like hers. Anger brewed in me and I went after the leader, but the two orcs held me back and held me tight. The leader laughed. “Now, if you want to see your little girl alive again, you’ll answer my question.” The rage was replaced by shock and then horror. I know if they did go to where she was, she would have been slaughtered like the rest. I don’t know why I told them… maybe I held onto the hope that she was still alive and that if I complied, they would let her go… I don’t know. At that point, I told the leader what he wanted to know… everything. I felt like my daughter’s life was the only thing that mattered anymore… if she was still alive.”
Orthonn waited for the killing blow, but it didn’t come. “I told you what you wanted to know, now just finish me off and be done with it.” The ranger realized he was soaked through as the figure behind him used him as a shield to stay dry. The rain had been coming down hard.
The ranger braced himself, but saw the daggers pull away. He next felt a boot in his lower back as he went sprawling, face first, in the mud. “If you’re daughter is alive, which I even doubt that is the case, it is better she know her father for what he truly is… a coward. It’s good to know that the lives of your so-called ‘friends’ do not mean much. Killing you would free you from the guilt and the pain… living is a far worse prison.”
Orthonn slowly got to his hands and knees, sobbing. He turned his head and squinted through the mud, but the figure was nowhere to be found. Orthonn breathed heavily as he desperately tried to look for him, but it was hopeless. The memory of his daughter’s mother entered his mind… Emily. The ranger sat down in the mud and wept to himself.
Silentknife watched Orthonn for a time afterwards from the shadows. A part of him ached for the ranger, knowing the guilt that Orthonn held in him was more than he could bear. But to kill him out-right… that wasn’t the burglars style, at least, not his style, unless it involved a spawn of Sauron himself. Satisfied that he got his message across, he left like he came… silent like a shadow.